belt kit dug into the sore on my hip. I rolled over onto my other
side but the rifle butt poked into my ribcage instead. It didn’t
seem to matter which way I lay; I just couldn’t make myself comfortable.
course, I shouldn’t have expected too much by way of luxuries. I
was one of 24 men and women ‘off the street’, civvies, taking part
in a BBC documentary programme about SAS selection, and spending
16 days deep in the Borneo jungle was never going to be an easy
experience, comfy bed or not.
clean white sheets and a soft pillow were not on the kit list I
carried on shuffling around into a position of least discomfort
and tried to get a bit of kip.
days in the jungle
in the middle of what Staff Sergeant Eddie Stone had described as
the "hardest two days of your lives", and whilst I hadn’t underestimated
what he had said, I had certainly overestimated my abilities to
cope with it.
Exercise’ was a replication of the sort of tasks that men from the
elite British Army Special Forces unit, the SAS, undertake all the
time, patrolling behind enemy lines gathering intelligence and conducting
60lb Bergen rucksacks, 20lb belt kit, 15lb rifle and heavy weight
clothing, our four person patrol had tabbed (walked) for around
10 hours on the first day and were instructed to continue with our
‘hard tac’ by camouflaging ourselves for the night in an area of
means no comfort – no hot food, no brew, no changing from our soaking
wet clothes into dry kit, and certainly no sleeping bag.
we were rumbled in the middle of the night we had to be ready to
escape and evade capture by being up on our feet and away in the
shortest amount of time possible. That
also meant keeping your belt kit on, small pouches and pockets around
your hips with essential survival equipment on board – first aid
kit, knife, candles, emergency rations and water bottles.
a sentry shift pattern operating, the best you could expect was
two hours in the land of nod before it was your turn to be on guard
for an hour, before you handed over to the next in line.
months previously, in the Brecon Beacons, I had been selected from
over 1,000 applicants to take part in the programme. There were
professional rugby players, adventure racers, tennis coaches, cyclists,
marathon runners and a few more triathletes like me, all full of
it and confident in our chances or making it through to the last
four, from which the ex-SAS instructors running the training, would
pick their winner.
The final question…..if one of their patrol members were down, who
would they want to fill the place?
were flown into the Sarawak area of Malaysian Borneo, a vast swathe
of primary jungle where the temperature hovers around 90F, with
97% humidity, throughout the day.
SAS made their name in this area, during the Malay campaigns of
and 60s, patrolling deep behind enemy lines as a strategically deployed
force gathering intelligence and conducting counterinsurgency operations
against the communist guerrilla’s.
man patrols became the standard operating procedure (SOP), with
the patrols often lasting over two months with only fortnightly
resupply by airdrop. The men built up a reputation for extreme toughness
and durability, and the SAS continue to use jungle training as part
of their selection process.
BBC programme aimed to be a replication of that selection training,
testing the possibility that ordinary, albeit fit, members of the
public could prove themselves tough enough to be in the SAS. We
would be put through navigation exercises, combat training, endurance
tests, beasting sessions, survival techniques and interrogation,
all with the aim of whittling the group of 24 down. Add to that
the extreme heat and humidity, the insects, dangerous animals, loss
of all comforts, plus some fierce but fair ex-SAS instructors, more
than willing to dish out punishments for the slightest misdemeanour,
and it would be a probing test of everyone’s physical and mental
Sergeant Eddie Stone and programme presenter Dermot O'Leary
it was, 10 of the 24 had gone by the end of the third day, less
than a quarter of the way through – injury, heat exhaustion, sickness,
or simply had enough.
on the ‘Endurance Exercise’, it got cold. No matter which way I
tried to lay down something somewhere made it uncomfortable. My
will was wavering and I knew it. Plenty of the others had jacked.
Two words "I’m out" and it would be a hotel bed again.
hindsight, and a few good nights sleep behind me, it’s easy to wander
why I couldn’t find the strength to carry on, but I can only remind
myself of what I felt like at the time.
days of sweat, exertion, discomfort and lack of sleep and I was
deeply exhausted, to my core, far worse than any of the triathlons
and adventure races I’ve taken part in. They leave you physically
weary, but this had left me utterly, utterly drained, running on
empty, both physically and mentally.
no bodily strength left, the mind has to work overtime to force
you to find that little bit extra, the last ounce, to persuade you
to carry on. Mine couldn’t and I did the one thing I had gone out
there telling myself would be the last thing I would do. I quit.
me, the sixth day was the end. Out on my feet, I accepted my failure.
I was disappointed that I didn’t get further but for me, applying
and being selected had been my achievement, and in that old cliché,
it’s something to tell the grandchildren about.