Hi, I am Jan Gerber. In this episode of Our Mental Health Awareness podcast series, I’ll be speaking to Ant Middleton. Ant is a decorated former Royal Marine and elite soldier from the British armed forces. He has been both privately and in his professional life very, very emotionally straining and difficult and challenging times and experiences. I’ll be looking forward to speak to him about his experiences, how he dealt with them how he learned from those experiences and harnessed his demons and at situations adjust them into something positive. And also to speak to him generally about mental health and mental health awareness. So, I’m sitting here with Ant Middleton. Thank you for taking your time to share some of your stories. Why don’t you briefly introduce yourself to start? Yeah, I’m Ant Middleton. I’m a TV personality now which sounds pretty bizarre compared to my other career which was in the special boat service in the United Kingdom Special Forces So from living in the shadows, now I live in the limelight so, quite an interesting career change that we say but an exciting one. Brilliant. I mean you have been in your old life the one in the shadows you have been through a lot of tough experiences a lot of challenges both physically and emotionally And you talk a lot in your book and in your public appearances about resilience The resilience that you build, the resilience that people need to make it through the tough patches in life And for yourself, what’s the specific turning point in your life that you can pinpoint where that resilience-building started or was it more of a process for you? There wasn’t really a turning point I would say it’s in a progression of childhood, military and even leaving the military So, my childhood when my father passed away, we have to move to France Moving from France back to the UK joining the military at the age of 16 I went from quite a tough patch there. Obviously, my training and my tours of duty in Afghanistan I had done three tours in Afghanistan and then leaving the military So there wasn’t one particular turning point it was just a progression of lots of little ones that built up to I suppose, the biggest one which was when I left the military and I found myself in prison. Right so, basically the resilience you built to deal with difficult situations particularly also emotionally difficult situations was in a way for you also a series of chances and is there any advice you have for people who do not aim to go or do not have the chance to go down the military training track? Because to build resilience on a level where they can take a lot of things and those things life sooner or later throw at them Because I would presume as not a trained soldier that the training that you went through especially as an elite soldier was part of a lot of that resilience that you were able to gather in your life Yeah, I wouldn’t say it was maybe the military You know there are a lot of things in life that challenge people and it’s about holding yourself accountable It’s about taking ownership of who you are and ultimately, taking on that challenge and it could be the military it could be being a parent it could be work, it could be social life it could be a situation that’s just presented itself I think what resilience is is not being afraid of failure not being afraid of fear and ultimately, challenging that ultimately, learning from it and exposing yourself to hardship to suffering, to adversity that’s where resilience is built up from, it doesn’t have to be through a military program It’s just through everyday life but, ultimately, it is about identifying that situation taking ownership of it holding yourself accountable, and tackling it face on. A lot of people who shy away or they have the easy option and they choose the easy option and therefore, you will not build resilience if you do that. The easy option is something in life that is presented to us on a plate where if you decide to step off that path and to challenge yourself that’s where you build up resilience Because ultimately you expose who you are, you expose your emotions and you learn to deal with them that’s what resilience is it doesn’t have to be climbing Mount Everest being in a special boat service being in a special forces, being in the military it’s about taking on the challenges that with challenge you and test you. So you’re saying that when we grow up as children we should make conscious decisions pointing again to when we have a choice to maybe not take the easy way but set a challenge for ourselves or create discomfort or challenging situations for ourselves or even seek adversity at times if it is not just thrown at us in the first place Absolutely, I think as adults we have that sense of duty, that sense of responsibility for our children for our future generation to build this in them I remember when I was a youngster and I was at beach and I didn’t want to get into the water and my stepfather lifted me up and I was kicking, screaming and crying Nowadays, people would be like, “What you doing? You can’t do that.” He picked me up and literally threw me in the sea and my brothers were already in the sea, so it wasn’t anything dangerous And I hit the water and I hated him for about 30 seconds and then after that, you couldn’t get me out the water I wanted to stay in the water But then the decision I made not to get into the water ultimately which he fitted on his head So it gave me a new lease of life for water After that, I loved going to the beach. I loved being in the water. You couldn’t get me out of the water And it’s little prominent points like that that I remember that I think, “Wow, that built up my resilience to actually try something that I’m scared of or to challenge adversity.” And something small like that sticks in my head from all those years ago But, if you look at day and age now, if you look at society nowadays You used to say, oh my child was crying and they didn’t want me to do this but I forced them to do it God, you’d be put under the magnifying glass and then why did you do that? And I see small things in life that really, really, really count and I think we have a really big responsibility as adults to step up to the mark and to still have that resilience in us and show our children that sometimes failure is the best option or adversity is the best option, go down that road, figure it out that’s what being a kid is all about And what forms us as kids and young adults is a sense of achievement so presumably once you are in the water and you manage to keep yourself afloat and actually start enjoying it it’s a sense of achievement for you And how far do you think that’s something that you experience this way now as a positive memory which was at the time very scary How much does that come down to you as a person who you were at the time how were you ticked at the time do you think that’s generally applicable ? or could you find it in other kids in a different situation and who have been thrown into the water possibly got so scared that they wouldn’t want to see the water for another few years after that. There’s obviously the safe environment I was a good swimmer, I always swim it wasn’t into a deep end, it was just in the water on the beach I could stand up, I was at waist height but once I was wet, I was wet So, you know I’m not talking about shocking someone into a danger situation or something where it’s really going to traumatize them but just dipping your toe literally into the ocean like yeah, just progressively doing it. -Pushing the limit
-Yeah pushing the limit that’s what life is about. You push those limits, you learn something you live in this new exciting space .Again, you push it again, you live in this new exciting space, you learn something, you grow. And that’s what life is about, it’s just constantly just pushing these limits little by little because you will learn and you will grow from it. So and that’s what I do with my children. You touched on an interesting point pushing out of the comfort zone There is an abundance of research in what makes emotionally grounded healthy and also professionally successful adults and one common denominator you have to find there is exactly that people who learn to go to the edge of the comfort zone go beyond that edge which is initially very, very uncomfortable but at some point realizing with the rewards that you get by doing that Just by feeling good about having achieved something you weren’t comfortable in even attempting and that can build a purpose and that resilience and at some point, you learn to actually embrace those challenges And then you choose the adversity or the more challenging situation possibly over the more comfortable one at some point, because you know you will be rewarded for that. But it’s probably out in the nature especially as kids that we need that extra push. Yeah, I think this comes down to emotional resilience and emotional intelligence controlling your emotions in these situations to achieve is absolutely key I’ve been in situations in the military where I’ve had to control my emotions to get the job done. If I broke down and started crying and started shaking and then I put my guys at risk and I put myself at risk life or death situations But I controlled my emotions to get the job done But the moment you can learn to control your emotions what you’re doing, you’re exposing those emotions If you let those emotions take over then you’re not learning anything You’re not learning how to control your emotions So emotional resilience doesn’t exist because the emotion presents itself it takes you, “Oh, it’s okay, there are your emotions.” *** take control of them the more you expose in certain emotion whether it’s fear for example.
The more you expose it, the more you control it the more you’re going to learn about it. The first time you might be absolutely petrified you might sit still you might freeze Do it again. You might freeze and then you might take a step forward Okay then and exposure, exposure, exposure and again you’re going to learn how to control your emotions. It’s like with anything else That exposure, I’m an extreme doer: I do, do, do, do, do I expose, expose, expose, expose And every time I unlayer something so that’s the thought process that I have whether that’s emotional resilience, mental resilience, controlling fear, controlling failure. They’re all part of life. The big things that stop us in life stop us from achieving is failure and fear. The fear, woom! Okay, we won’t even go there challenge it because like you said, once you get past that and you feel like you’ve got that sense to achievement. Even if it’s a small sense, even if you fail but you learn something about yourself. You’re going to grow therefore you re-attack you re-expose that And then you’re going to learn something that’s what life is about is this small progression in the right direction in life You want to be doing that till the day you die because that’s what your purpose in life. So I’m a big advocate on that and I believe that through adversity and hardship you will be resilient both emotionally and mentally. And I practice that with my children. And how far do you think that’s what you’re saying and obviously, that’s your own experience and your reality that this has worked very well for you and how far do you think that’s a question of degree of severity? For example, when controlling your emotions and there is, let’s call it an industry of mental health and therapy and so on There is a concept of when you try to control your adverse emotions and you do that for too long it just keeps them in and they build up and eat you up from the inside which can then, if you don’t have an outlet if you don’t have anybody to talk to about your inner darkness it can really build to something very, very negatively powerful And some people then pay the ultimate price the suicide rates are staggering. So my question, simply put do you think what you’re saying is it a degree severity or intensity where your approach works and if somebody just gets thrown something at them that they just can’t handle it they might break, they get traumatized? And we can talk about trauma and PTSD in a little bit. is there a line ? does it depend on the person ? or do you think in principle, in your experience could be true in any situation? There’s a difference between resilience and emotional fatigue chronic fatigue where the emotion is too overwhelming and you do go down this road of Mental Health or PTSD whatever it may be. So, there’s a fine line to it but again they’re your emotions only you know really how far you have been pushed or when you need to when you need an outlet for such For example: when I get emotionally stressed; stressed let’s say I’ll go out and I’ll do an activity. I’ll go out and I’ll climb a mountain. Something as extreme as that I’ll go out and I’ll run or ill swim I have these outlets because I have recognized where my outlets are. If you don’t recognize where your outlets are and it builds up and builds up and that’s not a good situation to be in. I would always recommend and I always have recommended to talk it is the best outlet that you can do, it is to talk to someone if it’s too much, talk to a loved one, talk to a friend, talk to a stranger if it makes you feel better But there is also that line of pushing people down that avenue of talking I’ll say to people and they will say to me: “Ant, I don’t want to talk.” And I am like: how do you know if you have never done it? So I would always say to people: ‘talk ” because if you don’t know, you don’t know what the effect it is going to have Lots of people when they have started talking and it’s the best thing they have ever done, brilliant well guess what, you need to keep talking Then I will have some people say:”Ant, well I have spoken and it’s not really for me, I would rather keep it in” like I do. I did that with my father My father’s death from when I was 5 years old I speak about it very rarely. Does it do me any good? Not really. I prefer to hold that it in. They are my memories a few dark places that I don’t want to revisit but I manage them. The moment someone is really trying to push me into that that’s when I would go the other way. I would be like: “There must be something wrong with me, am I suffering from mental health? have I got PTSD?” Even from the military and it’s like I’m dealing with this quite well and I’ve talked about it a couple of times but I’m quite happy on that subject but I’m quite happy to pull that back and that’s why we have to be really careful when it comes to mental health because some people talk, brilliant absolutely you keep talking to your mom, you keep talking to your parents, you keep talking to your loved ones, great! there are some people who’ll be like but I am being pushed to see a psychologist, being pushed down, I don’t really want to go down And all of a sudden they’re being pushed down this mental health world When really they don’t… they are quite happy just to get on and just to block that part out which, we know for me, it’s worked for me so it does work for other people. But, I have seen the hovers of both sides I have seen soldiers suffering from PTSD that have wanted to take their own lives friends of mine And I’ve gone with everything I’ve done to prevent that *** I think once they have someone have made that decision that they no longer want to be here you can talk, talk, talk all you want you can’t get into that person’s head you can’t get into that person’s mind and all it takes is for one action and everything is done so there is a fine balance between it and what I mean by that is also is that helping the people that need help and then there is forcing people that don’t need help we have to be really really careful of that because ultimately, we will be categorizing everybody into one box ultimately what we probably need is to talk about that do this for that and then we can take him or her out of that category or out of that box but ultimately once you’re falling over that and you’re going too far then yes there’s a group for that So having seen both sides and having experienced both sides I have been and that edge where it’s like : if I don’t take charge of myself if I don’t try and understand what’s going on then I’m going to fall and then then I’m going to hand that responsibility over to other people when ultimately we have the answer and it does take for other people to unlay and go**** “I’ve got it” But some people …. and It does the reverse effect. It doesn’t help that mental health is something so complex you can’t just have a 2 minute conversation and just look at someone and say you need to talk to someone or actually you need to see a psychiatrist or actually you will be fine So it is a lot of confusion often around it and it doesn’t help is that people who are affected and you have had friends suffering from PTSD and you’re not in a position where you’re like actually I need help, please find me someone or, actually, I’ll find someone who can help me professionally there’s a lot of denial first of all and it’s hard to admit, it’s hard to admit actually I have reached an emotional point where I can’t deal with my emotions with my trauma and I need help that’s a hard point to reach and often it’s friends, it’s family who are like you need to do something but then you’re again pushed into that… And it is often well intended and sometimes it can do more harm that just creates a lot of complexity. I think what is important is just that everybody understands and accepts that there are people out there who do need help and that if you encounter someone who does that we encourage them but in a benign way, in an understanding way, in a listening way not like you need to see a psychiatrist because you are crazy. you can do it very discreetly you can do these things very discreetly without them thinking that they’ve got a problem because the one thing that you don’t want to do with some people is go you have got a problem, you are not normal and then people are like wow so you know when people…keep a very close eye out because when people might mention something and you might just want to elaborate on that Oh what did you say about your mom or your pal that you buried Oh it’s good, that was good isn’t it? We see him off, it was a good send-off*** I’ve done that so many times. People have done that to me I have buried three or four friends very close friends in the ground and then one day I would be out and I would be talking and then boom I bring it up and I’m not one …. and before I know it a spoken about it for an hour I don’t even realize that and then I’ve come out and I feel very refreshed I feel very, very good about it’s just that I’ve only spoke about it unintentionally because it came up in conversation for an hour but now I know what my friends are doing because I have done it to them there is that way of dealing with things, it’s almost like prevention before the cure It’s part of a probably a cure you’re not aware of It’s a processing of emotions and memories let me get to one point that you often mentioned in your book. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are. My question to you is how does it fit in a context when you go through extreme training and real life missions as you have you must have changed as a person. Are you still the same Ant that went to primary school? The same Ant that lost his dad, who was bullied at school? No, no And what I mean is that as a child you’re going to learn you’re going to grow but what shocks me is adults when you know the brain is fully developed when you’re fully developed and we’ll always learn and we’ll always grow that’s the purpose in life but we now have a responsibility to look down on our generation and say: Now, I’ve been mentored and bought up now it’s my responsibility to… Adults are looking to adults to still be brought up and you are like get a grip of yourself you know, take charge of yourself you should be looking down at your children or our future generation and showing leading by example you know, I’m very sort of old-school but I’m very sort of set in my ways of we’re adults we know right from wrong there’s a difference between making bad life decisions and then needing extreme help shall we say so when you get to that level of responsibility I believe that as adults we should uphold that nd yeah people go through trauma, people go through…. but guess what : everyone has a story everyone has been through some kind of trauma that is life it’s about understanding and grasping that actually that’s life that’s what makes me the person that I am today I’ll be different in 10 years’ time. I’m not saying I won’t change but ultimately I won’t let people tell me who I am how the hell are you going to know to try to tell me why or how I feel you’re not inside my body, you know a bit of me but ultimately only I know me It’s almost that flip reversing of why wouldn’t you want to know more about yourself I find it fascinating to keep learning about myself. I’m revealing these new emotions I’m layering just another part of the emotion just thinking differently or seeing things differently as I get older you know, I find that fascinating and also it’s that no one can tell me that apart from me so I would never let anyone define me I can let people forge me, don’t get me wrong I like the way you dealt with that or I love their attitude and that… I am always building on the best version of myself And you know yourself better than anyone else **** and the real answers, the true answers are within and guess what, only we as individuals know them and I’m a strong believer in that You have a very reflective way of how you see yourself, how you’ve developed of how you deal with situations. Also in your book often you describe situation and then you reflect on it what’s brought you to that decision ? sometimes through intuitive thinking process so it absolutely makes appearance that you’re somebody who is well reflected on yourself and who you are and how you take I think a lot of people out there were very confused with themselves and who they are and can’t really put emotions into place or make sense of their emotional reactions or their decisions. Often people make rash decisions also out of impulsiveness, out of anger, frustration It’s all about growing and learning. That’s life I have got sympathy towards situations and people and their upbringing and what they’ve been through you know it’s life it’s life, you know do you want to help every single person in this world the moment you can take charge of yourself and take ownership of who you are then I find that so empowering because then I can hand that over to other people I can hand over to future generations, not just my children but other children even adults even people older than me I find that very empowering I find it very saddening to be fair that people go through their life confused and never sort of really figuring it out and then dying it’s like a waste of life Maybe it would be to their benefit if they had somebody at some point in their life who pushed them to their comfort zone for them to actually realize that there’s more potential then they admit to themselves Yeah I think that is great mentors are great and having the right people around you is absolutely key I have found that too later on in my life but I’ve spent most of my childhood most of my military career if you speak to my colleagues, by myself. I figured it out by myself and I sit here as a 38 year-old man, not having figured it all out Nowhere near that and I wouldn’t want to either but, you know, having a good foundations of who I am a foundation that I could build on and I think that’s what lacks a lot of people, they haven’t even got that foundation that they can build on. They need that, those building blocks to be able to start that off. A lot of people never find that in their life and once you’ve had that foundation you can build those building blocks on it I mean that foundation is an initial resilience an initial stability that they can develop on base of that I have been in so many situations in my life the reason why I can speak so passionately and so openly about it is because I’ve been at the top of my career I have been in prison where I’ve had nothing, where everything was at the lowest of the low I’ve buried friends, I’ve been in life and death situations I’ve been in situations where if I didn’t take charge of who I was and didn’t take charge of my mind Then I would be in a very, very different situation than what I’m in now so the power of positivity, the power of knowing who will you are ultimately sets those foundations and it’s just about getting out there and realizing what you’re capable of Sitting around thinking about it and moping about it is not going to expose what needs to get exposed so that you can pick from and build on So I’m quite **** for it to be fair***** Brilliant. And we briefly talked about one forming period of our lives which is our childhood. Then, there is a period in our lives that can be equally challenging is when we retire. And there are statistics that when people reach the official retirement age more talented peaks, why is that? There is a lot of no guessing why that would be and it does make sense that people , they lose structure, they lose a sense of purpose and a sense of identity also. I’d like to talk to you about this a little bit because you retired from active duty and which was a big transition, I presume. When professional athletes, when they retire at probably a similar age from the top of their career they also have to go through a phase of where they lose that structure you’re not doing the training camps you don’t have to eat exactly according to your schedule you’re not constantly tested for this and that and also you’re not out in the field anymore doing what you love to do doing what you’re trained and what’s been ingrained in you to do every day. So often, people are faced with a lot of time struggling with their own identity and often purpose is that something you can relate to when you’re active duty career came to an end? Yeah, absolutely. When I left the military, I thought that I could just jump into any [inaudible 32:20] of full hours***** stable enough to do that but then the whole sense of belonging the whole identity issue comes in and I didn’t think it would have such a major role in the transition from being a military man to trying to fit into society but that was really, really tough for me. And I didn’t really want to accept it. I didn’t really want to acknowledge it, but when I look back on it now and reflect on it that was a tough transition I made so many mistakes. The main mistake that I made was this whole, “Once a marine, always a marine.” And it’s like, you’re not in the marines anymore But then, well, if I’m not in the marine, who am I? Well, you’re just like everyone else, you’ve got to start somewhere and you’ve got to build your way up. But, ultimately, when you step out of a position of, not only of authority but of eliteness, at that level and you jump into the unknown, you think you’re going to start off on this level it’s wrong. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to start on the bottom of the ladder you’ll probably start two or three runs up but you’re not going to start in round 10. No, it’s a whole new sort of reality check. And that was very hard to accept You go out and you think, “All, right, I’ve earned this.” But, you need to keep earning it your whole life. You need to keep earning that run on that ladder. You need to start somewhere. And I always say to people no matter what career or lifestyle change you transition into you have to start at the back of the queue okay But what a lot of people do, they start at the back of the queue and after six months to a year they think they can jump out and take the short cut because they’ve had such a good career before And they take a short cut and they get lost in and around the bizarres and before you know it, two, three years later They find their way back to the queue and they have to jump at the back of the queue again I think it’s the human trait. It’s we need to progress and that’s why economies always have to grow Our generation has to have it better than the last generation otherwise, if you had the same quality of life same incomes as our parent’s generation, we’d be unhappy. And also, the traditional career trajectory people want to get promoted to earn more, have more status and making a step back is immensely hard Also financially, often you hear people who will used to live with a certain income level or a certain lifestyle and for whatever reason they lose that or lose part of that they have to take a step back, that’s emotionally, immensely hard. But what you must remember is we are not entitled to anything in life. You have to earn your money, you have to earn your position, you have to earn your status you’re not entitled to anything And I think that’s where a lot of people get it wrong They have this sense of entitlement, okay And whether that’s from being a part of a hierarchy financially up there on annual basis and then that whole change is like, “Well, I was getting it there, I’m entitled to it now, surely.” Or, “I was at that position of authority, I should automatically drag that over and bring that with me.” No, you’ve got to sort of lose that and drop that attitude and this whole Zuperburg effect I call it the zuperburg effect where people think they can be millionaires overnight. That they think that career now is do an app, or six months to a year if they haven’t made a million pounds, well, guess what, I’m going to change career And they jump over and they do that their whole lives. Where if they had stayed in that career. A career is 15, 20, 30 years long. At the end of that career, if you work hard you will work your way up You will live comfortably You will hopefully, enjoy your later days in life. But this whole sense of entitlement of I don’t need to work I can be a millionaire within or a very successful career’s person, whatever career you’ve chosen in a year or two it’s not reality, it’s not real. And that’s why I talk about the sense of responsibility that we have as adults just that ownership and hold yourself accountable show that this isn’t real And in this day and age and I’m all for.. I’m very much, I move along with the times I get it. I do get it but, also, I do drag this 30, 40% of this old school resilience this old school reality of actually work ethic, respect, manners being able to socialize with people keeping it real, acknowledging the situation or the person for what it is Now, no sugar coating it, no, go, ” I’m going to jump into this career while in two years’ time, he got up to like a hundred grand a year. So, no, don’t look at life like that And that’s why I talk about this resilience as a mental state it’s just stripping all down to very, very basics, keeping it very, very simple but keeping it real. And I think that in this society now, it’s just gone too far where everyone’s entitled to something People say, “I can’t find a job”. I talk to sixteen, seventeen year olds, “I can’t find a job, there is no job out there.” I reckon that within the next three hours, I could walk around this town center and I could find a job Doing what? Collecting glasses, a Barman … “Well, I don’t want to do that.” But what do you want to do? You’ve got GCSEs, What do you want to do? “Well, I want to this…” Well, to get to that level you’ve got 15, 20 years boy. So do you understand what I mean? So there is this whole sort of reality bubble where people like, “Well, you can do what you want, you can be who you want to be, you can… ” Yes to a certain extent, but get a grip that is not real. Guess what? You can’t be who you want to be because you haven’t worked for it And you can’t do this because you have to go through this process, this process, and this process. Just because you’re this, this, and this doesn’t mean you’re going to jump up there. Because that’s not real, it doesn’t work like that. You need to earn, you’re not entitled to stuff. And I think there’s that whole push and pull now where we’re too far over here where we just need to stay here, move along with the times but we just need to bring this realism back into not only ourselves but into our future generation What I hear out of your story is two things. A few points that you mention I think you can boil down to purpose You need to identify and know your purpose and at the same time you need to be pragmatic and realistic and you need to bring that together It’s a hybrid It is a hybrid I mean some people they do achieve amazing things in life and they only do so because they’ve not listened to anybody else they’ll just be like, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to build this up or whatever” Ant, don’t tell me that I need to stay on the… No, no, but I’ve done that as well When I’d go out and there are people like “Ant, you’re never going to be in a special forces.” the more people tell me that, the more I want to do it. But, it still took me eight, nine years to even get on Special Forces selection. It’s like we’re the media world that I’m in now sort of burst into the media world sort of three and a half years ago with one series of SAS *** Ant, don’t take that as a career go back into security because once that show is done you’ll be a one stop shop And one thing that I absolutely hate is when people say to me “Ant, make the most of it once it’s there Strike while the iron is hot.” And I’m like, “I’m not striking anything”. I’m not taking anything once it is there because my fifteen year career in the military might very much see this new media career fifteen, twenty years I’m not striking anything while it’s hot I’m not taking anything once it’s there. I’m progressively going to work my way up and through to be the best in this world now So, you still have to go through that process. If someone says, “I don’t care what you say.” I love that attitude I don’t care what anyone else say do you believe that? Yes, I believe that. Well, guess what? You go and do that Because if you believe it I guarantee you will probably get knocked down again and again and again but you’ll believe, you’ll just learn something form it each time learn something form it each time, learn, learn, learn, learn and then boom you’ll hit it I mean you must have had that belief when you went through your training I still have that belief now I still have that belief now, people are starting to believe in me because I’m progressing and then all of a sudden it’s just like… Listen, you believe in me three years ago so, you know, It’s a lie And again, it’s what I say about people holding themselves accountable. Knowing yourself better than anyone else is so liberating because it might be a vast dream that’s way out there but as long as you believe in it you keep going for that. Even if you don’t reach that dream, I guarantee you, you’ll learn something and then another avenue might open up And you go, “Well, that’s no longer my dream there, actually this is much more realistic one for the moment” and you go off there and you might stay there for five, six years and then you might eventually reach a dream but believing in what you did There’s so many vast opportunities and there is so many different corridors and doors that you need to open and as long as you believe, you will achieve and I know it sounds cliché believe to achieve but it’s never a truer sort of expression that comes to the forefront when I think of believing and achieving because that’s exactly what I do. Probably twenty years ago when you started your military career you wouldn’t have thought where you are twenty years later Even 13 years later when I first joined the military and people would see us and hear about the SAS and the SPS and the Special forces and you’d be like a rabbit and hiding and you’d never even dreamed about getting on the selection let alone being in the organization It’s just like “Psh, don’t even go there.” And then you go, “Oh, actually, I’m quite good at this. Oh well, actually, this person tried and I think I can do that.” Again, it’s just building up that self-belief in yourself But everything starts with you Do you remember what your initial dream was when you started with your military career? As you know that, you don’t go in with the aim that you will go to pre-selection and actual professional career I was just plodding through life I still plod through life now I don’t set myself goals because something might come up I’m an opportunist and opportunity might come up and that goal is.. I’m off this direction here. So I don’t do that I very much live in the now. So I plod along now I plod along, I plod along then I realize what I am capable of I realize what I’ve learned and I realize where I am. And I take a step back, have a good look around and go, “All right, you know what, I’m going to tackle that.” So I’m very much in the now person. I don’t think about next week, for example I have structure for next week in my plan but I’m very much a now person. I put everything into the now. Because you don’t know what you’re going to get out of it Now I have this interview and I might have another opportunity It’s so bizarre how the world works and if you don’t live in the now and you’re always thinking about the future, or you live in the past but then again, you don’t live in the real world There is a concept called mindfulness and being in the moment and in mental health, and particular mental health treatments for people who do seek professional help if they suffer from addiction or depression and so on Being in the moments, is actually a very important message for somebody like that and learning the tools to do so. It can be meditation or anything if you can’t naturally, hold that state for long because the future often holds a lot of uncertainties, anxieties The past holds a lot of resentment and trauma and being in the moment can be a very, very powerful tool for again resilience and eventually happiness So that’s something you seem to have inadvertently mastered overtime because you have to be in the moment Yeah, I think so. And it’s not something that has been taught I think it’s just, I suppose it might come back from my military days where every time I went onto a mission I never knew if I was going to come back or not So I had to live in that moment. I had to be like right, am I going to live or am I going to die? There’s not really much more that I can conjure up here It’s like living it, put 100% of everything into this situation because if you have 1% distraction it could cost you your life So I suppose that’s where it comes from So that’s one positive take away from the military career. Brilliant Let’s briefly talk about your childhood again From your book and some of the stories you’ve told publicly it wasn’t an easy childhood. Your father passed away when you were five years old and after that, unexpectedly, your mother very quickly found another partner You moved to a different country Just looking at it from the outside without knowing the different people in that story and the inner you that looks like a recipe for a troubled childhood, teenage-hood and adulthood You could have easily become one of those statistics of violent drunk struggling with finding a job How did you beat these odds? Was there a defining moment for you? I suppose when I look back on my childhood when I reflect on what happened I actually take positive from it. Now a lot of people say, I believe that there is a positive to take from every negative and the positive was that at the age of five when my father passed away and the new man came into our lives within a couple of weeks and then within a couple of months we’re completely moved to a different country I remember just the magnitude of the situation, I was like, “What the hell is going on?” To the point where it was so vast and so big that I couldn’t comprehend it So what I decided to do is not understand or try and understand why I couldn’t especially at five years old And I can remember just thinking, “Alright.” And I almost let it all go I remember just thinking, “All right. Don’t think about it just let it all go.” And I can remember it almost feeling like a release the world being taken off my shoulders And I thought to myself “Understand what you can understand.” I didn’t realize this back then, it’s only because I can reflect on it now. And the thing that I could understand was myself I could understand what I was doing. I could understand my emotions I could understand what I needed to do get on. I could understand So, from a young age of five and six I started self-reflecting at that age So a lot of people will say, “Ant, how come you’re so in tuned with yourself? How comes you’re so in touch with yourself? How comes you’re so connected with yourself?” I’m like, “Because I started self-reflecting.” So that was your way to cope with the situation? At the age of five and six And when I look back at it I wish to think I was quite selfish child I always think, “Alright, just do what you want to do, think how you want to think.” Quite a stubborn child about that. I always wanted to be self-sufficient standing on my own two feet That’s only because I could understand that I could understand what is understandable rather than trying to comprehend what either wasn’t real which was the past It doesn’t exist. It’s gone so you can’t possibly take anything from the past You can’t reverse time, you can’t go back there. And again, I suppose living in that moment it was those two things when I look back on it I say to myself, “Wow.” When I say to people to self-reflect now at the age of seventeen, eighteen which I try and tell them “Think about yourself, don’t think about other people, don’t think about other situations define yourself how you feel. Let your emotions, what you’re feeling, take control of them.” I even say it to middle aged people even to older people I’ve had older people come up to me and go, “Antie, you’ve shown me that it is not too late to self-reflect and to change your mind set” and these are people that are in their sixties and seventies. And I’m just like when I think about it. “Wow, you know that’s such an advantage in life” or such a step ahead You know from the age of five and six I’ve had to. That is why I am who I am today and that’s why I think and why I reflect and why I’m connected with myself is because ultimately, I’ve been doing it for all these years. So that’s actually adverse time those experiences in your childhood let to the need for you to reflect and that was your coping mechanism and luckily it was a positive coping mechanism that could help you build resilience and see you through life rather than just acting out in different ways.
Yeah, but when I did act out in different ways as well I always think to myself why am I acting out in this way? And why would I come back from a night club full of blood? Why was I fighting, right? Well, because I’m angry. Why are you angry? Because, what’s the trigger? That’s the trigger but what can I do about it? Talk about it? Absolutely. Try and dig and find out about it? No, because that happened 30 odd years ago or whatever it was 20 odd years ago you know, that stage No, you can’t cut that out, you’re right What could you talk about? What can you find out about it? Did it make you feel better? Yes, it does. Well, actually maybe I need to drop into conversation every now and then or maybe I need to know visit my dad’s grave a little bit more. Maybe you know, it’s these little things but they ultimately, I’m a strong believer in and I’m a strong believer in that you know, it’s finding that trigger you know, or finding that moment And then my moments will blur into one I can remember, you know, if I was there, if I was taking this sort of ownership for myself, my young self-reflecting I can remember, you know, taking, not letting people define me in the military, you know There’s all these stepping stones but there’s no set moment really that I can go back to but I just reflect and going, ” Ah, that’s that trigger.” Because it could be different emotional breakdowns for different moments, different triggers. So everything just isn’t set on my father passing away. You know, what that emotion was, I’ve got forget that, I’ve dealt with that. Okay, this is the different right, you know, so that’s what you’ve got to remember as well. And like I say to you, only we, only we know that really if we unload and dig down into it, so much. But if you do that along the way in your life if you naturally do that along the way rather than let it build up, build up, build up, build up then having to go like a whoosh like a gingerset and go right, where do we start here? You know, as long as you got what’s in the mind, is that thing, that’s that one done, little one, you might feel it, you know and that’s why I talk about, ownership and accountability and go and you know what, yeah. And like you said, it’s hard going, there’s something here There’s a problem here or there’s a weakness here like a lot of us men do but it’s ultimately, it’s acknowledging it when there’s a niggle and as it might be a little like …. I need to deal with that. I mean you quite rightly put it the term trigger because there’s always something underlying whilst we do have certain emotions and I’m talking about again adverse emotions It is also a trigger why people, you know, take the bottle down off the shelf or why they lash out at someone and that trigger is somewhere rooted in our past and in the past trauma or experience So it’s either about identifying it and say okay I make peace with it and I know how to deal with it. Or when it gets much more deeper, okay, now we need to dig it out and process it so that it doesn’t haunt you anymore And in your book you also described that you had a bully in your school who had his focus set on you and you describe the moment where your stepfather told you you don’t come home before you haven’t dealt with him or actually literally I told you and before I haven’t punched him how was that experience petrifying for you? Petrifying. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else that day at school. I was scared. I was lonely but I needed to do it because otherwise I wouldn’t dare walk through the door and as something that is really really forced upon me to the extent where you know, if I had the easy option and I would have taken it all day long. But it’s something that sticks with me as well as I just think to myself, you know, do I take a positive from it? Yes, because I never got bullied again after that So people will say well violence isn’t the option, well it was there Did it work? Yes, it did. And people don’t like to hear that. I’m not saying that that is the only way to go but it’s solved that problem Did it help you build confidence that time? No. It didn’t help me build confidence. It didn’t change me in any way apart from that I didn’t get bullied. But I didn’t like the experience. I’m not a violent person. I’m not I was always a quiet boy, you know Again, you know I’d be playing off in the woods by myself I’ve always loved my own company. I wasn’t a loner but always take myself out of it, you know. So you can imagine to be in that situation, in the canteen where everyone’s that was just my worst nightmare. But it happened and yes, you know with my son nowadays I tell him to you know, I always tell him to walk away. I’ll be like : Son, if you’re getting bullied or I say be the bigger person and walk away and you know, because people take advantage of you in life. Whether you like it or not people live in this little bubble where ” go tell the teacher,” what world do you live in you know? There is this maturity about youngsters that we should, do walk away. If you’d told me that 10 years ago, if you had said, it takes a bigger man to walk away I’ll be like … But that you’re absolutely, but because of the experiences that I’ve been through, I’m learning and growing.. There’s this saying, “battle avoided is a battle won,” or fight avoided is a fight won. What about if the sword keeps poking you in the back? Not exactly, but then it’s not avoided But just being the bigger person and walking away diffuses the situation Which is also what you were trying to do before you landed in prison sentence. But with that advice and I recall that very vividly as well from my martial arts teacher when I was a teenager every time we were learning self-defense you know, somebody would attack us with a knife before we would start in doing the exercises. He asked, the instructor asked everyone What do you do when somebody pulls a knife on you? And we all together have to answer, “run.” That’s really ingrained. Just you know, walk away, run away, and don’t put yourself in such a situation Of course. I would do that. If someone pulled a knife on me, I’ll be gone If they chase me, that’s a different story. But of course, of course. Right and then it’s easy to translate that into less threatening situation to say oh, you know, I’m going to avoid that uncomfortable situation but then, so from your story a takeaway is really you need to just make sensible judgments every time. You cannot benefit from embracing this challenge or do I need to walk away from this because it’s just doesn’t make sense. It’s too dangerous And it’s also not putting yourself in those situations It’s reading the situation beforehand. I’m all about prevention before cure. You know if I walk into, let’s say a bar or pub, for example and I look in the corner and there’s loud people*** who had too much to drink I’m walking straight back out there. I wouldn’t have done that years ago And again, you know, you won’t find me in taxi cues late at night. You won’t find me put myself in these situations. So I’m almost, you know, eliminating the problem before even presents itself. And that’s what I think, you know, a lot of people need to do as well. Is that we have this gut feeling, we have this is you know, these spider senses that go [mouth clicks]. It’s not hiding or running away No, it’s not. It’s just being smart. It’s going, “do I need to put myself in the situation?” No, therefore don’t do it. Right. Nothing good can come of it. Exactly, yeah In your book you often talk about your demons and how you make friends with your demons you can leverage them to your advantage But you’re never quite going to detail what those demons are Would you share a bit? Yeah, of course Your demons, when you look at it, for me punching that bully from a young age that was me exercising my demons knowing that it’s there growing up, you know, being confused About my father, drinking, violence Knowing that you can’t be violent Knowing that the demon is there, and if it gets hold of you Then you can spiral out of control And that’s very much in the military, pressing that trigger You know that you can do it You know ultimately that is the demon exorcising right within you You do what needs to be done But you never let that control you and ultimately when I think about it, from a young age when I punched that bully I didn’t want to continue punching him I exorcise the demon but I kept him closed I didn’t let him run wild but when I look at the violent situations that I’ve been in when sort of my mid-career my demons got the better of me drinking and and fighting I went through a stage a couple of years of doing that that’s why I talk about getting a grip of them and ultimately going back to being in Afghanistan and pulling that trigger I had to exorcise my demons but not be that bully with a weapon it could have been quite easy for me and I understand how people you know we like animals when you press that trigger for the first time we’re like a dog with a blood lust it’s very hard to control that not to go out you know just go right kill kill kill and do what do what needs to be done you have to control that you have to to harness it to get the job done and the demons can be can be something as little as as temptation something as little as you know maybe doing a physical activity and you having to exercise the aggressor within you to get over last hurdle to get over that last hill to get over that last obstacle whatever it may be and it’s just about not letting that control you but ultimately acknowledging that it’s there now I’m sure sometimes everyone,you know, you want to kick the ball or you want to go… you know but you control that you make it work for you and when it’s time to let it out you can actually work in your advantage it’s like for me, doing the job that I’ve done in the military you know, saving life but also taking life I had to exorcise that demon every time I press that trigger it’s like okay so I don’t want to do this, but if I don’t I’m going to die or my pal is gonna die therefore I need to exercise that however if I do that then I could start going right well you’re gonna get it you’re gonna get it then you can find yourself in a very very soft vulnerable situation and especially when it’s fueled with alcohol and drugs this why I say to people you know we all have demons there but once it’s clouded with alcohol and drugs those demons are going to take charge first, cut out the alcohol don’t use it as an excuse take away that excuse cut out the drugs don’t use that as an excuse don’t make that, don’t give that demon that fuel to to take over who you are and then when people do get so far into drugs and that I’m just like sure, that’s your own doing it’s like, you know, this is where I talked about taking charge yourself you know that’s not doing you any good I went through two years of it so I know I’ve learned the hard way so when once I cut that out in my life and I cut that out my life I was like actually wow I’m a different person now so, exorcising your demons is just acknowledging that we all have them we all have demons and they will come out and you will know when they come out and just about going: do I need it here ? No.
He doesn’t even need to pop his head up but you might find yourself in a situation where you’re friends with your demons You go : actually, I need this little bit of .. Aggression or I need this little bit of a push or I need to be someone else to get this job done so it’s uhm
-that’s about learning to harness them at the right time Harness them at the right time but also allowing them to exercise as well you can’t lock them away because the moment you lock them away Again, it’s like a build up Build up, Build up, Build up they want to get out, they want to get out, they want to get out then all of a sudden boom you do something then you’re just like wow you know, it’s too late **** That moment of madness Can change your life So what was the hardest moment for you emotionally in your life, this far ? The hardest time for me was being in prison actually when I left the military six months later I found myself in prison and just that emotional shame of being locked up and it’s such a shameful experience because you know I was spending time away from the family I was a burden I wasn’t putting food on the table or wasn’t keeping a roof over their head I wasn’t bringing in any income you know this whole sense of responsibility that I’ve so proudly stood up to and I’ll make sure that that’s everything’s done before I do anything I was a burden to everyone and it was such a shameful experience emotionally it was hard to stoop down to those levels of of being a burden and not standing up to my responsibilities or not being able to but it it changed my life it changed the way I act now it changed my mindset so the positive for me is it’s probably the best thing that probably happened to me at that stage because if I would have got away with that what would I have done next ? I would have felt invincible and I would’ve probably done something even worse and spend a lot more time away from home so there’s every positive from a negative -And you also mentioned how it immensely helped you to have this structure after military environment Again, in prison you were given a structure You were in a, let’s say controlled environment and in in mental health structure is something that also often it comes up as an important concept or idea and that people who do not have a structure in their life even self-imposed, like okay I get up at this time no matter what and then I exercise and then I eat and then I read a book there’s a lot of people now who especially these days who have the luxury of spending the day as well or again we talked about retirement earlier on that structure how do you make it work for yourself ? now you don’t have to be in a certain place at a certain time in theory you can you can sleep in if you like yeah, I think that to start that structure off, you stop playing the victim we live in this blame culture, this victim culture where everyone owes us something that you know we we should be given this structure It’s down to us to build that structure I can remember being in prison almost going bankrupt, on the complete bones of my ass on my back and I felt liberated so, I thought: there’s only one way for me to go here only one way for me to go and I didn’t have no stress, I didn’t have it, I just acknowledged the situation for what it was that’s why I talked about acknowledgement once you acknowledge you can process and you can execute what needs to be done I remember thinking: I can only build from here I’ve got nothing around, I haven’t got penny in my pocket so I’m gonna have to close a company down I just got to rebuild from from the start but I can remember just thinking well I feel actually liberated I feel refreshed and I built that structure from nothing It’s almost as if you know I had a bit of land And be like, you know, or guess what I’m going to find some bricks I’m gonna structure it the way I want to now I restructured my life in a completely different way so it’s about accountability It is about ownership and I always revert back to that because it’s so so important don’t think people are going to do it for you because they’re not if you want to structure your own life the way that you want it to be structured you talk about having the liberty of sleeping yeah I don’t know, there’s no liberties I work for my liberties, I structure my liberties in a way where the outcome probably I don’t have to put that brick on that wall today because I’ve already built this foundation around me I can probably have a day off and put that brick on the next day so, you know, again it’s having having that structure in your life and building it yourself and when you build it yourself when you build those foundations yourself when it comes crumbling down you know exactly where it’s gone wrong or what you need to do to just step back up to the game or step back up to the plate and get things done and the moment people start doing it for you then they’re gonna be doing it for you your whole life so it’s about, you know, use the people around you, don’t get me wrong use the people around you, use what you’ve got around you build your own structure, make your own structure, make it yours make it your blueprint because then no one can take it from you and you can always, honestly you can always revert back to it and build on it At times, towers or bricks come tumbling down but guess what I’ve got still got these foundations these structures that I have built
I know exactly where I’m going, I know exactly what I need to rebuild let’s do it This reminds me of what the friend told me the other day ”Success is only loaned and you’re paying interest every day ” when you stopped putting that study in every day .. – it’s like, you know what is success? I don’t believe in that word ”success”, I don’t like that word ”success” Success is in the eye the beholder for me success is understanding who you are and building and being happy and building on the best version of yourself there’s nothing out there that defines success for me successes is is within and if you’re happy and you understand yourself and you know who you are I believe that in its own right is success and everything will fit into place from there yeah I think that’s a very powerful message because you say correctly that success lies in the eyes of the beholder and the society we live in has very peculiar definitions of what is success and what’s not and I think a lot of people growing up in this environment they get this external pressure, what they need to achieve in order to be considered successful but even when they get there they’re not fulfilled or happy so I think it’s very powerful message about knowing yourself and your own purpose and being in peace And once you do know your inner purpose my inner purpose is to build on being the best version of myself It’s something that the purpose lies within and I will never fully fulfill that purpose or never get to that answer because I’ll be doing it hopefully until the day I die, that’s what’s gonna give me purpose I’ll be on that journey you know pushing pushing pushing trying to find out who I am but ultimately the answer I’ll get closer and closer to it but I never answer that question that is my purpose in life and I find that fascinating I find it fascinating that I can do that and there’s nothing out there materialistic that’s gonna give me purpose it’s just building the best version of myself so I can pass it on to my children I can pass it on to future generations I can pass it on to adults, pass it on to whoever and they can pass it on to us if we all had that, you can imagine, me giving you a little bundle of positivity, a little bundle of joy and we all had that then that what greater purpose than that then lifting each other up and helping each other out but sadly that’s not the real world that we live in You know, a lot of things are materialistic and now external but for me if you look within, and you can’t go far wrong I think a lot of people who do struggle with purpose who do struggle with structure who do prefer to stay in a comfortable bubble they can really benefit from your experience and your message and then there are those people who are ill who are either emotionally damaged through an experience or they suffer from a mental illness and I’d like to compare that to somebody in order to run in order to go through military training for instance you need to have your limbs if you lose a limp you can’t run anymore and with mental health it’s a very similar, you can use that analogy if somebody has a mental illness or is so traumatized that that they’re not in a position to to just get stuck together get through that you know, use that resilience I think that’s the people we shouldn’t forget and who need that empathy and that help to get them to a point where they can walk again Definitely and you know there are so many of us out there that want to help and there’s so many of us that that need help And yeah, if you are in that situation, then absolutely Like I said, it’s like rebuilding from your foundations it’s just that, ultimately you know again you’ll only accept help if you want help again it always does start with the individual and I think with with anything like this well, the main message that I can deliver from this is just be honest with yourself if you’re honest with yourself you can’t go too longer if you’re honest to yourself, you’ll be like: You know what? I need help if you’re honest yourself and go: you know what I’m being pointed down this corridor say that : is this first footstep into this door a true footstep? No. well if it’s not, don’t take it but again, there is that reverse effect of well, I actually need to take this footstep let’s do it and you know, there’s help on both sides but be honest with yourself it would just make things so much more transparent and the process will be a lot easier you know what I read out of your story and your comments now is that self reflection be honest to yourself it’s just as much about resilience than being strong and not giving up and you know pulling something through because that’s often that the weakest point, it’s that the one we don’t even know about because we don’t admit that we have a problem that we need to address either with external help or on their own and especially mental health, that’s tricky somebody who’s very depressed doesn’t have the energy doesn’t have the motivation isn’t honest of themselves not actually, I want to get out of this somebody who suffers from addiction often the very same thing it’s like no it’s not that bad, or I can deal with this yeah exactly, that reflection, actually I think that’s a very powerful message it’s part of resilience of course it is it’s having been sort of on both sides of it you know I understand both sides and you know it’s traumatic when you do see so many people taking their lives just talk, just start off talking, just whatever is on you mind just get it out and that one word or that one sentence might save your life Brilliant, and I’ve last question for you you’re talking about purpose meaning in life what’s in for you in in the future? what are your plans? what’s your purpose now? where do you see your journey going from here ? I’m very much enjoying my new career I love delivering a message I found that this career is very much like my last career It isn’t a privilege, it’s very much a responsibility I inspire a lot of people as much as you know people inspire me so I’ve got the sense of responsibility to uphold for, especially for our future generation about mindset about resilience about, you know, self-discovery shall we say so I’m very much doing stuff for people whether it’s day camps I’m doing new day camps mind over muscle day camps which is physical and psychological there’s mindset coaching and mentoring within within the physical exercise so that’s very interesting and it’s very popular more touring around the UK, I’ve got a UK tour in September talking about fear, failure, resilience and talking about my my military background and about Mount Everest as well I recently scaled *** so it’s just getting that message out there now everything that I do has a subliminal message behind it I don’t just do things for the sake of doing things because it’s just that’s just mundane there’s got to be a purpose behind it it’s got to stay true to me and authentic to me and it’s got to deliver a powerful message and I just want to share my experience you know I say to people that I’m not an intellect, I’m not bookworm, I’m just someone that comes from the university of life you know, and I just want to share share my experiences but a lot more TV a lot more tours and like I said, you haven’t seen the last of me Brilliant I mean being in the public spotlight and as you said more TV more appearances more people know your name and know your face is it stressful? are you neutral about that part of it? you know people possibly recognizing you ? also you know there’s always the risk that a comment you make can be picked up by tabloids and in different contexts and all that, all the the risk factors that come with with being a celebrity Yeah I do acknowledge that that is part and parcel of it again going to that acknowledgement stage this is part and parcel of it people stopping me in the street and all, that’s all positive you know people want to hear about my story but I could make someone’s day, month, or a year then why wouldn’t I stop and be polite things being taken out of context you know, been taken out of concept that’s part and parcel of it It’s acknowledging that’s part and parcel I’m not going to change who I am or change how I think or certainly be silenced through what I believe is is right and again I do not go out to offend my actions aren’t malicious you know, I just generally believe every strength starts in my beliefs they’ve worked for me and if I can help tens of thousands of people that I’m helping then I’ll continue being authentic, real to myself and just accepting that the situation is the situation and you’re not gonna be everyone’s cup of tea right? so that’s life -Stay true to yourself
-Stay true to myself Thank you so much for this interesting conversation it’s a real pleasure having you
-thank you very much, thank you