Ex-sol­dier and fa­ther-of-five Ant Mid­dle­ton has faced many chal­lenges dur­ing his life, but it turns out his lat­est — con­quer­ing Ever­est — was the big­gest ever. catches up with the lovely mean ma­chine

Gabrielle Fagan

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW -

As the chief in­struc­tor on Chan­nel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins re­al­ity se­ries since 2015, and a for­mer sol­dier, Ant Mid­dle­ton is de­servedly dubbed TV’s hard­est man. The 37-year-old Hamp­shire-born fa­therof-five is used to risk­ing his life. He’s fought the Tal­iban in Afghanistan and is one of only a hand­ful of sol­diers to have com­pleted the holy trin­ity of serv­ing in the Para­chute Reg­i­ment, the Royal Marines and the elite Spe­cial Forces.

But his tough­est chal­lenge ever was the five-and-a-half week expedition in May this year to con­quer Ever­est.

Cap­tured in an hour-long Chan­nel 4 doc­u­men­tary, the dra­matic jour­ney sees him separated from his cam­era crew, at the mercy of the el­e­ments and suf­fer­ing frost­bite in treach­er­ous con­di­tions.

The film charts his des­per­ate fight to sur­vive on his de­scent of the 29,000ft peak, which has claimed nearly 300 lives since 1922.

Here, Mid­dle­ton talks about fac­ing up to death, how fail­ing as a dad is his great­est fear and what mo­ti­vates him. What ef­fect has climb­ing Ever­est had on you? “I nearly died on that moun­tain. I’ll never for­get the ex­pe­ri­ence. I had this huge surge of panic, think­ing: ‘You aren’t go­ing to get out of this one, mate — it’s your time to go, this is the end’. I’ve never been that vul­ner­a­ble and help­less ever in my life. I felt al­most child­like, be­cause the whole sit­u­a­tion was so out of con­trol.

“In the mil­i­tary, I had my weapon and my team and I knew I was ca­pa­ble, but this was some­thing else. It was a cock­tail of dis­as­ters you couldn’t pre­pare for.

“There was a queue of around 10 other climbers ahead of me, wait­ing to de­scend, some of whom were in­com­pe­tent and not fit for the chal­lenge. Those sort of peo­ple en­dan­ger oth­ers and nearly cost me my life.

“When an un­fore­seen storm with 70 mph winds and a to­tal white-out hit us, peo­ple were get­ting blown off the moun­tain and you could hear oth­ers pan­ick­ing and scream­ing, ‘Get off the moun­tain, get off the moun­tain, you’re go­ing to die’. I passed a Sherpa guide who had given up the struggle and later died.

“I ran out of oxy­gen even­tu­ally. I was in an area called the ‘death zone’ — it’s named that for a rea­son. For a brief mo­ment, I def­i­nitely con­sid­ered throw­ing my­self off the moun­tain to die, rather than per­ish­ing slowly with­out air, but I pulled my­self to­gether. The TV crew did as­sume I’d died for a while when they couldn’t find me.

“I told my­self, ‘Ant, get a grip and prac­tice what you preach. You’re the only per­son who can res­cue you’. You go ei­ther into fight or flight mode. For­tu­nately, I went into the for­mer.

“Thank­fully, a Sherpa found more oxy­gen, but it was just one hor­ri­ble mo­ment in hours of hell where I had to fight to keep my­self to­gether in icy con­di­tions. My eye­sight was tem­po­rar­ily af­fected and I still suf­fer numb­ness in my toes. I was lucky to sur­vive, but I re­gard it as a priv­i­lege to have gone through it. It’s been a dream since I was 16.” Are you ad­dicted to dan­ger? “When you’re in the mil­i­tary, you teeter on the edge of that line of life and death. The rea­son you feel so alive when you come through is be­cause you know you’ve cheated death. The adren­a­line rush is ad­dic­tive, no ques­tion. “But ac­tu­ally, what I’m hooked on is learn­ing more about my­self when I push my bound­aries and take my­self to the edge. “It’s ask­ing that never-end­ing ques­tion, ‘Who am I?’, which mo­ti­vates me and takes me on a con­stant jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery that teaches me so much. Will Ever­est make me more cau­tious? In re­al­ity, prob­a­bly not.” What’s your big­gest fear? “Fail­ing as a fa­ther and a hus­band. It’s the great­est job I do and the hard­est. I had a tough child­hood af­ter my fa­ther died when I was five, and I had a very dif­fi­cult step­fa­ther. I want to give my chil­dren what I didn’t have — a good role model. The thought of them ever turn­ing around and say­ing, ‘You weren’t a dad to us be­cause you were away so much’, pet­ri­fies me. I want to suc­ceed for them. I sac­ri­fice be­ing away from them for pe­ri­ods so I can pro­vide and give them op­por­tu­ni­ties, but I’m dis­ci­plined about turn­ing off my ‘work head’ and go­ing into full ‘Dad mode’ when I’m home, so they get all of me.

“I’m de­ter­mined they’ll have life ex­pe­ri­ences and not be shack­led by po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, so they feel they can’t say any­thing or do any­thing right. So­ci­ety and the health and safety cul­ture th­ese days is help­ing cre­ate a ‘snowflake’ gen­er­a­tion where young­sters are told what to do and are so mol­ly­cod­dled and con­trolled that they daren’t try stuff be­cause they’re fright­ened of fail­ing.

“My kids can do any­thing they want as long as it’s done with a true heart. They have a moral com­pass, dis­ci­pline and man­ners.” What’s had the big­gest ef­fect on your life? “Meet­ing my wife, Em­i­lie. Be­fore she was in my life, I was a tear­away, get­ting drunk and do­ing stupid things. It was love at first sight when we met, and I knew I had to change to keep her. I joined the Marines, passed Spe­cial Forces se­lec­tion and be­came a young leader in the mil­i­tary.

“I call her the ‘long haired gen­eral’ be­cause she’s the boss at home and a su­per-mum. She knew what I was when she mar­ried me. She knows not to re­strain me, and al­lows me to be who I am.

“She never holds back on her opin­ion, though, like call­ing me an id­iot when she found out how close I’d come to death on Ever­est. To be fair, I agreed with her! Af­ter that har­row­ing time on Ever­est, when I fi­nally got to speak to her, I rarely cry, but I shed a tear and couldn’t speak be­cause I was so choked up. I feared I’d never hear her voice again.” TAKING RISKS: What’s your fit­ness regime? “At the mo­ment, I’m into run­ning and func­tional train­ing — mainly body weight stuff and core strength­en­ing — four or five times a week for around 45 minute ses­sions. I also do a lot of swim­ming. I might wake up in the morn­ing and go out for a six to eight-mile run, and then in the af­ter­noon swim two or three kilo­me­tres.

“I don’t stick to a rou­tine, be­cause I like to mix things up, which stops train­ing be­com­ing bor­ing and helps shock mus­cles into fir­ing up.

“I’m 5’ 8’’ and my weight’s a steady 82kg. I fuel my body with the right nu­tri­tion, and vi­ta­mins like Be­rocca, to leave me feel­ing en­er­gised and fo­cused to over­come any tough day.” How do you look af­ter your well­be­ing? “I’m more about mind over mus­cle. My mind­set needs to be the fittest, be­cause it drags my body through what­ever needs to be done. A lot of peo­ple ne­glect train­ing their mind and their self-be­lief, but I be­lieve that’s cru­cial.

“What’s key is fram­ing things in a pos­i­tive light. When I was younger, if I got into arguments, I’d be­come ag­gres­sive and vi­o­lent, but I learnt the hard way that was only go­ing to end neg­a­tively.

“Now I’ve learnt to use my de­mons — anger, ag­gres­sion or want­ing to prove peo­ple wrong — as pos­i­tives. They’re great driv­ers for good, as long as they’re man­aged by a pos­i­tive out­look and a mo­ti­va­tion that doesn’t al­low them to turn into neg­a­tives.” Ex­treme Ever­est With Ant Mid­dle­ton, in as­so­ci­a­tion with Be­rocca, is on Chan­nel 4 to­mor­row, 9.30pm. Find out more at www. be­rocca.co.uk

Ant Mid­dle­ton and (be­low) tack­ling Ever­est

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