Belfast Telegraph

Ant Middleton: 'I thought the jungle would be hard, but then I got to the desert'

Since leaving the military, Ant Middleton has made his name on TV, with such shows as SAS: Who Dares Wins and Mutiny. However, his biggest responsibility, he tells Gemma Dunn, is to inspire the next generation

By Gemma Dunn

Ant Middleton's life has changed tenfold since leaving the military. Swapping the battlefield for the small screen, the veteran - whose service background includes four years in the elite Special Boat Service before he bowed out in 2012 - had his first taste of TV fame in 2015 when he became the chief instructor in Channel 4's hit series, SAS: Who Dares Wins.

Then there was Mutiny earlier this year, a factual series in which Middleton, flanked by eight men, replicated one of the greatest survival feats in naval history: Captain William Bligh's 4,000-mile voyage from Tonga to Timor. It's a career path the Portsmouth-born star (36) has been happy to embrace.

"It's a great transition, especially with the survival, adventure, problem-solving and leadership stuff that I do," he explains. "(TV work) just sort of fell into my lap and I took the opportunity and I'm making the most out of it. I love testing myself, I love putting myself in awkward and horrible situations to see how I cope with it," he admits, with a chuckle. "I'm a bit strange like that."

The latest "situation" involves a crash site in a hostile environment, days from civilisation. But far from a Lost reboot, Escape - a new, extreme reality show for Channel 4 - will follow a small group of highly-skilled engineers as they battle against the clock and the elements to build an escape vehicle using only what they can salvage from the debris.

In each episode, four new cast members will find themselves in a different terrain such as desert (episode one recreates a jumbo jet plane crash in the middle of the Mexican desert), snow, jungle or on water. "You chuck all these spanners in the works and they either go into fight or flight mode," Middleton observes. "That's what's so interesting, because you've got five different environments with five different situations and five different teams. Every episode is like a mini documentary, it's so different. I thought, when I went in, the jungle was going to be the hard one because jungle is absolutely horrendous. But then when I got to the desert, the heat just saps your energy out of you, (and) then when I got to the mountains it was the wind and the rain and the overexposure ... all of them were challenging."

Is it similar to the nail-biting survival shows viewers know and love?

"I don't really class this as a survival programme," Middleton replies. "The survival is the easy part really, it's about the engineering. This is a psychological battle: can these guys still function and ignore the environment around them? I can't build anything, I'm not an engineer! I'm putting my life in their hands really, so I have to sort of get the best out of them which is fascinating."

But that's not to say Middleton isn't fully immersed in the experience. "I'm their sort of 'leader'. I sort of deal with the bigger picture," he declares. "My puzzle is to find out where their strengths are, how they tick and get them to work the most efficiently as a team, and their puzzle is to build something to escape. So as I'm working out my puzzle, they're working out their puzzle, when ultimately we're all in it for the same goal which is to get the hell out of there!"

Middleton certainly has good reason to bolt, as he has a young brood of four at home with his wife Emily. "There's not much change from the military," the ex-marine says of lengthy periods away from home. "But (then) I was away six months at a time, (whereas) Mutiny was two months and I'm not getting shot at, so ..."

It's slightly less dangerous terrain then?

"Yeah exactly," he retorts, having revealed that Emily was six months pregnant when he left to film Mutiny. "But it's difficult because I've become more emotionally attached to my family, not being in the military now, so it's all for the bigger picture and they know that you're making these small sacrifices ..."

His passion is clear: "I'd like to make authentic programmes to give the viewer as authentic an experience as possible. "Hopefully I can carry on doing it for the next five or ten years," he says. "I'm just really putting my head into it, really concentrating on the media stuff and just enjoying it. It's a different buzz, but it's a nice family buzz."

He's taking his "role model" tag seriously, too. "I get a lot of inspirational messages - the younger generation want to join the military and stuff like that," he reports. "(Though) I don't look at it as a celebrity lifestyle, I look at it as a responsibility. But the celebrity life, that stuff is there because I get noticed and people want to take selfies!"

It's a pleasant experience, he insists: "People are genuinely interested about my life; I'm not just a face on TV, you know. I've got a story behind me which can relate to a lot of people and it's great, I'm enjoying it."

Escape, Channel 4, tomorrow, 8pm

Since leaving the military, Ant Middleton has made his name on TV, with such shows as SAS: Who Dares Wins and Mutiny. However, his biggest responsibility, he tells Gemma Dunn, is to inspire the next generation

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