Ant Middleton: 'My wife called me an idiot when she found out how close I'd come to death on Everest ... to be fair, I agreed with her!'
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. Gabrielle Fagan catches up with the lovely mean machine
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 father-of-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."
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