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SAS: Who Dares Wins star Ollie Ollerton: 'I used alcohol to numb the crazy chatter in my head'

SAS: Who Dares Wins star Matthew 'Ollie' Ollerton tells Gabrielle Fagan how he was nearly killed by a chimp when he was 10, why drink took over his life after leaving the military, and how his partner Laura has helped him turn his life around

Matthew Ollerton in action
Matthew Ollerton in action

By Gabrielle Fagan

Matthew 'Ollie' Ollerton is best known for presenting Channel 4's tough military survival series, SAS: Who Dares Wins. Away from the screen though, Ollerton (48) has fought his own battles over the years, both professionally and personally.

He had an illustrious military career - joining the Royal Marines in 1990 aged 18 and becoming a member of the Special Boat Service, the naval equivalent of the SAS, in 1994. Afterwards, he worked privately in Iraq and spent a year rescuing children from sex trafficking camps in Southeast Asia, but admits he struggled with civilian life.

For years, Ollerton battled a drink problem and depression, which he frankly revealed in his autobiography - Break Point: Fear. Courage. Strength. Survival - published earlier this year.

Here, Ollerton - who's partnered with Vauxhall to share advice on how to 'Keep calm and carry on' when challenged mentally and physically - talks about trauma, the love that's brought him contentment, and what makes him tick...

What trauma has most influenced your life?

"When I was 10 years old, I was attacked by a 50kg chimpanzee at a travelling circus and nearly died. It bit me all over, took a chunk out of one of my arms and I still have the scars, but that was nothing compared to the mental trauma.

"As I lay under that chimp thinking I was going to die, I decided to fight back, despite fearing it would make the animal even more angry, which saved me.

"While the whole experience sent me off the rails in my younger years and also made me fearless and with a deep-seated need to seek danger that I ultimately recognised was destructive, with hindsight, I think it was a positive experience.

"It showed me at a very early age that we all have choices in life, and sometimes you have to make things worse in the short-term for any chance to make things better in the long term.

"So many people will spend their lives sat under the chimp, and they won't do anything. They'll happily spend their lives with that discomfort because they're scared to step into any further discomfort in the short-term, to make their life better in the long-term."

What do you feel about SAS: Who Dares Wins?

"It's such a powerhouse of a show and I love the way it's focused on the military and what people go through when they're in it, and lets them stand up and be proud of who they are.

"It was strange and quite hard to deal with at first for me, to come out of the shadows and go into the spotlight, but its been brilliant. I've had a few near misses on it - I once nearly fell out of a helicopter, nearly drowned, and narrowly avoided a huge rock on series four that could have taken my head off!

"For me, it's about really addressing issues that so many people never even have to think about, yet the military are probably facing on a daily basis. It can also inspire people to step out of their comfort zones and go beyond what they ever thought they were capable of."

How has the show changed your life?

"It helped me win my battle with drink. For years, I'd used alcohol to numb the crazy chatter in my head - blocking out memories of things I'd seen and had happened to me -and also because when I left the military I lost my purpose and couldn't seem to find peace.

"I'd known for years I needed to stop, because I was on this emotional roller coaster and plagued by depression and realised it was holding me back creatively. On series two, I decided not to drink throughout the eight weeks of filming so I could give it my best.

"At the end, I thought: 'I feel really good - why go back to that [drinking]?' I didn't drink for two-and-half years after that. I'll have an occasional drink now but I'm in control."

What's been the worst moment in your life?

"It was a period of time rather than a moment. When I left the military, I was so confident, felt invincible, and thought: 'Right, I'm going to go out and rule the world'.

"You take for granted the support and camaraderie of your mates around you which buoys you up, but when you step away there's a massive void. After I left, I had 10 years of turmoil, bouncing all over the world, working in the most dangerous places like Iraq, risking my life countless times, pushing myself to the edge, chasing death and danger all the time, looking for this fix outside myself that I thought was going to make me feel complete."

What was the turning point?

"The first was seeing a spiritual psychologist, who showed me the peace I was seeking lay within me and not outside me, and I could work towards achieving that through meditation.

"We've got around 70,000 thoughts spinning around in our heads every day but meditation allows you to cut through that noise and concentrate on the things which really matter to you and help you define your purpose in life. It's about investing in mental wealth.

"The second turning point came after. In 2011, I went to help rescue children out of sex traffickers' camps on the Thai-Myanmar border, which was the most humbling thing I've ever done.

"It made me realise helping other people was a fulfilling vocation and altered the course of my life."

What does your partner, Laura, mean to you?

"Everything, she's my soulmate. Her unconditional support and love is something I've never really experienced before and we run our business together.

"I'm the happiest I've ever been. Up until about five years ago, I don't believe I was a happy person - I was always happy on the outside, but on the inside there was a war going on.

"But now, I'm settled with her and in everything I do. I help other people through my training and motivational business, Break Point, which gives me a massive amount of satisfaction."

What saying means a lot to you?

"'Keep calm and carry on' - because that's integral to operating in the Special Forces. You are taught that in moments when a situation is trying to dictate what you do, the only way to deal with that is instead to stay calm and carry on.

"In highly stressful, difficult or dangerous situations, cortisol levels fill up in your head and you get confusion, your breathing gets erratic, and that makes you want to take the easy way out.

"We were taught methods of breathing which allow you to lower those cortisol levels, so you can make decisions calmly based on clarity and not confusion. Now I pass on those methods in my courses."

How do you stay fit?

"I run every morning and work out in my gym. I start the day with fresh vegetable juice, eat plenty of protein, and avoid dairy. I went vegan for a year and have since stuck to a predominantly vegetarian lifestyle. But I hate labels that put pressure on people, so if I think my body needs it, I will have meat and fish."

How do you look after your wellbeing?

"I meditate once a day, even if it's just 20 minutes while I'm sitting on a train, and staying fit and eating healthily is key. Generally, I'm very upbeat, full of energy, and probably quite annoyingly positive!

"Visualisation helps me achieve my goals. You can't control the journey to the goal, and the challenges on the way help you grow anyway, but you need to visualise the eventual outcome. If you add emotion, drive and determination to visualisation, it will pull you towards your goal."

Vauxhall partnered with SAS: Who Dares Wins star Ollie Ollerton to offer advice on how to 'Keep calm and carry on' when being challenged both physically and mentally. The Grandland X SUV 'Keeps Calm. Carries On', handling the rough with the smooth, making it ready for action, anywhere

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