HomeTV and MoviesSAS: Who Dares Wins’ Ollie Ollerton reveals horrific childhood circus chimp attack left him addicted to booze & suicidal – The Sun
SAS: Who Dares Wins’ Ollie Ollerton reveals horrific childhood circus chimp attack left him addicted to booze & suicidal – The Sun
ISOLATION is something SAS: Who Dares Wins star Ollie Ollerton knows a thing or two about.
During his time in the Special Forces, he would spend weeks locked down with just a handful of comrades for company, waiting for high pressure operations to begin.
TV host Ollie, 48, says: “You’d be in a remote hangar somewhere, or waiting on a frigate, and you’d have no idea if or when the operation would go down. We would have no contact with the outside world, it’s just you and your crew.
“It could be tense not knowing if or when you were going into battle, but you just get through it. I think it’s why this lockdown isn’t bothering me too much now!”
But Ollie knows that for many people, lockdown is proving enormously challenging – financially, mentally and physically.
He hopes his new book, Battle Ready, will help – with techniques for changing your mindset for the better, no matter how dark the circumstances.
'I had a death wish sat on my shoulder for years'
In the book, Ollie reveals for the first time that he was suicidal, after years of abusing alcohol and drugs.
Having left the Special Boat Service (SBS) in 2000, he went to work in Iraq as a security consultant, before following a girlfriend to Australia. It was during the subsequent years that he had panic attacks so bad he considered ending it all.
He writes: ”I’d had a death wish sat on my shoulder for years. Maybe once or twice I’d tried to appease it, pushing the envelope of danger a little too hard. But this was different, it wouldn’t be a case of ‘Ollie Ollerton, Special Forces soldier died bravely while engaged in a clandestine operation’, but by my own hand.”
Ollie says it has taken him until now to reveal exactly how much of a pit he had sunk into because he feared being seen as a “cliche".
He says: “In my own head I thought I sounded like a cliche. I think that’s what holds a lot of people back from speaking out. But I wanted to be totally open and honest in this book. I am sick of people faking perfection.”
At one point I could barely string a sentence together because I was in that much of a world of pain
For the same reason, Ollie speaks candidly about his alcohol addiction. While he was in the military, Ollie describes himself as a “successful working alcoholic”, bingeing while on leave but keeping it separate from the daring work he did in the SBS.
But once the structure of military life fell away and he entered the civilian world, his addiction spiralled out of control.
Meanwhile, he bounced between toxic relationships – Ollie says the first time he was ever single was aged 41 – and also started overusing Valium and steroids.
Ollie says: “At one point I could barely string a sentence together because I was in that much of a world of pain.
"A lot of that was self-induced because there were drinking issues, I was over-excessively using Valium, I was on a path of destruction. I am an extremist, so once I went down that road I got very good at it unfortunately.”
'We rescued 22 kids sold into sex industry on one mission alone'
It was a chance meeting with a Special Forces contact who organised missions to save kids sold into the sex industry in South East Asia which was to provide Ollie with a path out of the darkness.
He went to Thailand with his contact’s organisation, Grey Man, to rescue children sold into prostitution. On one mission alone they rescued 22 kids.
Ollie recalls: “We had to do the job without weapons, so there were a lot of risks involved. But knowing these kids had been sold by their parents into a life where they knew they were going to be abused, that just didn’t compute.
"For me, the goal was greater than than any risk. I had never felt settled in the Special Forces; it was my dream but when I got there it still didn’t fulfil me. But then doing that work in Thailand, I finally felt fulfilled.”
The Thai authorities, embarrassed by how Grey Man had highlighted their own failure to deal with the sex trade, put a stop to the organisation’s activities and threw them out of the country. But a new goal had been planted in Ollie – he wanted to do work that helped people.
He was living in Australia at the time but decided he needed to move back to Britain – and get clean.
Ollie says: “I went to my mum’s cottage in Cornwall, which was empty, and I put myself into my own personal bootcamp to get my drinking under control. I got into a routine of healthy habits and that is still something I do to this day.
“I don’t drink anymore. Everything in my life has to have a purpose and if it doesn’t it has to go. And alcohol just for me wasn’t serving any purpose whatsoever.”
'I was almost killed by rogue circus chimp'
Newly sober, Ollie set up his training company, Break Point, and later accepted a role as one of the DS (directing staff) on Channel 4 show SAS: Who Dares Wins, alongside fellow ex-Special Forces heroes Ant Middleton, Jason “Foxy” Fox and Mark “Billy” Billingham.
Having had time to reflect, Ollie says his addiction issues don’t stem from any of the horrors he experienced in the Special Forces, but from his unusual childhood trauma – almost getting killed by a rogue circus chimp when he was ten.
Ollie had been transfixed by a baby chimp backstage at the circus in his hometown of Burton-on-Trent, when its 50kg mother suddenly leapt from the darkness and almost mauled him to death.
The experience was so traumatic that Ollie says it erased all his happy childhood memories, and as an adult it was what he tried to drown out with drink and drugs.
Ollie says: “You can’t expect something like that not to haunt you if you don’t deal with it.”
Recently, Ollie made an attempt to address his chimp trauma once and for all – with a mystic drug ceremony in Costa Rica.
He travelled to South America to take part in the ritual consumption of ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic plant said to induce visions which heal past trauma and spark spiritual enlightenment.
It may sound weird, but Ollie says it worked for him. He said: “Ayahuasca helped me to stop seeing myself as the victim. In my vision I literally was the chimp and it helped me see it from the chimp’s point of view. She must have been very unhappy chained up in the circus, then she saw me as a threat to her young.”
'It’s like putting the worst recipe for a cake together'
As the coronavirus crisis continues, Ollie is currently isolating at home in Shropshire with partner Laura, her son William and best mate Foxy – his co-star on SAS: Who Dares Wins.
Foxy had come to visit before lockdown was announced so stayed rather than return home to London.
Ollie said: “I know I’m very lucky and we have to appreciate the situation we are in because it is extremely tough for many people, and there are many more harsh times to come. I want people to be battle ready when this is over.”
For now he hopes a new series of Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins, filmed last year in Scotland, will help keep the nation’s spirits up.
It sees the DS take on an unlikely lineup of celebrity recruits – including Joey Essex, John Fashanu, Anthea Turner – and Katie Price.
Ollie laughs: “When you look at these personalities it’s like putting the worst recipe for a cake together, ingredients which do not go, and having to taste the cake at the end of it – when you’re not allowed to spit it out! The nation will be gripped.”
Extract from Battle Ready
In the Special Forces, a break point is used to Breathe, Recalibrate and Deliver in a pressured situation in order to engage the courage required to accomplish the uncomfortable. It’s the difference between blind panic and taking control of your environment before it spirals out of control.
I latched on to the term ‘break point’ when I was living in Australia. At the time I’d started to realise that for years of using drink and drugs and chasing adrenalin highs in war zones in order to feel alive, I’d been a fugitive on the run from the real me. Who am I? I wondered.
My recovery began with the self-admission that I had a problem I needed to address. It wasn’t the world that was broken and needed fixing, it was me.
I’d drunk myself into a cul-de-sac of blackouts from three-day binges that barely masked the pain, only for it to return with bigger teeth. But as soon as I started looking inwards for the answers all these positive molecules seemed to grow and coalesce and creative ideas started flowing.
Break Point is about changing the way we think as people. It’s the moment you decide nothing will stand between you and your goals and you’re prepared to step into the discomfort in the short term for the long-term gain.
Ollie has recommended an exercise to help people who are struggling amid coronavirus, titled: 'What's worth worrying about and what you can't control'.
He says: "Write out a list of things that worry you and get you down. It may be a long list.
Now make a second list from the first, but this time only include the entries you can control. You’ll see that there are actually very few things you currently worry about that you can control.
By accepting that there are things you just can’t change, you start to let them go and immediately feel lighter.
The one thing you have 100 per cent control of, the one person whose behaviour you can change, is you. Accept you can’t control others, forget about things that haven’t happened yet. When you reduce your list of worries you create more space for creativity and to focus on your priorities.
This is essentially what being Battle Ready is all about – identifying the stuff that holds you back, dealing with it and getting on with your goals."