Ant Middleton has climbed Everest and served three tours of Afghanistan, yet the SAS: Who Dares Wins Chief Instructor says his lowest and life-changing moment was on the steps of a job centre.
Speaking on White Wine Question Time, the former Marine revealed he hit a low point in his life aged just 21 during a spell of unemployment after leaving the army, which he had joined aged 17.
“When I left, I decided to tackle the big wide world by myself and that didn't quite work out,” he revealed to podcast host Kate Thornton.
“There was this window where I couldn't find a job. I walked to the job centre and I walked out of there jobless, and I remember just sitting down on the steps and thinking to myself, 'Oh, how did I get here? Why am I sat on these steps?' I had a train ticket in my back pocket. That's all I had.”
Ant, who excelled in his early military career, winning various accolades such as best recruit, started questioning why his time in the army hadn’t worked out as expected. He said: “When I found myself on the job centre job centre steps, I just remember thinking to myself, 'Wow, how come you're here?'”
The best-selling author said it was the first time he can remember being brutally honest with himself.
“I remember flipping the mirror on myself whilst I was sat on those steps,” he recalled.
“I started sort of ripping myself to shreds saying, 'Well, Ant you think you're better than everyone else? You rested on your laurels in the army. You thought everything was going to come to you because you were best recruit, best PT, one of the youngest paras in the squadron. You're sat here isolated because you're not a team player!’”
In Ant’s case, honesty definitely proved to be the best policy as he said this ‘talking to’ freed him – although he understands it not an easy thing for everyone to do.
“It sort of allowed me to take charge of what was wrong in my life,” said Ant. “It was such a clear moment in my life, but not a lot of people can do that because it's very, very, very hard to be brutally honest with yourself.”
Ant also has one person to be thankful for that day – a fellow job centre visitor, who sat alongside him on the steps.
“When I sat down on the steps, I looked to my right and there was a guy – obviously a drug addict – and he had about two teeth in his head,” he recalled. “He just sat there, and I looked at him and I thought to myself, 'I'm no different to that guy there.' And it was a wake-up call.
“I thought to myself, 'He's sitting there with no money in his pocket. I'm sitting here with no money in my pocket. He's got no job, I've got no job.' And it was just like, 'Whoa! You can either ruin your life now or you can do something about it.'”
His revelation led him to going straight off to enlist in the Royal Marines. Ant later joined the Special Boat Service, the sister unit of the SAS.
Honesty is something that Ant still lives by today, even though his life is more likely to include photoshoots than actual shooting.
“I tackle everything with integrity now,” he told Kate. “Everything starts obviously with myself - I just make sure that I'm honest with myself because when you're honest with yourself, it allows you to be honest with the situation.
“It allows you to be honest with other people and ultimately, the problem's right in front of you. There are no distractions. You can take ownership of it.”
And even to this day, 19 years later, Ant has never forgotten that poor bloke on the job centre steps.
He told Kate: “When I always get too big for my boots and I get a bit above my station, I always take myself back to those steps.”