2017
06.11

With Andy McNab on his ‘Line Of Duty’ tour we were fortunate Jan Radovic was (extremely) willing to act as Grey Man’s Land on-the-scene reporter. If you’ve never been so fortunate to attent one of Andy’s meetings here’s her report of what you’re missing out on! Betting you’ll be as envious as we are!!
Jan also got Andy to answer a few prying questions – we’ll post that soon too so keep watching this space 🙂
Thanks so much Jan, it’s a great read 😀

AN EVENING WITH ANDY MCNAB CBE, MM, DCM – Part 1
October 2017 by Jan Radovic

What’s it like to spend a night with SAS legend Andy McNab? You’d have to ask his nearest and dearest that one, but an evening spent listening to this man of action’s life of blood, guts, mayhem and war is thrilling stuff…

The variety of audience members is something I have found intriguing over the years; back in the day 50 or so people would gather in an upstairs room at an upmarket book store with a good mix of male/female and youngsters, and all for the princely sum of a fiver. These days the venue is more likely to be a conference room at a motorway-friendly hotel or, as last night, in the auditorium of a school. Attendance numbers are up noticeably, as is the cost: £20 for entry which also included a hard copy of the latest book and, of course, a talk and Q & A session, following by the book signing. Last year the event I attended had over 300 bodies, almost all men with the majority being squaddies or ex military. The testosterone level was so thick it was almost oppressive. Last night’s event was a far more genteel affair – well, the Woodhouse Grove School is a fee-paying public school so one would expect a somewhat different audience – and the split between male/female/6th form students was fairly equal. I asked Andy why he thought this occurred and he informed me that it’s all down to who arranges the bookings and where. What hasn’t changed one iota, though, is Andy’s obvious commitment to reading, and enthusing others with his mantra that knowledge is power.

After a brief welcome and introduction from one of the school’s pupils, who was framed by an array of camo-draped backdrops displaying a rather long finned rocket and flanked by what I think was a GPMG (or Gimpy) and a couple of bergens (the large rucksacks favoured by the military) the stage was set: enter Mr McNab to rousing claps of applause.

To anyone attending these events regularly they are somewhat formulaic in that Andy usually gives a brief description of his childhood and the antics which led to his incarceration at Borstal (think of the film ‘Scum’ and you’ll have an idea) but went with an option to join the military instead. If you want chapter and verse on this period read his autobiographical book ‘Immediate Action’.

From his early years Andy moved on to talk about THE defining moment, although he didn’t fully appreciate that at the time. The regimental Sgt Major informed the newly signed up boy soldiers that their average reading age was 11, but that was all about to change. Contrary to what these lads thought, they weren’t thick, they were merely uneducated. That night Andy read his first book – a Janet and John book. Aside from learning never to climb trees with either as they always seemed to fall out, he discovered that every time he read something new, he learned something new. And, as the man said, knowledge is power to do the things you only dreamed of previously.

The Bravo Two Zero job was the next topic up and it’s clear that Andy feels great pride that this is still the top selling military book of all time, and that following its publication recruitment figures for the military shot up. As the majority of this part of the talk was all known to me, I took the opportunity to study some of the audience surrounding me which included a mix of mainly men, but also a handful of women, and youngsters. The chaps were all leaning forward in their seats and it was obvious they were dying to ask questions, while I noticed half a dozen women wincing at the matter of fact bluntness of talk of ‘taking out the enemy’, describing a colleague who didn’t make it as a ‘sad bastard who was too old and too fat’ to catch a goat herding lad. The youngsters in the audience didn’t seem a bit phased by all the talk of war, dead bodies, or torture. This apparent cold bloodedness is common in those who put their lives on the line. People like soldiers, firefighters, and police officers I have spoken with say it’s a defence mechanism to protect their sanity; whatever works.

When Andy touched on the ‘tactical questioning’ AKA torture, which he and others underwent during their incarceration he was very philosophical about it all: they – the Iraqis – wanted information and questioning prisoners under duress was one of the quickest ways to get it. One of the audience members asked Andy if he would still slot the Iraqis who carried out the worst of the torture and his response was typical: ‘Yeah, yeah. If I could get away with it.’ C’est la guerre.

We heard a few tales of his time in Northern Ireland (the primary reason he still refuses to be openly photographed as there are still people out for his blood), as well as his introduction to jungle training after earning his sand coloured beret. He didn’t mention his crescent shaped scar (which was acquired via a leech and is probably every man’s worst nightmare. Read ‘Seven Troop’ for the full gory details).

Andy touched briefly on his time within a PMC (private military company to the likes of us), and informed us that when he went out to Iraq with others from his PMC they ‘stole an hotel’. As you do. Despite having no water or electricity they offered it as high end accommodation for hoards of broadcasters and, presumably, made a financial killing. You can take the boy out of South London, but…  Andy McNab is, and I suspect always will be, a hustler at heart. I didn’t get the chance to question him about Bravo2Burgers or his range of camo bras and knickers (Fact), but diversity seems to be key with this man.

Being a psychopath – a good one – just ask Prof. Kevin Dutton (The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success) – is possibly what drives this coiled spring of a man. Andy McNab obviously took that Sgt. Major’s words to heart all those years ago because there appear to be few topics he hasn’t read about or have an opinion on, and he has a finger in a multitude of pies. Aside from his writing, which is his bread and butter, Andy is on the board of ForceSelect, an organisation set up in 2009 to help ex military personnel make the transition into business civvy street. He has also recently become involved in PTSD999, a charity set up by a group of individuals with a past in either military or emergency services, and who have either suffered from or been involved with others who have had PTSD. Their remit is to offer help, advice, and confidential treatment. Andy also provided advice and training for a number of Hollywood films including Heat and, as he admitted apologetically, Pearl Harbour. Can’t win ’em all, lad. At least the technical side was good. ‘Red Notice’, a McNab book featuring the character Tom Buckingham has been made into a film, and Andy told me that ITV are currently fixing locations around the UK and Europe for the filming of the Boy Soldier books featuring the characters Danny Watts and his ex-SAS grandfather Fergus. And let’s not forget that for every copy of gaming video Battlefield 3 sold, Andy collects 14 pence (as he slyly told a youngster last night, urging him to get dad to buy a copy). Fingers and pies.

As always the evening was a fascinating insight into the life of one of our ex-Special Forces operatives. It’s such a pity that there is never enough time to ask all the questions that people long to know. Luckily, Andy’s lovely PR lady Laura passed on a number of my questions which he was kind enough to answer, so hopefully some of these will be the burning questions others would like to put to him. [Q&A coming soon in Part 2 ~GML]

Having met Andy three times now, two of the first things many people ask me is what does he look like, what’s he like as a person? I asked him how tall he is and which of Nick Stone’s ‘good bits’ of character are based on himself. With typical Puckish humour he informed me: ‘Good question. Far too good! Clearly anything that he (Nick Stone) does for the right reason is me and hopefully if you imagine him at 6 foot 5, blond hair, blue eyes, 4 foot wide, that is me.’ So there you have it, from the horse’s mouth. It’s all lies, of course.

I can confirm that he’s medium height, has salt/pepper hair, is physically fit, (which one would expect from someone who treks to the North and South Poles, and climbs in the Peruvian Andes), has blue eyes that can change from fire to ice in nanoseconds, is dripping with sex appeal and testosterone, and comes across as a chatty, friendly, and charming individual.

As a member of the audience pointed out, he’s also quite a humble man, especially when one considers his achievements. I would concur with this, but it was a curious comment as many people I’ve spoken with believe all the Special Forces men, including Andy, come across as somewhat arrogant. I suspect what many think of as arrogance is actually just a supreme confidence in their own highly developed skillset. Remember, these men train relentlessly – Train Hard / Fight Easy – and seem to live by the 7P rule – Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. While I know pretty much all there is to know about this man on the public arena, I haven’t the slightest idea what he’s like ‘for real’. Clearly, it behooves anyone in the public eye to behave with circumspection but Andy is probably the friendliest celeb I’ve met; cocky, but very down to earth and not afraid to call a spade a spade. What is particularly likeable about him is his obvious passion to promote reading and literacy: “If I can do it, anyone can.’ He’s also an incredibly good sport. Anyone who ever watched his interview with Holy Moly Man would have been itching to deck the cocky little pipsqueak conducting the interview, but Andy took all the ribbing in good part and played along nicely without once head butting aforementioned HMM.

~To be continued.
Jan