Pathfinder International has been showcasing the Most Influential People In The Military List for 2019 in our January and February issues. The final part is due in our March edition.

Here we take a look at editor, Mal Robinson’s exclusive interview with SAS: Who Dares Wins TV star and former SAS Warrant Officer, Mark Billingham, who featured in the second part of the list.

To see the second part in full please follow the link

Every Sunday evening at 2100 hours a minor miracle occurs in my household. My step son Isaac ventures from his room, tearing himself away from his Xbox and online video game, Fortnite, for sixty minutes, for what seems like the first time in a week.

His sole reason for leaving his darkened space is to watch Channel 4’s TV series, SAS: Who Dares Wins, featuring former Special Forces soldiers, Ant Middleton, Jason Fox, Ollie Ollerton and Mark “Billy” Billingham, who face the task of putting a band of volunteers through simulated Special Forces training to see who will come out the other side.

Before the current series began, Isaac would be glued to a selection of digital heroes, now he wants to be the next Middleton, Fox, Ollerton or Billingham. This is influence and the promotion of UK military ethos, first hand, highlighting the kind of ideologies most of us would like to see our children adopt, from four humble guys who have seen more than most in the duty of defending our nation.

I was fortunate to catch up with one of the SF four, Mark Billingham, only recently arrived back into the UK from Haiti, where he had been opening a factory. I tell Mark or Billy as he prefers about his impact on life at my home.

“It’s been great; the response we have had to the series has been superb. I’ve got something like 38,000 followers on Twitter and it has been mad!” he laughs.

Mark Billingham served 27 years with the SAS reaching the rank of WO1 after initially joining The Parachute Regiment. Billy has been involved in a plethora of operations from successful hostage rescues to counter-terrorism operations. He received the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery and a recipient of the MBE for his outstanding service as the SAS Ground Commander for the London 2005 attacks and for leading several internationally renowned hostage rescues in Iraq.

Since leaving the services, Billy has gone on to become personal bodyguard for celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Sir Michael Caine and Russell Crowe, before finding TV fame with SAS: Who Dares Wins.

I asked Billy, why he joined the armed forces in the first instance.

“I was always getting in trouble as a young lad and I decided to join the Marine Cadets and I took to it straight away. After being in the Marine Cadets you would have thought I would have gone on to join the Marines, however I decided on Para Reg. It was at the end of the Falklands campaign and a lot of the cadets I had been with had gone on to serve in the conflict. They came back at the end of the war and told us of all their stories, yet still the Para’s sounded like the perfect fit for me and I didn’t look back.”

We fast forward to the end of Billy’s career and with Pathfinder being predominantly about resettlement from the military, I was curious to find out how you go from being a Special Forces operative to being involved in close protection duties for some of Hollywood’s biggest names? With Billy already chuckling as I ask the question, I presume it wasn’t your average route through resettlement and I was certain not many ELC funded courses covered these avenues.

“I had already done 27 years plus when I was RSM at the Jungle School in Brunei. I was then posted to HAC (Honourable Artillery Company) as their regular Sergeant Major to oversee the PSI’s there, but I personally hated it and didn’t see eye to eye with some young officer there.

I decided to take some leave and I was offered to do some security work with Brad and Angie and so I ended up doing a bit of moonlighting in my time off. I was due to come back to the UK and back to the day job after two weeks, but they both really liked me and I enjoyed it and they asked me if I could go with them to France, of which I said yes and in effect I was AWOL by doing that.

I remember the young officer calling me and saying I needed to be back in London and I ignored that. Then the Adjutant called who was a good mate of mine and asked what was going on? I kind of gave him some story, to which he knew I was lying as he said he’d seen me all over the front of Hello magazine, guarding Brad and Angelina!

I was held in high regard at the regiment and the Adj told me I could serve my time with Brad and Angie as Disembarkation Leave and that was in effect my resettlement period” laughs Billy.

Billy stayed as personal bodyguard for Brad and Angelina for some time following his exit from the armed forces.

“Being a personal bodyguard is really hard work and you are talking about 20 hours a day and a lot of behind the scenes stuff people don’t realise what goes into it. There is no room for family time and as such can put some strain on this. Either one of them (Brad and Angelina) would do 3 months of solid filming, and then it would be vice versa, so a lot of time away. Eventually, I left the role, even though Brad wanted me to stay, but it just wasn’t practical long term.

This gave me the chance to step further into the security world and do my own thing with my own company in the likes of Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. Even to this day I can step in and out of the personal bodyguard element and I have looked after Sir Michael Caine and Russell Crowe. I have done other stuff in Libya and in the Congo training troops in the fight against poaching out there.”

And so how did Billy’s transitional journey out of the forces land him one of the roles in SAS: Who Dares Wins on Channel 4, a show that attracts over 3.2 million viewers per week.

“I met various people and contacts working with celebrities and one was a young producer who wanted me to work on a show called “Unbreakable”. The idea was they would get the 8 fittest people in the UK and it would be up to us as instructors to look to break them down. As I was an expert in jungle warfare, I was selected for this role and we had to restructure the show after I broke them all within the first 45 minutes!

I did warn the producers beforehand that these people are going to die in the jungle if there was no preparation or allow them to climatise to the jungle. As a result I didn’t particularly like it and to be honest I lost interest in TV work.

Through the security work, I met actor and director, Sean Penn and it was whilst doing some charity work in Haiti following the earthquake there that I bumped into him. It was after here, Sean calls me to go to Barcelona for a film he was working on and gave me a script. He had me down as one of the characters in the film “The Gunman” which also had Ray Winstone and Javier Bardem in it. It was the first time for me the other side of the camera and it was a great experience.

When the first SAS: Who Dares Wins began, I thought it sounded too cheesy and I said no to any involvement. I got a call to do Special Forces Ultimate Hell with Freddie Flintoff, whom I quite liked to agreed to do this, however after flying back from Nigeria after a job out there, I wasn’t feeling too great and it turned out I had contracted a fourth bought of malaria and didn’t manage to do the shoot.

At the same time SAS: Who Dares Wins went out and Channel 4’s Andy Slater still wanted me to be involved as they wanted someone for the jungle warfare, but I still said I wasn’t interested. Eventually after him hounding me and travelling from London to Hereford to see me, I watched it and thought it wasn’t a bad programme and agreed to do it.

There are no rehearsals; no script and we pick ideas based on ops experience we’ve encountered. For me it’s the back stories of why people volunteer to do the course and seeing them progress. It’s been a great platform to promote the military way of thinking.”

We close our conversation talking about what Billy is doing away from the Channel 4 cameras.

“I am busy doing work for two charities close to my heart. They are Rebuild Globally and Phoenix Heroes. Rebuild Globally is a super project in Haiti helping educate people and look to end poverty. I have not long returned from helping to open a factory out there which allows people dignified living wage employment. I initially travelled to Haiti 9 years ago after the earthquake to donate a hospital following the devastating earthquake in 2010.

Phoenix Heroes is a not for profit community interest company, which sees veterans helping veterans who are dealing with the likes of PTSD and we support them through a variety of measures and there is a lot of good work going on there.”

If Billy’s stock was not high enough in military circles, his charity work only goes to reinforce his rightful place as one of the most influential people in the military community for 2019.

To see more of Billy’s charity work please visit: (Reach Globally) (Phoenix Heroes) (Billy’s fundraising page for Rebuild Globally)

Mark “Billy” Billingham was talking to Mal Robinson.

Check out the latest Pathfinder military resettlement expo in London on April 2 – register for free here

Like the Mark Billingham interview? Then check out our online interview with former colleague of “Billy” – Steve Heaney MC – also a special forces operator below…