An interview with Melvyn Downes

Category: Press Pack Article

Melvyn joins this year’s Directing Staff (DS) team, following a 24-year military career, in which he served with distinction. Born and bred in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, Melvyn left school at 16 years old and joined the army. In 1991, he led his patrol into combat in the first Gulf war and completed three tours of duty in Northern Ireland, in charge of a platoon of 30 men. Melvyn joined the elite special forces in 1994. During his 12 years in the SAS, he led top-secret missions, served behind enemy lines and achieved the prestigious rank of Warrant Officer.    Here he reveals what life was like as the new member of the Directing Staff:

1.    Tell me about your experience on SAS: Who Dares Wins in your own words?

It was an exciting experience but also terrifying as I've spent most of my life undercover. Once I got over the initial shock of all the cameras, I loved being back in that environment with the fellow DSs, putting the recruits through their paces.

A couple of the personal stories that the civilians shared with us really hit home for me too, especially as I had similar experiences.


2.    How does the SAS: Who Dares Wins experience compare to real-life Special Forces?

When I watched the show during lockdown last year, I remember being really impressed with how authentic it was. It gives you a great essence of the Special Forces, especially the types of tasks and missions we’d be asked to complete over the various terrains.


3.    Have we managed to create the true essence of the SAS selection experience? 

Absolutely, as the show pushes civilians to both their physical and mental limits, just like the real thing. It brought back a lot of memories from my selection.

Of course, the civilian show is a lot shorter than SAS selection, which is over six months, but it does a great job of giving you a real taste of the experience.


4.    Why did you want to join the SAS: Who Dares Wins Directing Staff?

I thought it would be a great opportunity to see a different type of character join the show. At the end of the day, I'm just a bloke from Stoke with no qualifications, but I had a dream to join the military, which led to this incredible opportunity. I’d love to inspire people to go for their dreams. It’s better to try and fail than fail to try.


5.    How did you prepare for your role as a member of the Directing Staff?

I’ve worked in a similar role training Special Forces for the last 11 years, so I’m used to working out every day. In preparation for the show, I upped my training and used the natural landscape to my advantage.


6.    Do you feel a sense of pride being part of the series?

I'm incredibly proud to join such an amazing series and it's an honour to be the first mixed race DS on the series. I’m also incredibly thankful for this opportunity, especially at this time in my life. Age is no excuse not to go for your goals, and I’m living proof of that.


7.    Was there something special about filming the series back home in Scotland - the birthplace of David Stirling, who founded the SAS?

There's something special about Scotland and it brought back memories of my SAS training. Forget sunny days, you can always count on Scotland to give you all seasons in one day. And you can’t beat the excellent terrain, as it’s great for missions, which is why it worked so well for the series.


8.    Do you think this year’s recruits could survive real selection? Why?

The ones we pick are the those we’d be able to count on during a mission, so we’d like to believe they’d survive the course. You also have to remember that viewers may only see a brief snippet of a beasting or interrogation on TV but in reality, the civilians are put through their paces for much longer periods. It's survival of the fittest and I was really impressed with them.


9.    Were you surprised by who lasted the distance and who didn’t?

Yes! The ones I thought had what it takes to make it, sadly didn’t and there were also a few dark horses, who surprised me.


10. Could you tell from the beginning which recruits would finish the selection course and who wouldn’t last the distance? 

Early favourites may perform well physically but the mental interrogation completely breaks them, or others who are excellent are forced to VW due to injuries.


11.Tell us about your military experience?

Believe it or not, I wanted to join the military since I was three. My mum said I was obsessed with toy soldiers and as I got older I would watch every war movie I could, Platoon's my favourite. I joined the Cadets when I was 11 and signed up to the British Army, with my parents' permission, when I was 16. I served with distinction for 24 years and received the rank of Warrant Officer, before joining the SAS for 12 years where I quickly rose up the ranks. I'm proud of my career, and especially to have fought for my country and led missions against war criminals and terrorists around the world.