Jason Fox is a former Royal Marine Commando and Special Forces Sergeant, serving with the Special Boat Service. Jason has planned and led operations including hostage rescue, counter terrorism, counter insurgency, maritime counter terrorism, surveillance, body guarding and counter narcotic missions. Jason is also trained as a combat swimmer, demolitions expert, Special Forces dog handler and jungle survival expert. After leaving the Special Forces, Jason moved into the TV and Film industry, initially using his wealth of experience in the Special Forces to support production crews who were working in environmentally hostile areas, such as the jungle, the Arctic or the desert.
Jason made the ground-breaking 2018 series Meet the Drug Lords: Inside the Real Narcos, entering the cartel strongholds of Mexico, Colombia and Peru, exposing the most formidable and dangerous drug gangs from a rarely seen perspective. Jason’s first book, Battle Scars, about his rise, fall and recovery in the military as an elite operator, was a Sunday Times bestseller. His second book, Life Under Fire: How to Build Inner Strength and Thrive Under Pressure shares the tools Jason has developed at the cutting edge of an elite military career and shows how to build resilience and inner strength to overcome life’s challenges.
Charity work is also something close to Jason’s heart, he holds a new world record for rowing across the Atlantic in aid of the NSPCC and in 2018 led a group of civilians to the North Pole for Borne charity. Jason is also co-founder of charity Rock 2 Recovery, which helps preserve lives of distressed servicemen, veterans and their families, and an ambassador for Veterans 4 Wildlife for the prevention of wildlife crime.
The new series of SAS: Who Dares Wins is back, and quite literally hotter than ever. Tell me what’s behind the move to a desert setting?
I think, because we’ve amalgamated now with a joint UK-US team, it makes sense to go back to an environment where we’ve spent the last two decades working together. It’s in the Middle East, in an extreme environment, and with the Americans, it all seemed to align properly.
What are the main challenges facing the recruits in that environment?
The main challenge is the DS! But it’s also being able to administer yourself in a way that doesn’t impact you physically, because obviously it’s a very draining environment – the heat, the sun, staying on top of hydration is probably the key thing there. Hydration and staying out of the elements as best you can. But the terrain is quite tough as well. Although it is desert, it is also quite mountainous, quite rocky.
What were your own experiences like of serving in the desert?
I think I spent a good ten years fighting in those sorts of places. So you’re always having to deal with the environment and the terrain itself, but linked into that, you’ve got to think about the bloody enemy as well, which is always a bit of a worry.
How do you control your fear when you’re confronted with something like that?
I think a lot of it is to do with the fact that you’re in the military, so you’ve trained and trained and trained, so all that training dispels a lot of fear, because you’re very confident in what you’re able to do, not just as an individual, but as a unit. But a lot of it is about not thinking about it too much. Ultimately, you’re worrying about things that haven’t happened, and they might not ever happen, so it’s best just to live in the moment. Guys in the special forces do that all the time – they just live in the moment, and are ready to respond to whatever falls out in front of them. You try and alleviate the fear by being more present.
Do you have to take a new approach to the course in an environment so different from Scotland?
Yes, it is a different approach. It’s like when you’re in the military, each time you go to a different theatre of operations, you have to adjust accordingly. We have done a series, series three, in Morocco, which wasn’t dissimilar. The focus for us is always on recruit welfare, but it changes. Whereas in Scotland it was about making sure that they get their kit dry and stay warm, this is more about making sure that they’re staying hydrated and out of the sun. When we’re running the tasks, we do have to make sure that we’re keeping an eye on those things, because they probably won’t.
You were roaring around the desert in a column of black SUVs. Were you ever worried that you might look suspicious and get hit with a drone strike?
If we were in Iraq or Syria maybe, but Jordan being Jordan, we were alright. We were safe.
As you say, it’s not just the environment that’s changed. You’ve been joined by a couple of Americans. Who are they?
So you’ve got Rudy, who’s taken on the role of the chief instructor. He’s an ex-US Marine Corps Force Recon guy, and Remi, who is an ex-SEAL team guy. They’re good blokes who bring a different dynamic to the team. The Americans have always been verbally aggressive, which obviously ups the ante as far as the recruits are concerned, because it puts the pressure on them in a different way. I think we complimented each other really well, we got on well, lived together, had each other's backs, and it wasn’t dissimilar to some of the jobs I’ve done in the military before where you work closely with the Americans. It was cool.
Do they have a different approach to the training, or is it pretty similar?
The final outcome is always the same, you’re preparing people for operating in stressful situations and environments, and that’s what we’re trying to do with the recruits on the show. They go about it, as I said before, in a slightly more verbally aggressive way, and there’s a strong emphasis on prolonged physical beastings. But ultimately, the results are the same, you get there in the end. We still achieve what we want to achieve, which is highlighting the attributes that we look for in the recruits.
What are those attributes?
Physical and mental robustness, being able to have a flexible mindset in very inflexible situations, being comfortable with being uncomfortable, a bit of stubbornness, and the grit and desire to be somewhere more than the person next to you.
How good are you at identifying which of the recruits will do well?
It’s difficult in the beginning. I try not to judge in the beginning. You can’t really help it as a human being, you always judge a book by its cover. But there’s always someone who surprises you in there. I think I can speak for me and Billy on this one, we don’t really get surprised, because we know there are going to be surprises, if that makes sense. We’ve done it in the past – you can’t help but do it – but with each season, we start off looking at it as a blank canvas, and see who’s got the minerals later on.
How are the UK special forces viewed by the Americans?
I’d like to think in a very good light. We’ve worked closely with them – the British set the tone for the use of special operations groups back in the day, 80-odd years ago in the Second World War. We forged the path to follow. I’m always going to sound biased, but the British special forces are the best in the world.
Can you describe the kind of bond you form when you’re in the special forces?
Yeah, it’s a brotherhood that involves a lot of love, in a manly way. The bond is created by trust. Trust is the most amazing feeling, and the loyalty that comes with that unit of people. The bit that I like about it is, you’re working with people that you don’t necessarily get along with, but you trust them, and you’re loyal to them. It’s an odd feeling, it’s one that’s very hard to replicate elsewhere. And it’s that that is the addiction to the job, to a certain degree.
When you’re on camp, do you have much more luxury accommodation than the recruits?
No, it’s worse. We have less space, for a start. In Jordan, we had a nice little bit of space, except our accommodation was open-sided, so we were exposed to the elements – the wind and the sand – and the recruits had tented accommodation, which at night was probably slightly better. In the day, not so much. But we do have a proper toilet, as opposed to a tin can.
As ever, you guys don’t exactly mollycoddle the recruits. Do you ever worry about overstepping the mark?
I don’t think we overstep the mark. Not just because we’ve been doing the training on the TV show, we’ve done it our whole careers. We’re very good at looking at a situation, and if it requires us to ramp it up a little bit, then we will do so. But we are also able to tone it down as well. The four of us are always looking, and if someone sees something from a certain angle, we always make sure we inform everyone what’s going on, and that we need to adjust accordingly. It is obviously something we’re always attentive to, but because of the grown-up approach we take to it, it never becomes a problem.
How do you decide when to use the carrot, and when the stick?
I’m all about the carrot myself. It’s funny, each time we do a season, the group bonds at different times, different people get on with different people, sometimes they’re performing well, sometimes not so well, and the carrot and the stick is all about what we see unfolding in front of us. So if they’re doing well and they’re bonding, then we’ll put a bit of pressure on them in different ways, just to see how far they can go at being good. And likewise, if it gets to the point where they’re dismally failing, and they’re just not picking things up, that’s when we start trying to encourage them and teach them a bit more. Each course we do, and the approach we take, is tailored specifically to the people who are in front of us.
In the series, you always get to know the backstories of the recruits. How important a part of the process is that?
It’s the most important part, because ultimately, we’re not allowed to know anything about them beforehand. So the viewers’ journey is exactly the same journey as ours is with the recruits. We’re finding out about them as it goes on. We’re seeing what issues they’ve had, what trauma, what good and bad points have presented themselves throughout their lifetime. It’s very important, it’s what the show is about. The show is about those people, we’re just facilitating the journey, to be fair.
Why do you think so many of their past issues come to the surface when they’re making this show?
It’s a good question, and one I ask myself a lot. It’s bizarre, because you’ll be sat there interviewing someone and they’ll just pour their heart out to you, and you’re thinking “Crikey, what have we done?” I think a lot of it is to do with the fact that they’re being pushed to their extremes, and when that happens, there is no hiding place, emotions will come fizzling up to the surface, and you have to deal with it. And to deal with it, you’ve got to talk about it. There’s no way that they can box it up when we’re asking so much of them. It’s a good vent. It allows them to almost face whatever they’ve got going on head on. I suppose it is a protected environment – we’ve got a lot of things in place to make sure that they are safeguarded. There’s 24-hour coverage from psychologists – we’re there to make sure that everything is safe, there’s a whole health and safety team behind them. I think it is actually an amazing opportunity for the people that come on it.
When you look back on your own training, what was the hardest part?
My head. Dealing with my own self-critical demon that used to always criticise everything I did. I think it’s the same for most people on selection. You’re under a lot of pressure to perform, no-one says that you’re doing a good job, no-one says you’re doing a bad job, and because of that lack of feedback, you are left to your own devices. It’s the whole point, because ultimately, when you are in the middle of a battlefield, no-one is there patting you on the back or telling you to buck your ideas up. It’s all on you, and that’s why they do that in selection, but that’s what makes it the hardest thing. Your head is 100% the thing that plays games with you.
You’ve been very open with your mental health struggles in the past. Lots of people are going through difficult times at the moment. What’s your advice to people who can’t see light at the end of the tunnel?
It’s all individual, so it’s difficult to give one broad brush stroke of wisdom. But ultimately, life is a journey, there are ups and downs, that is a given. Ups don’t last forever, but neither do the downs. It’s all about persevering, having a bit of grit and determination. Being honest with yourself is probably the most important thing. If you’re having trouble, go and seek people that can help you with that journey. And also, I think, at the same time as treating life as a journey and persevering with it, you’ve got to live life a little bit like an 18-month-old kid, and just live more in the now and not worry about the future too much. Embrace what’s going on around you.
Lastly, is this the toughest series yet?
I don’t ever want to downplay the series that have come before, because they’re always tough in their own right. The first one, I would say, was physically very brutal. It was an experiment, it was very raw in its approach. But this one, it is the toughest one. There’s so much relentless slog in it. It’s longer as well – it’s one of the longest we’ve done. The tasks are hard, the environment’s hard, the terrain is hard. I think we, as a DS, as the team, have got it right with the American spin and the UK spin. It is hard. It is very hard.