Profession: Trainee Ophthalmic Surgeon
Pavandeep wanted to join the RAF but felt this was just a Top Gun fantasy so pursued a career medicine instead.
He has a pampered life in Slough, often spoilt by his traditional Indian family but this lifestyle has left him lacking a sense of fulfilment. He was determined to prove himself on SAS: Who Dares Wins and wanting to break out of the comfort zone he had been brought up in, he applied for the series. He also taught himself to swim in preparation for the course.
Tell me about your experience on SAS: Who Dares Wins?
It was the best experience of my life. It was incredibly difficult and horrendous but also life-changing. The suffering is what made it so good as it allowed me to get a visceral feel of what Special Forces selection is actually like and what SF operators have to go through to become the best of the best. Furthermore, it allowed me to put myself to the test in really extreme conditions and to me, this was the opportunity of a lifetime. The whole experience was a gift – a chance to practice courage and bravery, and to take myself to breaking point and see what happens. I feel incredibly grateful and privileged to have had this chance.
I found a sense of belonging amongst a group who were, at first, strangers, but then became like a second family. Everyone was raw and there was no pretence and so I really had the chance to bond and make lifelong friendships. I found my band of brothers (and sisters!).
I felt a huge sense of purpose. Everything I did was devoted to survival and getting through the day and although I didn’t have any control over what we did, when we slept, when we ate etc…I could control small things about myself. When I left the course, I had a massive sense of fulfilment and felt that a hole in my life had been filled. A hole that I never even knew was there. It taught me self-reliance and I truly feel now that I can overcome anything in my life. We experienced ‘their world’ and I got to ‘face the dragon’ multiple times. This is more than I could have gained from any number of books or movies.
I feel like the DS have actually imparted tangible gifts to me, in terms of the unique tools and skills I gained from them. The special forces are a unique collection of people and nothing else comes close to what they do. I learnt, practically, how to push my limits beyond anything I knew before and how to tap into huge reserves of power through the techniques of controlled aggression, positivity and limitless belief and self-confidence.
I have also become much more aware and humbled by what Special Forces soldiers go through when they serve and the incredibly difficult conditions under which they operate. They deserve a lot of gratitude and respect and I feel more should be done in society to honour our armed forces.
Did you find it difficult? Was it more difficult than you expected?
It was very difficult and much more so than I expected. I’ve seen previous series of the show but when you are on the course, you are living it 24/7 and it’s an entirely different monster. The first few days were a massive shock to the system but then I realised I was surviving and that I could just grind through and so adopted the ‘grinding mentality’ day by day.
Were you surprised to find out this course was taking place in the home of the SAS – Scotland?
Not really. I think after the last three series, I was expecting it to be a bit closer to home. I was quite happy because I’ve been on hikes in Scotland many times and it holds special meaning for me. The fact that it was the birthplace of the SAS made it more special.
How did you cope with the harsh Scottish weather conditions? Did the weather conditions play a part in how hard you found the course?
It wasn’t actually too bad. When we were out on exercises, it was only wind and rain and I’ve dealt with that before. And Ant said – ‘embrace the elements’. I was there to learn from them, and so why not? It’s just annoying getting wet! In a way, I was glad we had bad weather because it made the experience more memorable (although I wasn’t thinking that at the time). And I’m glad we carried that log up the narrow mountain paths in the worst sideways rain and gale force winds.
The cold made sleeping in our barn difficult though and that would have played a part in hampering performance to some degree.
Did spending so much time in freezing water make the course more difficult for you?
The time in the freezing water was something I dreaded. It was a soul-sucker and would freeze you to your core. I have never shivered so violently before. It was not only the freezing water but also the aftermath – running in drenched clothes and waterlogged boots, or having to change really quick whilst the DS were shouting at us. What made things difficult were the very limited drying facilities and the cold weather which meant that clothes never dried properly. Also, the fact that I had only managed to ‘learn’ how to swim about four weeks prior to coming on the course with my best effort a 25m length in a calm swimming pool, meant that any time in the open sea was a massive dread and challenge.
You were the first recruits to take part in weapons training. How did you find that?
It was great, and a welcome new addition, but quite short. I thought we might be tested at a shooting range or at room clearance but it turned out to be quite different. But it was still good to do.
Have you ever done anything like this before?
What made you sign up?
The chance to feel a sense of belonging and purpose. And to experience the way of the Warrior and face my fears and demons. I didn’t want to just keep telling stories about great warriors and their deeds in history but to go through it myself and be the ‘man in the arena’. Because to me, that is ‘living’ – to struggle and strive whilst pushing yourself far beyond your comfort zone. In our world now, we have become so used to comfort and pleasure and I believe it has weakened us and robbed us of the chance to realise our true potentials. A former US Navy SEAL, David Goggins, once said that ‘On the other side of suffering, is a beautiful world’. I suffered on the course, but when I came out, I saw the beautiful world. That is why I wanted to sign up, and I got it.
What training did you do in preparation for this course?
I had a good strength base from powerlifting, but toned that down a bit and focussed more on running and hill walking with weight. I didn’t have anyone prepared to let me carry them around on my shoulders unfortunately, as that would have helped! I also had to reduce some of my ‘land-based’ training to take up intensive swimming lessons which took up a lot of time. I was booking two hour slots at a time and the instructors were surprised and thought I was mad as it was so tiring.
I also memorised as many of my daily Sikh scriptures as I could and practiced tying a turban without a mirror (and beard care without a mirror!). I prepared a number of different types of head covering for different situations so that I could be prepared – small things, but things I had to take into account. I was having fully cold baths and showers every day just in case we had to deal with cold water. This was a good call.
Now that you have this experience, would you like to join the real Special Forces?
It’s something I have considered. I would not be able to join the regulars. But maybe the reserves at some point…but it’s a big decision and something I will consider over the coming months.
What was the best part of the series for you?
Being trained by the DS. The SAS and SBS – the best of the best on the planet. Interacting with them, having a laugh, and sitting in the mirror room opposite Ant and Billy.
The bonding and camaraderie with the recruits – I have made lifelong friendships with people from vastly different backgrounds but with the same heart and mindset as myself.
All the exercises were difficult in their own way, but I am very pleased to be able to say I abseiled onto a boat and inserted on to a ship via a rope ladder. The log carry was as epic as it was brutal so that is one of my favourites. Ant selected a few of us to follow him during one of the field exercises. That was pretty special.
What was the hardest part of the series for you?
All the self-administration, simply because it took up so much time. Drying clothes and shoes took ages. The lack of sleep was also difficult. Lack of food wasn’t great but was expected and obviously all the challenges were hard but you just suck it up and grind through. Also, glaringly obviously – swimming! Even though I had a flotation vest, I was pretty useless in the water although managed to learn to stay calm and once even made it to shore on my own.
Being a vegetarian had its downside – the only protein source was occasional cheese, occasional milk, and dry chick peas and kidney beans. The night before the log carry, most of the team feasted on fresh meat whilst I had to make do with a few apples. But it was my choice and so I told myself to ‘suck it up’. Plus some of the other recruits were vegans and one was gluten intolerant.
Getting my daily scripture reading done was also difficult. I wasn’t able to stick to the set times but would just about manage to get it done throughout the day and night whenever there was a spare moment, and if I managed to stay awake whilst sat down…
I think the overall worst was the constant anxiety and not knowing what would happen next and the night time shock beastings. I was once sleeping so deeply, that when the DS came in shouting, I woke and for a few moments and had absolutely no idea where I was. My entire body was shaking whilst I scrambled to put on my boots. It was incredibly disorientating.
Were you surprised to find one of your ‘fellow recruits’ was a mole?
We were actually joking about it a lot and had flagged Jamie as a potential mole. But we had also flagged Carla. I had also been flagged at one point which was hilarious. I remember saying to the team that there wouldn’t be one this year because there was one last year. And when Jamie was revealed, we were all shocked. I didn’t suspect it but then when he reappeared as the DS I was pleasantly surprised. But it made sense, if you see what I mean – he was that kind of guy and had a certain presence about him that didn’t make it too surprising that he was former SAS.
Did getting to know Jay as a recruit make it difficult for you to have the same respect for him once he became one of the DS?
Not really. The respect was the same, but I guess there was less fear. In a good way. He had, after all, been ‘one of us’ for a while. And maybe it was me, but it felt like when he spoke to us as a DS, he still had the look in his eyes that we had been teammates at some point, and that he held some degree of respect for us as well.
What were Ant, Foxy, Ollie, Billy and Jay like?
Ant was the most fierce but this was understandable due to his role as Chief Instructor. Every time we pulled up to an exercise, we’d see his silhouette in the distance – the fear began. He was intimidating, but appropriately so. He was weirdly hilarious at times with some of the comments he’d make to us quietly when we were lined up or waiting for our turn on an exercise. His piercing blue eyes were very menacing. He was great in the mirror room, and I feel that was when I met the ‘real’ Ant.
Foxy was our mate, always. He is a formidable man, but I think of all the DS, he just can’t be nasty to anyone. Which is so lovely. He’d have a good laugh with us and whisper funny things when he took me to the mirror room, or just have a little chuckle under his breath. He’s also the only DS that never beasted us!
Ollie was similar to Foxy but had a fierce streak when he beasted us but still was very cool. He would also crack jokes with us whilst we were standing around. I remember Foxy and Ollie mentoring our habits well – they would remind us to stand up tall with pride when we were formed up and often dishevelled. They would also tell us that they didn’t want to punish us and that we were making it difficult for ourselves by making mistakes so often. Billy was similar but on exercises he would shout the loudest. I don’t know how a man can shout that loud, but Billy can! He was great as a mentor and often uttered words of encouragement to me when he was leading me to an exercise or supervising a physical task. I wanted to impress him on the day two navigation task and I think (hope!) I did. He was funny and I would often get sarcastic answers to my questions which were quite hilarious – like when I asked if we would be given binoculars for our night’s watch!
Jay was great as a fellow recruit. Quiet, stoic, reliable. Easy to get along with. He also laughed along with my Jamie Lannister jokes! When he became DS, he was fine – I expected him to push us just like the other DS, which he did. But, as mentioned above, it always felt like I was closer to him in a sense because he had been one of us for a while.
Overall, they were all incredibly impressive. When they performed tasks to demonstrate things to us, they were out of this world. The real deal. The best thing I came to realise was that they were actually just normal people. Over the course of their lives, they had just decided to take the hard option, and push themselves to grow – something which we can all do. It’s the accumulation of important small decisions in our lives that can lead a man to greatness and the DS exemplified this.
Would you ever do it again?
Yes. Sign me up for next year!