War-torn writer: ex-SAS soldier turned author Chris Ryan on his new book
As his latest novel Bad Soldier is published, ex-SAS soldier Chris Ryan opens up to Hannah Stephenson about how post-traumatic stress affected his life and his stalker worries
GEORDIE ex-SAS soldier Chris Ryan has spent much of his career in the thick of war zones and life-threatening situations – but these days, he'd much rather be writing fiction.
Ryan (55) was famously the only member of the eight-man SAS mission Bravo Two Zero to escape from Iraq in 1991 – four of his patrol were captured, three died – as described in his bestseller The One That Got Away, which was adapted for screen.
He has since written 22 novels, three non-fiction books and has now moved to Florida.
His book Strike Back was turned into an action TV series and he was a consultant on the ITV drama Ultimate Force, starring Ross Kemp, an experience he doesn't want to repeat.
"I hated it. That's why I pulled away from a lot of normal TV programming in terms of drama. It was too fake.
"You'd get on set and the actors wanted to over-act, because that's their perception of an SAS soldier. I found it too hard.
"So when Strike Back came out, I just signed everything over and said, 'don't say I'm your consultant'."
He also doesn't think much of the type of survival shows presented by people like fellow ex-SAS man Bear Grylls.
"I'm quite shocked no-one's been seriously injured. The procedures and the techniques they do, they just wouldn't do them in a survival situation.
"There's only actually one guy that I would say is a true survival expert and that's Ray Mears. He knows his craft."
Ryan's latest novel Bad Soldier, featuring SAS operative Danny Black, focuses on IS operatives smuggling themselves into Europe on migrant boats.
When one of the migrants reveals plans to bomb Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, Danny and his team are tasked with tracking a brutal IS commander, the only man who knows all the details of the London attack.
As Danny and his team pursue their goal, it's clear not all his fellow soldiers are as honorable as he is – brutality, psychotic behaviour and torture scenes abound in this fast-paced thriller.
Ryan says he saw many misdemeanours during his time in the regiment.
"There were people who would sell ammunition, there were people who had dubious backgrounds in terms of who they were mixing with outside of hours of the regiment, like family and friends involved in gangs or organised crime.
"There were guys that were probably bordering upon being slightly unstable. Psychopathic."
Ryan earned the Military Medal and made SAS history during the First Gulf War in 1991 with the longest escape and evasion by an SAS trooper or any other soldier, covering 180 miles through Iraq to the Syrian border.
But his ordeal resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder.
"You'd have nightmares. You'd dream about it or would run through it, you'd shut your eyes and go through various things. It didn't make me a very nice person, that's for sure.
"I became very short-tempered, everything had to be correct. I had a thing about 'don't be late' and when I started doing quite a bit of TV, I was probably not a very nice presenter for the crew to work with."
He made a series called Hunting Chris Ryan, in which he would be pitted against a four-man 'hunter force' while he completed a set objective.
"When I look back, I wonder why I was so wound-up. But in that programme, I came close to being killed. I knew it was dangerous.
"When I get under pressure, sometimes it will take me back to when I was in the regiment. That's when the aggression comes out."
His post-traumatic stress affected his marriage and friendships, he says. At one point, his best friend told him his seniors were watching him because they feared he was unstable.
"As soon as I knew that, I threw myself into the job. My wife and my daughter became a pain in the backside, as I felt they were getting in the way of this. The easiest thing was to get rid of them to concentrate on work."
He divorced his wife Jan, an army nurse, with whom he has a daughter, Sarah. He didn't want to risk having more children, because he had been forced to drink water contaminated with nuclear waste during his Bravo Two Zero escape, and later discovered it could cause severe deformities in any future children.
Today he's keen to keep his relationship private, but reveals that he lives in Florida alone.
While writing is a more sedate career than being a soldier, Ryan says he's had some worrying moments since putting down his weapons and picking up a pen.
"Sometimes being an author can be quite scary in terms of stalkers and other threats.
"There was one couple, a husband and wife team, who used to come and see me at certain book signings, and they actually both packed their jobs in to move to Hereford (where he was then living).
"When I saw them at a signing and asked them why, they said it was because they wanted 'to be close to me'. That's where I feel uncomfortable."
:: Bad Soldier by Chris Ryan is published in hardback by Coronet, priced £18.99. Available August 25