In January I applied for a BBC TV program called 'The World's Toughest Army'. Within minutes of me submitting my application I received an email from the BBC saying women were not eligible to apply.
I turned to my blog and raised the question; shouldn't women be given the opportunity to compete on an equal playing field with men? I am by no means the toughest person in the country and I never thought I was, but I am a very big believer in equal rights, in being given the opportunity to try and it's something I will always stand up for.
What happened next?
- The story was picked up by national press - The Independent, The Telegraph, Huffington Post
- One month later the BBC contacted me to say they had changed their mind and were now accepting women. The BBC's U-turn in decision was reported by The Telegraph and the Independent and somewhere along the way Clare Miller saw the news and applied
- In October the TV program was aired with over 1.5 million people tuning in to watch the final of 'Ultimate Hell Week.' CLARE MILLER WON!
I joined her to watch the final in the pub, she's one incredible lady and agreed to be interview on my blog. Here's her story
You've had some pretty amazing achievements to date, tell me more...
I'm 31 and a haematology doctor working in NW London. I squeeze in as much sport as possible and try not to take life or myself too seriously. I rowed for England as a junior, cycled 2626 miles by myself across Europe in 28 days in 2012, became a World Duathlon Champion (AG 25-29) in 2013, and been obstacle racing since then - biggest wins are probably fastest female at Tough Guy 2015 and Rat Race dirty weekend 2014-2015.
What appealed to you about the TV Show “Ultimate Hell Week”?
I’ve known several people in the special forces and have always wanted to see if I could get through the selection, to see if I could do it. That’s not to say that I would want to be in the special forces, or to say that completing this show means you could pass SAS selection, but it’s about as close as we can get to trying, and I fancied a ping at it.
What was your initial reaction when you saw women were not eligible to apply?
I was annoyed and considered putting an application in anyway. But I decided against it – I’m a bit of a goody-two-shoes, I try and avoid confrontation. I do understand the arguments for the British Special Forces not allowing women into the SAS, so I decided not to push it. I’m very grateful that you had the guts to do more about it.
How did you adapt your training in the lead up to the show?
I was lucky with the timing of the show. I was back to full strength after a foot injury in July last year and had got myself into really good shape for Winter Tough Guy in January. From then I just stepped it up to a whole new level: The basic physical training included loads of running with weight, trips to the Brecon Beacons and lots of BMF sessions. I did a daily pull up programme and daily press ups and sit ups. I did some specific stuff like a few Krav Maga classes (Israeli martial arts), underwater swimming practise and daily cold showers. I also prepared mentally, forcing myself to do mental arithmetic and memory tests on the treadmill etc. By the time of the show in mid-May I was crazy fit. I’ve never been anywhere near as fit before, and I doubt I ever will get there again - it took so much commitment.
You displayed incredible mental toughness and resilience even when they pulled out all the stops to try and break you. What was going through your head to get you through it?
I just remained focused on the task in hand. For example, when the guy was shouting at me in the British SAS interrogation, I was just thinking ‘what does he look like, what’s his voice like, what can I tell about him? Where’s he from?’ When he was asking me questions about my family I just didn’t think about them, else the answers might have shown in my face – instead I just continued thinking about what information I could gather about him and my surroundings. When the Russian Spetsnaz guy blindfolded us and put us in the back of the Landrover, I got out my pen and started writing the directions the vehicle was moving on my hand, so that I knew where we’d gone. I always just tried to remain really on the ball. Also the camaraderie with the other guys and girls helped me through. I formed the “G-Unit” (Ginger-Unit) with Danny Bent. Whenever I felt low I’d just see him smiling, grab a hug, and all seemed OK again. Brassington too – I’m so pleased those were the guys left with me at the end.
Do you think mental strength is something that can be nurtured or is it something more innate?
Tricky one. It can definitely be nurtured – I think in general people get mentally stronger with age as they experience various challenges in life. Equally I think it can be hard to change your attitudes. We all had a psychiatry assessment before we went in and I was quite upset to read mine – the guy said I was ‘guarded’ in his report – but I guess it’s true, that’s kind of how I can be I suppose, and quite cynical, and perhaps those were assets in some of these tasks.
Going into the show what expectations, if any, did you have?
I tried not to really have any expectations, although I did try to think through the sorts of things they might throw at us. It was generally just a darned tough 12 days, which I suppose was what I expected!
The BBC originally rejected all applications from women, how do you feel about the expectation that as a woman, you couldn’t win the show?
It’s hard – there’s been some negativity about me winning the show. A lot of people saying it was rigged, etc. I don’t know – you could argue that if the final had come down to a fight, or a run with a 50kg bergen then I wouldn’t have won, and that’s true, so maybe it was rigged. But then again the final run how it was shown on TV was completely true – I know – I don’t really know how I won it either when those guys had been beating me before, I honestly don’t know what happened on that run, I think I must have just pushed myself way harder than the guys. I think Brassington was just dead from the interrogation, and Bent afterwards thought he probably could’ve tried harder on it, it was weird.
You have proved that women can compete on a level playing field with men what does this turn around mean to you?
I guess I knew that already from obstacle course racing, where women and men race together, so I didn’t find it particularly profound. I didn’t enter the process to make any sort of statement for women, but just to give myself a decent personal challenge. I’m pleased from the feedback people have given though, I think it’s inspired some women to get exercising and that’s just wicked.
When the BBC rejected my application on the grounds that I’m female, I shared my experience on my blog because I believe in equal opportunities and being given the chance to try. What’s the message you’d love to share as a result of your experience with the BBC TV show?
I’m just grateful that you got the ball rolling by standing up for the equal opportunities… I’ve now gone through with the process and shown that we deserved to be there. It’s a nice story and I think it hopefully might make people think twice in the future. It’s a shame Channel 4 didn’t do the same, as now we can’t prove that we could’ve done their show too. I’m still not saying the UK special forces should follow suit, but this stuff is just for TV, so why not?
What did you miss most about the outside world?
Pete’s shoulder to sleep on, and him in general. Deodorant – I flipping stank. Decent coffee (Parrish was with me on that one). Nice underwear (we were stripped of our own). All in that order I think.
What’s next for you?
It’s been straight back to the day job since the show. I’m in a really busy job. I’ve got postgraduate exams to try and focus on, but I must admit it’s been hard to focus with all this going on. I need a new physical challenge to aim for and I’m wondering about the winter Fan Dance – a few guys on the team are heading for that. I’m not sure I can face all that hard training again though… I’m very much in need of some training buddies, or a PT… if you know of anyone in Harrow?!
Thanks Clare, you're an inspiration to us all! Follow Clare on Twitter here and see what she gets up to next #MillerSmash