Jason Fox served 20 years in the military – 10 in the Royal Marines and 10 in the Special Boat Service.
He loved being a soldier. He loved what it stood for. He loved what it entailed.
But the star of the hit TV series SAS: Who Dares Wins has never forgotten the ‘horrific gunfight’ that proved to be the start of his battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and led him to a point where he considered taking his own life.
After joining up at 16, he “enjoyed” and “embraced” being a soldier.
He chased the “excitement and adrenaline” of the military.
Looking back, he admits it made him difficult to live with.
In his book Battle Scars, and in interviews since, he talked about how he was trained to be a soldier – not a father or husband.
But after years of combat deployments during which he saw “horrific stuff” and thought he was fine, it was while pinned down under fire in a ditch that he remembers the “wake-up call” of simply wanting to be at home with his mum.
When people ask him when he first experienced mental health issues, he says that incident in the ditch was a good starting point because it was the first time that he can remember manifesting fear in the way that it did.
Jason ‘Foxy’ Fox was medically discharged from special forces with PTSD
It’s now 12 years since ‘Foxy’ left the forces after being medically diagnosed with PTSD.
Struggling with his loss of identity, belonging and relationships at a time when talking about mental health was still in its infancy, his sense of worthlessness reached a point where he considered ending his own life.
However, when he decided to walk away from what he was thinking of doing, he realised he needed to be honest with himself about what was going on in his mind and what he needed to do about it.
In an interview with The Courier, Foxy said his journey with mental health forms the backbone of a talk he is giving at Perth Concert Hall on February 16.
The ex-special forces sergeant turned broadcaster and author hopes his Life at the Limit tour will help more men open up about mental health.
“I sort of started talking about it because I was told not to talk about it weirdly,” he explains.
“And not talking about it was actually doing me in even more.
“I was like ‘hang on a minute, I keep getting told not to talk about poor mental health’.
“Anyway, I started talking about it and then felt better and went on telly and spoke about it briefly and felt better.
“I thought ‘hang on I need to encourage people to do this, because obviously if there’s anyone out there that’s similar to me, then maybe it’ll help them’.
“So it wasn’t a deliberate thing to begin with but it just sort of morphed into that”.
Who is Jason ‘Foxy’ Fox?
Jason Fox, 47, is best known as a tough-talking instructor on Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins.
But he’s also making a name for himself with this, the third outing of his Life at the Limit tour.
He’s sharing remarkable stories from his distinguished military career as an elite operator in the UK special forces, his personal battles and his more recent TV work.
The latest leg of Life At The Limit follows the success of Foxy’s 2022 and 2023 tours, which saw him visit more than 50 theatres.
During the show, he presents a story of special forces soldiering – a chronicle of operational bravery, adventure and courage on and off the battlefield.
As well as talking about his roots, his Royal Marine and special forces training, and his struggles with mental health, he’ll talk about being a world record-breaking rower and adventurer who has embarked on expeditions across Alaska, the North Pole and most recently the River Yukon.
Foxy has never done one of his talks in Perth before.
But he reveals he’s got a mate who doesn’t live too far away – and he loves Scotland having got to know the Highlands in the military during mountain training around Glencoe, navigation training at Aonach Eagach ridge and paying respects at the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge.
“My training was mainly on the west coast to be fair,” he recalls.
“We’d come up and stay at a place called Garelochhead, near Helensburgh.
“Although the countryside is beautiful, that small little base, the small little camp there was horrible.
“I’ve been across there, then obviously up on to the Highlands, around Glen Coe, the Isle of Skye, Kyle of Lochalsh. I spent a lot of time up there really.
“But we also filmed the TV show SAS: Who Dares Wins up there.
“We did four seasons if you count the celebrity ones: a couple of trips anyway up to Raasay and all around there and Skye. It was amazing.”
Why are the Scottish Highlands and Islands great for special forces training?
Foxy says it’s the harshness of the Scottish Highlands and Islands that makes the landscape so suitable for military training.
“It’s up and down, it’s unforgiving,” he says.
“In the winter it’s brutal. In the summer you’ve got to contend with the midges.
“It doesn’t let you off the hook.
“People ask me which forces around the world are the best.
“I’m not being biased – well, I am being biased – but it’s the British, but that’s because we’ve got places like the west coast of Scotland.
“Training in it sort of toughens people up, as I’m sure the people living up there can testify to.”
How aware is Jason ‘Foxy’ Fox of SAS founder Sir David Stirling?
Jason is also conscious of the long history linking Britain’s elite special forces with the Highlands of Scotland.
David Stirling, the founder of the wartime SAS, came from Bridge of Allan for example – as recently featured in The Courier – while commandos used to train at Spean Bridge.
It’s a history he’s very familiar with.
“I joined the Marines to begin with,” he says, “and It’s bred into you – or you are encouraged to learn a little bit about the history – because that’s obviously where your pride comes from, being part of the organisation.
“So you’ve got Spean Bridge up near Fort William which obviously was where the Commandos were trained.
“David Stirling – I think he was from Bridge of Allan – he’s from up there.
“Before he started the SAS he was a Guards officer but he was one of the Guard Commandos.
“So he was an army commando. He’d have done training up there as well.
“We were well aware of the history behind that place, and also why they pick it, because if you are going to train people, train them up there. It’s hard work.”
How significant has SAS Who Dares Wins been to Jason Fox’s state of mind?
Foxy says that being part of the SAS programme since 2015 helped get him “back on track”.
He described it as “an amazing launch pad” into a second career which he’s “grateful for”.
He adds: “I was never looking for it. It was bizarre.
“I just stumbled across it and then yeah.
“Unknowingly it sort of became one of those fundamental building blocks to the new version of me”.
When it comes to the programme, however, can the instructors tell from the start who has potential to pass?
“I’d love to be able to sit here and say ‘yeah of course we are all over it, we know from the beginning who’s going to pass’,” he laughs.
“But we don’t. We always get surprises. We know we’re going to get surprised. We try to second guess our surprise and then it bites us in the a**e and we get surprised again.
“Yeah, there’s always some dark horses. The big guys don’t always get through, and it’s a person you didn’t really see coming that does.”
Does Jason ‘Foxy’ Fox think Britain’s armed forces could take on Russia?
There’s been debate in recent weeks about whether Britain’s military would be strong enough to cope with all-out war against Russia.
Foxy says it’s a “big discussion”.
However, if “push came to shove” he has confidence in the people that have been trained up to be in those positions and he thinks they will perform.
Despite the highs and lows of his military career, Jason also says he’d “definitely do it again”.
“If I knew what I knew now I might not have flopped my GCSEs,” he laughs.
“I’d have a word with myself beforehand and say ‘look when you are feeling a little bit low, that’s probably a good time to talk to someone and just let them know how it’s going’.
“That’s something I didn’t do. Other than that, I’d do it again, yeah.
“Maybe minus some of the other things that happened in my life that weren’t anything to do with my military career.”
Life At The Limit visits Perth Concert Hall on Friday February 16.