SAS veteran Jason Fox spreads the word on life in the armed forces and his mental demons afterwards
It’s approaching 10 years since Jason Fox parked up in a cliff-top car park, on the brink of ending his own life.
“I was having a nightmare of a day – couldn’t see the purpose of anything, work wasn’t good, I’d had a massive argument, and just felt ‘What’s the point?’,” he recalls.
“I’d been in the military for 20 years. I used to be awesome at something, and without that I felt maybe my usefulness on the planet was over.”
During that 20-year career in the Marines and Special Forces, Fox experienced "high intensity warfare" and saw colleagues killed and injured on a regular basis.
But he’d lost his ‘military mojo’, and after countless therapy sessions, he came to accept that a diagnosis of PTSD and medical discharge was the ‘least worst’ option.
Thrust back into civilian life at the age of 36, for the first time since leaving school, the mundanity of everyday living – booking dentist appointments, filing tax returns, living full time with a partner – was a bigger challenge than the life he’d known.
Without the brotherhood and support network provided by the military way of life, Jason struggled to find a new identity and that struggle led him to that clifftop.
“Looking back, I don’t know what stopped me,” the 46-year-old said. “But I guess I just wasn’t quite ready to give up.
“I had a word with myself, realised things had to change and that moment of honesty was a real defining moment.”
From there, Jason ‘got rid of negativity’ in his life, and ‘went on a journey to find the right people’ to help him move forwards.
Fighting back from the brink, Fox found a new purpose and drive – partly through founding his mental health charity and partly through his TV career after being approached as one of the experts for SAS: Who Dares Wins, a show he’s been with since it launched in 2015.
It has also brought him fame and the chance to tell his story and help others, with a speaking tour coming to venues in our region early next year.
Fox and the team weren’t sold on the original idea of condensing the process of Special Forces selection into a week’s filming. Instead, they offered to use elements of that selection process to create a unique course that would draw out the key attributes needed for Special Forces success – with a large focus on physical and mental strength.
“Initially, SAS: Who Dares Wins was a bit of an experiment – no one knew if or how it would work, or how people taking part would respond to it,” he said.
“It’s been phenomenal to see how both civilians and celebrities have thrown themselves into the show over the years. I am surprised at how big it’s become, and very proud of it too.
“What’s also been surprising is what I’ve learned from the experience – not to judge people, to give people another chance.
“And it does help to fill the ‘gap’ left from military life. When we’re out filming, there’s a team of people all working together to get a job done under some tough conditions.
“It’s nothing like as tough as I was used to in the Special Forces, but we are still working 24-hour days in extreme environments, pulling together, challenging ourselves.”
That’s something of an understatement when you consider some of Fox’s anecdotes… Having a pistol held to his head by Pablo Escobar’s personal hitman, helicopter crashes in unnamed warzones, or gun battles where the 30-strong squad is surrounded by 200-plus enemy fighters and ‘one of the lads dies straight away’.
Like many young men, Fox reached the end of his school life and found his way into the military. His dad was an ex-Marine, so it had always been a part of his life and he knew the option was there.
Raised on a 1980s council estate in Luton, teenage Fox was leaning towards the wrong side of the tracks and recognised he needed to make some changes – sounds familiar.
Enlisting after his GCSEs seemed a fairly obvious choice.
“I hated school and wanted to leave home, and the quickest way to do that was to enlist. I just wanted to see more of the world,” he explained, drawn to the chance to get out there and ‘do cool stuff’, as he describes much of what followed.
The 90s were a "reasonably quiet" time for the Marines, but that quiet time made him realise it was the action of soldiering – "being like a kid running around in the dirt" was what Fox enjoyed. Less so the "parading, the pomp and ceremony".
So a chance to join Special Forces came at the perfect time as they’re often in active service, even in peacetime.
Fox had not long completed the rigorous selection process for the Special Forces when September 11th 2001 came along. Nothing could have prepared the world for that moment, but Jason was at least in peak mental and physical fitness for the challenges to come.
“I remember seeing the attack on the Twin Towers on TV,” he said. “When it transpired what happened, we knew what would happen next. I knew lads who went in straight away.
“It was a turning point in the public relationship with and awareness of Special Forces operations – they became mainstream news, having always been very much undercover. Stuff I was doing would be in the newspapers, on the front pages, that had never happened before.”
Rising to the rank of Sergeant, Fox was respected and well regarded as being generally indestructible, making his PTSD diagnosis and medical discharge all the more surprising to those around him.
But, in fairly typical style, once he found some answers through therapy, he turned those experiences to his advantage in supporting others – and his openness in speaking about mental health issues in the forces and after.
That candid approach has helped forge his popularity, and he brings those experiences to Life At The Limit.
“Touring Life At The Limit earlier this year was something completely alien to me and I absolutely loved it so I can’t wait to get back on the road,” said Fox.
“I’ve had some incredible experiences – some good, some bad – and I genuinely feel honoured that people want to hear about them.
“From behind-the-scenes anecdotes of filming, some hilarious, others brutal; and what it's really like when you come face to face with notorious killers, drug cartels, Mexican warlords and hitmen, this is a no holds barred account of my life to date.
“Life At the Limit is a very honest account of what has been a long and difficult journey, but it is also inspiring, entertaining, funny and moving in equal measure.”
Life At The Limit tours throughout January and February 2023, playing Forum Theatre, Malvern on January 24, Telford's Oakengates Theatre on February 2 and Victoria Hall, Stoke-on-Trent on February 19. For more information head to ents24.com/uk/tour-dates/jason-fox