Tory ex-Army sniper sets sights on Wolverhampton seat
Army veteran turned politician: The Conservatives new parliamentary candidate for Wolverhampton South West wants to bring a level of trust back to politics.
For Stuart Anderson, the route into politics has been anything but straightforward.
He’s a former British Army sniper who was told he would never walk again unaided after getting shot in his first year of service.
Confounding medical experts, he went on to serve all over the world before becoming a bodyguard, counting a prime minister and numerous high ranking diplomats among his clients.
It is a journey that at the age of 42 has brought him to the Black Country, where he has been selected to contest the Wolverhampton South West seat for the Conservatives at the next General Election.
“I’m definitely not your traditional politician,” he said. “My path into politics has taken me to many different places, but the time is now right for this to be a big part of my life.”
Mr Anderson joined the Conservatives in 2016 and was elected as a councillor in his home town of Hereford the following year.
He says that while he’s enjoyed his work on the council, the opportunity to step up to the big leagues in Wolverhampton was too good to pass up.
“I looked at the city and thought, ‘this is a place where I can live’. It is a place where I hope to be able to work to make things better for the communities here,” he said.
Becoming a parliamentary candidate is certainly not the life he would have predicted for himself growing up.
His father was in the SAS and died when he was young, meaning his mother had to juggle her job working long hours as a nurse with bringing up the kids.
He joined the Army straight from school, but his service looked to be short-lived when he was shot in the foot during a training exercise in Wales two days before his 18th birthday.
The bullet took all bar three fragments of bone out, and doctors gave him an initial prognosis that they would have to amputate his leg up to the knee.
“I did what every soldier does, I cried and asked for my mommy,” he recalls.
They managed to save his foot, but told him he would never walk without a stick. His career in the Army was ruined before it had properly got started.
Tears rolling down his cheeks, he recalls telling the doctor: “I'm going to prove you wrong.” It would be the defining moment of his life.
He went through rehabilitation and 10 months later passed the Army's physical tests and was declared fit to serve. “It was down to pure stubbornness. The injury shaped my resilience," he said.
He went on to serve in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Germany, Iran, Canada and Poland among other countries, and as if to stress the point that he had proved his doctors wrong, he would become one of his regiment The Royal Green Jackets' best runners.
After the forces he became a bodyguard, protecting high ranking officials and executives in the UK, Africa and the Middle East, where he worked for Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani.
He also ran security for US government officials in Baghdad in 2003, operating between the diplomatic quarter in the heart of the city and the airport – a route dubbed the world's most dangerous road.
It was a time when he recalls: "I lost quite a few friends."
"We were blown up several times by IEDs. Back then everyone was going out there as that's where the big money was, but it was a dangerous period.”
His return to the UK in 2005 saw him start a business, lose it, then start another in travel security.
His firm eTravelSafety, which uses artificial intelligence to asses the risk level of destinations around the world, has become an industry leader.
Mr Anderson says creating the right environment for small businesses could be the key to Wolverhampton’s regeneration.
“There is already a lot going on in the city but the centre is quiet. There’s empty shops and people are going elsewhere,” he said.
“I want to bring hope to the high street, and that means lower business rates to help small businesses. They are the backbone of Britain's economy. I want to see them thrive in Wolverhampton."
He's concerned about high crime levels in the region, and building on personal experience in the Army, wants to see more done to tackle mental health issues in the community.
Mr Anderson has already moved to the constituency, and the father-of-four – soon to be five –says his wife and children will follow later this year.
He’s a proud Brexiteer, who says: "Britain has always prospered, and no matter what happens with Brexit we will come out of the other side stronger.”
But he admits to being concerned about the damage to Britain’s economy as a result of the uncertainty over Britain’s departure from the EU.
"I'm absolutely gutted what it is doing to the reputation of politicians,” he adds. “I want to bring a level of trust back to politics. People will see with me that when I say I will do something, I will deliver."
He’s keen to work closely with West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, who he says "has brought in investment and positive changes for the region."
Mr Anderson says he is ready for the challenge of winning Wolverhampton South West, a swing seat that the Tories lost to Labour in 2015.
In the 2017 snap election it was held for Jeremy Corbyn's party by former nurse and union boss Eleanor Smith, who extended Labour's majority to 2,185.
With the next election not due until 2022, Mr Anderson says he is in it for the long haul.
“We have to be ready at any time,” he says. “But for now I’m getting to know my new home and finding out what makes people here tick.”