MELVYN Downes’ death stare is enough to make recruits quake in their boots, so it’s easy to see why the makers of SAS: Who Dares Wins wanted him in their arsenal.
The Channel 4 show’s latest addition to the team of tough-guy taskmasters, as revealed by The Sun this month, risked his life fighting for Britain during three decades in the military — 12 of them in the SAS.
Melvyn was involved in a harrowing mission during the first Gulf War, while part of the Staffordshire Regiment, in which he came under heavy fire, so rest assured, 56-year-old Melvyn has more than earned his place.
In his first ever interview, he recalls: “I was leading a troop of young soldiers in armoured vehicles through the desert and we came under fire. You could hear the bullets raining down.
“It came to the point where we had to jump out of the vehicle in order to attack on my instructions.
“I was a 25-year-old corporal at the time and it’s a scary moment getting out knowing you’re in the middle of a firefight and taking on the unknown, in the pitch black.
“I was so proud of my blokes, who were aged between 18 and 20. They got out of the vehicle on both sides and returned fire from wherever it was coming from to control it.
‘I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW MUCH I SWEAR’
“Out of 90 people, two friends were killed during that attack. One got hit in the chest by an RVC rocket, I saw it happen right in front of me.
“I’ve had countless near misses. I’ve used up my nine lives, for sure.”
The torrid battlegrounds of Iraq contrast dramatically with the glamorous skyscraper-filled skyline of Dubai, where Melvyn has lived for the past ten years with his wife, Zoe, a school teacher, and two teenage daughters.
After leaving the SAS he moved to the Emirate state to work for a corporate security company. But his military links remain strong, courtesy of his role as a leader with the British Scouts Overseas.
He says the youngsters in his troop, many of them the offspring of British expats, would be in for the “shock of their lives” after they saw his debut in the first episode of the new series last night, especially because he has a potty mouth.
Melvyn, who describes himself as “a normal bloke from Stoke”, says: “I can’t believe how much I swear.
“I don’t swear usually. I’m a Scout leader and I’m thinking my Scouts are going to go, ‘Wow, who is this person?’
“But when you’re a special forces guy and everybody starts talking, you’re back in that swearing mentality. I might not sound it, but I’m actually a nice guy.
“I’m glad there wasn’t a swear box because there would be a lot of money in it. I’d be skint.”
Melvyn was approached by the makers of SAS: Who Dares Wins last year, following the departure of Matthew “Ollie” Ollerton.
Ollie had appeared in all five civilian series and formed part of the intimidating team of directing staff alongside chief DS Ant Middleton, Jason “Foxy” Fox and Mark “Billy” Billingham.
But he was axed in August, along with more recent co-star Jay Morton, amid Channel 4’s “diversity drive”.
Melvyn is the first mixed-race member of the show’s instructors.
Ollie, who had been on the show since its launch, said he felt “disappointed and shocked” at his departure.
On the diversity drive, he added: “There are two types of people in this world, those who can do the job and those who can’t. I don’t care what colour they are.
“I feel people forcing the diversity agenda upon us are actually keeping racism alive and creating a divide.”
Melvyn insists he wasn’t briefed about Ollie or Jay’s departure when he was headhunted and even admits he only became aware of the show in the past year.
He says: “I didn’t know Ollie was leaving, I just had this great opportunity and I went for it. I wasn’t involved in any of the discussions.
“I know people are going to say it’s all about race, but I don’t see it that way.
“I’m mixed race and I’m proud of my heritage on both sides and I’m proud to serve my country.
“I just want to represent the under-represented, and that is class as well as race.”
The hit show, which launched in 2015, is now on its sixth civilian series.
A celebrity spin-off started in 2019, which was won by former footballer Wayne Bridge, 40.
It continued last year with joint winners, paralympian Lauren Steadman, 28, and Rudimental DJ Locksmith, 33.
On discovering the cult series during the early months of the pandemic, Melvyn says: “I don’t watch much TV, other than news or sports, but during lockdown my wife asked if I fancied watching it with her. It’s a mad story. We sat down, consumed it all, and I thought it’s such a realistic show. It was great.
“She then said to me, ‘Would you ever do that?’ and I just laughed, because I thought it was never going to happen.
“Not long afterwards I got a call from the producers approaching me.”
Filming for the civilian and forthcoming celebrity series took place last year, and Melvyn says he was welcomed with open arms by all the instructors, in particular Billy, who he served with on various special forces missions.
Melvyn says the military vets have a unique bond due to their shared experiences in the SAS, describing them as a “band of brothers”.
‘IT SHOWS YOU CAN GET THROUGH ROUGH TIMES’
Viewers may have been surprised to see Ant in the line-up of instructors on the new series tonight.
In March he parted company with Channel 4 and SAS Who Dares Wins over claims made by the broadcaster about the hardman’s “personal conduct” — allegations he denies.
But the split came after Ant had made the current series and also after he had filmed the celebrity version, which will air this summer. He will not be in the line-up of any of next year’s shows, which have yet to be filmed.
Melvyn, who also has a child from a previous marriage which ended 25 years ago, was brought up on the Bentilee council estate in Stoke-on-Trent, the largest of its kind in Europe at the time.
Joining top of the pots
JOINING SAS: Who Dares Wins will elevate Melvyn to a level of fame he never expected.
He will soon become one of the Potteries city’s most well-known exports.
And as he points out, it’s a great club to be in.
Melvyn says: “I’m so proud of being a Stokie. I’m a Stoke City fan, I love my town and the estate where I grew up.
“In Stoke you’ve got Robbie Williams, Phil “The Power” Taylor, Nick Hancock, Anthea Turner, Captain Smith, who was captain of the Titanic, RJ Mitchell, the maker of the Spitfire, and Lemmy from Motorhead, there’s loads of famous people.
“Plus Sir Stanley Matthews, the best footballer ever, and World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks, that’s a good list.”
Melvyn admits Stoke has its detractors but the people there are the “salt of the earth”.
He adds: “People knock Stoke, maybe because it’s a deprived city and hasn’t been given enough investment, I believe, especially the council estates up there.
“When a lot of the mining and pottery factories started closing down, it got a lot of unemployment.
“On my estate alone 50 per cent were unemployed, but I love the area and the people are the salt of the earth.
“They’re the most friendly people. They call everybody ‘duck’ and just chat to you.”
The Fifties housing development was home to 11,000 people who were mainly white, with Melvyn revealing: “You could count the number of mixed-race people on one hand.”
Explaining the hardships he faced, Melvyn went on: “Being somebody who looked different, I did have a bit of a rough time, and my family did too.
“We suffered both physical and mental abuse. But it shows you can get through rough times and there’s good and bad everywhere.
“In my time I’ve seen the worst of people and also the best of people.”
As a child he was obsessed with the military, and he recalls how his mother told him he would always ask for a plastic toy soldier whenever they visited the shops.
Melvyn joined the Army Cadets at 11, two years before he was allowed a uniform.
Five years later he left school with no qualifications and signed up to the Army.
He recalls: “All I wanted to do was go in the military. Two weeks after leaving school I joined.
“My parents had to give permission because I was only 16, but they knew that was what I wanted to do, even though deep down they were worried.
“If I didn’t go into the military I would have gone into another uniformed area, maybe the fire service, the police, or the paramedics.
“I just wanted to be in a team and doing something for people.”
He spent 12 years in the Staffordshire Regiment, rising to the rank of sergeant and leading his patrol in the first Gulf War.
Melvyn completed three tours of duty in Northern Ireland, in charge of a platoon of 30 soldiers.
He then spent another 12 years in the SAS, targeting war criminals and terrorists in countless operations, and achieved the rank of Warrant Officer.
Viewers saw Melvyn pushing 21 male and female recruits to the extreme last night with a series of challenges on the Scottish island of Raasay.
One of the recruits’ first tasks was to abseil from an oil rig and jump into the freezing sea.
The competitors include a Grenfell Tower firefighter suffering from PTSD, a former stripper and a trans circus artist, all of whom are hoping the experience will inspire others.
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Melvyn also hopes his story will show kids from poor backgrounds just how successful they can be.
He adds: “I’m just a normal bloke from Stoke, left school with no qualifications and had a bit of a difficult start in life. But I would never let people talk me down and say I wasn’t good enough.
“I want to inspire people to go for their goals like I did. That’s why I wanted to be on this show.”