out of a helicopter is easy.
at least it is for ex-SAS man Chris Ryan.
No, what is
trickier for the former Special Forces soldier turned bestselling
thriller writer is being the centre of attention at a public book
Having a public profile is something he
accepts goes along with being a writer and part of the entertainment
industry. Other former Special Forces operatives turned writers take
a different view, being careful to disguise their identities and
never appearing in photographs.
Ryan, however, has an alternative
explanation of why they opt to do that.
“They’re ugly buggers!”
he declared cheerfully.
Even so, there is no denying his public
profile is uncomfortably at odds with his previous career.
“I suppose it’s because in
your past life you were a grey man,” he commented.
“You could be involved in an
operation and be walking through the city and feel comfortable.
Nobody knew who you were or passed you a second glance, while here
you can be the centre of attention and I find that very difficult to
Ryan acknowledges that his career in the
public spotlight is something that he “fell into” and
could never have anticipated.
It was his part in
the First Gulf War SAS patrol which was to become the subject of
several books including the eponymous bestseller by patrol leader
Andy McNab, which first brought “Chris Ryan” out of the
shadow world of the Special Forces and into the public domain, in the
process furnishing him with the pseudonym by which he is known to the
Ryan was the only member of the eight
man unit not to be captured or killed on the operation, eventually
escaping to Syria after eight days on the run in the longest evasion
recorded by any soldier in the British army. This spectacular effort
resulted in Ryan being awarded the Military Medal.
Ryan wrote his own
book about these events, The
One That Got Away,
but was heavily criticised by the surviving patrol members over his
version of events and in particular his portrayal of one of the
“There was a bit of hassle, but
you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs,” Ryan
Ryan still has friends in the services,
however, though many of his friends are coming to the end of their
service while others have gone into the lucrative private security
market. Ryan’s younger brother is a Regimental Sergeant Major
in the Parachute Regiment and Ryan regularly visits Colchester to
talk to new recruits.
“I still keep current and talk to
the lads and see what’s going on,” he said.
Having a brother still serving means the
conflict in Afghanistan is very close to home for Ryan, though he
points out there are many families in Britain in the same situation.
“It’s the pressure he’s
under,” Ryan said.
“He lost 25 guys on the last tour.
But I know he will look after his men. He’s a very good soldier
— a far better soldier than I was.”
No longer a serving soldier himself,
Ryan is free to express his concerns about the support, or lack of
it, today’s generation of soldiers receive from the powers that
be. The combination of continued involvement in Afghanistan, coupled
with swingeing Government cuts has certainly given him plenty of
cause for concern.
“The war in Afghanistan will be
won or lost through dominating the air,” he said, making a plea
for continued investment in air support.
“The guys on the ground need to be
able to call in air support and they need extracted. The wounded need
to be extracted immediately to a field hospital to save them. You
can’t send guys to war now without having the support of the
The conflict in
Afghanistan provides the background to Ryan’s most recent
bestselling thriller, The
and the author his in no doubt about the challenges his brother and
his men face in combating a foe as resilient and determined as the
“You never underestimate the
enemy,” he warned.
“There’s a misconception
about that because these guys are running around in rags and aren’t
in any type of formation. They are super intelligent and quite
willing to sacrifice themselves. The other thing is, because they are
not wearing a uniform, one minute they could be waving you down a
track and the next they could be pulling out a AK47. This conflict is
reliant on winning the hearts and minds of the locals and that’s
difficult if they are using terrorist type tactics. How do you deal
with that without getting civilian collateral damage? And once that
happens you are not going to win anyone over.
“What they’ve got in
Afghanistan is history. The Russians couldn’t dominate them,
we’ve been kicked out a couple of times and with that saying
about history repeating itself, I can’t see any light on the
A prolific writer, in addition to his
adult novels Ryan has also created a series for young readers and
written four books of non-fiction, including SAS fitness and survival
Of these Ryan is most passionate about
his books for younger readers or adults who are less confident
readers. Reading is a vital life skill and while boys of his
generation had things like Commando comics to stimulate their
imagination (and which are still published today) he sees his
military orientated adventures providing a similar function. However,
he adds that he is not too worried if someone reads one of his books
and decides it is not for them. What is important is that they have
read it and may move on to something else.
From books, Ryan’s
career has also spun off into television as a technical advisor,
writer and even actor on the Ross Kemp starring SAS series Ultimate
Documentary series of his own followed, including one on elite police
units of the world and Hunting
which saw him dropped into a series of challenging environments and
tracked by a team of ex-special forces soldiers. Forthcoming projects
include one which will look at opposing weapons in the context of
past conflicts, such as the duel between the M16 and AK47 assault
rifles in Vietnam, and another looking at the use of dogs by the
“There’ve been several TV
programmes that wanted me to go back to Iraq, but the area that I was
operating in is still a very dangerous area with a lot of insurgents
coming over from Syria,” he said.
“The programme makers were going
to follow my footsteps, but no way am I going to take a crew in there
and put them in danger. We are brokering a TV programme that would
possibly take us to Afghanistan, but that’s still in the early
stages. It’s something you can’t take lightly. I always
say to them, remember we’re making a television programme
There are no such constraints when it
comes taking readers with him into the world’s most dangerous
territory within the pages of a thriller, however. Ryan also
acknowledges that fiction allows him to say things and address issues
which he could not in a non-fiction work, though he adds he is always
careful not to write anything that would compromise the serving
soldiers on the ground.
His latest writing project is a perfect
example of this.
“The one I’m looking at now
is based on the Carlyle Group which George Bush was involved with,”
more than one book in that. They made tanks and helicopters and that
company made more than $3 billion out of the Gulf War. There’s
a definite conflict of interest there.”
Hodder & Stoughton Hbk £18.99
Released: 16th September 2010