Celebrity SAS: Troubled stars Ulrika and Kerry say contest made them stronger

Celebrity SAS Who Dares Wins: Joey Essex quits after grilling

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Stars including Ulrika Jonsson, Ore Oduba, Kerry Katona, Saira Khan and James Cracknell experienced some of the show’s toughest ever tasks – including being tear gassed – pushing them to the physical and mental brink. “You don’t have a lot of time to process stuff,” admits Ulrika, 54. “I could barely regulate my breathing.” Yet despite suffering hypothermia and fierce tongue-lashings from the former ­special forces instructors she found it strangely difficult to adapt to the comfort and ease of life when she returned from the remote, windswept island of Raasay to her large country house in Oxfordshire.

“When I came home I did not want to be there. I know that’s sick but I did spend a bit of time feeling a bit lost,” she tells the Daily Express.

The mum-of-four to Cameron, 26, Bo, 21, Martha, 17, and Malcolm, 13, was even tempted to inflict some of the harsh treatment she endured on her unsuspecting children – to give them a bit of a reality check.

“I thought, I’m going to make my kids shower from the hose outside because I can’t take any of their b******t,’” Ulrika half-jokes. “They rather wish I hadn’t gone. It changes your outlook.”

And she’s not the only one. TV sports ­presenter Ore Oduba, 35, says he’s become “militarised” by Celebrity SAS. And he ­reckons it was “hands down” harder than winning Strictly Come Dancing in 2016.

“If they had said it was a return trip, you’re going back to Raasay to do it again, I would have done it,” he says. “There was something about the simplicity of that lifestyle.”

Ore, who is expecting his second child with wife Portia, compares himself to the self-important but deluded character Gareth Keenan from sitcom The Office, who constantly boasts about being in the Territorial Army. In his case, however, it’s “When I was in the SAS…”.

“I spent a couple of days on an island with some military dudes and now I feel like I was in the SAS!” he laughs. “I’m with Ulrika – I can’t stand negativity or moaning and I get a lot of that from my three-year-old.”

He says he almost enjoyed obeying the orders barked by the strict “TV intructors”, including Ant Middleton, making his last appearance on the show, and definitely benefited from it. “It was basic but simple and that definitely is still with me today,” he says.

Not that his wife is so happy about her new SAS-style hubby. “My wife would ­happily divorce me,” he joked. “She didn’t sign up to marry a military man.”

The starry gang are in fine form, laughing and finishing each other’s points, clearly elated to be back together albeit over Zoom.

Filming happened last October over two weeks just before Britain’s second lockdown. Charging around the spacious Inner Hebrides in fresh air doesn’t sound too bad but Kerry stresses this was no balmy tropical island getaway.

“The worst for me wasn’t the challenges but the wet, ­miserable, cold, horrible weather,” she says. “It changes your mindset on everything.

“It is hard to think ‘Right, let’s get up and put these wet clothes back on. Yaay!’”

Ulrika believes the good aftercare she received has given her a “stronger mindset”.

“We all went on different journeys and experiences but it had a profoundly positive psychological effect for me,” she says.

The former golden girl of Saturday night TV arrived on our screens in 1989 as a weather girl on TV-am. She then fronted game show Gladiators before keeping Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer in check as a team captain on the BBC Two comedy show Shooting Stars.

But her private life started to eclipse her career in the noughties in the wake of her divorce from first husband John Turnbull. She met her second husband, Lance Gerrard-Wright, while hosting the dating show Mr Right, and was married for 11 years to American advertising executive Brian Monet before they divorced in 2019.

She also had high-profile relationships with footballer Stan Collymore and England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. In recent years Ulrika has stepped back from the limelight to focus on her family but revealed the menopause had dented her self-confidence, and pain from degenerative disc disease caused her weight to drop to seven-and-a-half stone.

Now, she is putting herself first again and says Celebrity SAS was instrumental in ­providing this “lightbulb moment”.

“My focus has changed, 100 percent,” she says. “I’ll always be a mum. It’s something that resonates with many women, certainly of my age, who have dedicated their lives to children and family and have had no time or space. The most important person in my life has always been someone else.”

Kerry Katona, 40, says having similar life experiences helped her to bond with Ulrika. Both had difficult childhoods, and both have been judged for their failed relationships.

“It was an instant friendship because we’d mirrored each other’s lives – the different dads, five children, and marriages,” says the Atomic Kitten singer, who jokes that she and Ulrika have “an orphanage between us”. She adds: “We’ve been scrutinised for being women who have our children by different men,” she continues.

“We are on the same page of believing, why is that okay for men? We bonded massively because we know how it feels to be violated and controlled by men because of choices in our personal lives.”

Growing up, Kerry was placed in foster care after her mother, Sue, struggled with bipolar disorder, a mental health condition she shares. Having survived bankruptcy, drug addiction and three divorces, she believes that far from being an ordeal, the show was actually therapy.

“It was counselling, I felt I was able to grieve for myself and for the little Kerry,” she says. “I’ve never been on a show with such amazing aftercare. And let’s be honest, with ­therapy, I keep these guys in business.”

Footballer Kieron Dyer, 42, BMX champion Shanaze Reade, 32, and singer Jake Quickenden, 32, also praised the show’s “break you down to build you up” formula.

Former England player Kieron praised Ant and his instructor colleague Mark “Billy” Billingham for helping him finally move on from his experience of childhood abuse.

Former Loose Women and Apprentice star Saira Khan, 51, described her Who Dares Wins experience as uncomfortable but “life changing”.

“You go to bed, after being beaten and broken, in wet clothes and you wake up in them,” she says. “They kept saying to us, ‘You have to get comfortable with the ­uncomfortable’.”

And she obviously did, because she adds: “If I was asked to do it again, I would – 100 percent.”

Another recruit, X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke, 32, says there was a reason why the group formed tight friendships. “It’s important to try and help others as well as helping yourself, and each and every single one of us did that,” she says.

“That’s why it’s special because it is rare on shows in this business for people to ­connect. It made my experience the best.”

What does Alexandra think her mother – soul singer Melissa Bell, who died of kidney failure aged 53 in 2017 – would have made of her sprinting across scrubland and ­rescuing hostages?

“She would have told me I’m nuts,” Alexandra laughs. “I promised her there were certain things I wouldn’t do and I’ve kept my word because she told me not to.”

She pauses briefly. “Okay, there’s one – I lied. She told me not to jump out of a plane but this was a helicopter so it’s different!”

Saira says she learned to “never judge a book by its cover” based on her initial impressions of Ulrika, who she now calls a good friend.

“When I saw Ulrika, I swear on my life, I thought, ‘What are you doing there? I’m not even kidding you, I thought I would give her five minutes,” she says.

“I completely underestimated that woman and I’ve eaten my words now. I’m really glad to have been proved wrong because she’s a star.”

Ulrika had similar thoughts about Saira. “I thought, ‘Oh **** it, the gobby one’.” But they now know they are friends for life.

Now the only question is how long the celebrities will last on the show.

  • Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins, Sundays at 9pm from August 29 on Channel 4

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