Camping, Bushcraft & Survival

Was Bear Grylls really in the SAS?

Adventurer, TV presenter, Everest climber, Chief Boy Scout - but was Bear Grylls really in the SAS or is that a step too far?

What’s harder than joining the SAS? Finding out if Bear Grylls was ever in the SAS. But we dared and we won!

A Look Into Bear Grylls SAS Career

There can be no denying that the surge of interest in adventure sports and survival techniques over the last decade has had an enormously positive impact on the public at large. Previously sofa-bound young men, who would sooner reach for the TV remote or games console controller than pull on a pair of running shoes, have flung themselves into adventure events and extreme cross-country challenges with gusto – shrinking their waistlines and lowering their collective blood pressure in the process.

The ‘Real Deal’?

But what of the celebrities who are spearheading all this? Is everything as it seems, or are these ultra-fit, ruggedly handsome and engagingly charismatic characters just too telegenic to be the real deal? Old Etonian Bear Grylls has come under particular scrutiny. The public outcry over allegations that he spent some of his time during the production of his Born Survivor series staying in a nearby hotel (and eating blueberry pancakes) led to him getting flack of a decidedly non-military variety.

Since then, within certain circles (particularly among those with a vested interest in the adventure and survival industry themselves) it has been alleged that the grizzly-monikered one’s CV might not be quite as watertight as we have been led to believe.

So what’s the real story? Was Bear Grylls actually in the SAS, or wasn’t he? Let’s look at the facts.

Photo: Wikipedia

Early Years

When he wasn’t away at boarding school, Bear grew up on a placid island off the coast of Hampshire known to music festival goers and caravan enthusiasts alike as the Isle of Wight. Here he enjoyed many sun-dappled days with his Conservative MP father (also a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron), the late Sir William Michael John Grylls, learning the rudiments of sailing, climbing, and doubtless many other rugged outdoor pursuits.

It was during these formative years that he developed the passion for martial arts which led to his first major adventure – a sojourn in Japan for Karate grandmaster training. Young Bear’s attraction to more exotic climes continued, and after finishing school he considered signing up for the Indian Army, eventually settling on a trek around the Himalayan mountains of Sikkim and West Bengal instead.

Military Background

Back in the UK, Bear jettisoned the safe option of university for the time being, but didn’t quite plump for the officer training route which could well be seen as the obvious choice for a young man with his background and a taste for adventure. Instead he signed up for the Territorial Army, and passed selection to serve as a reservist for the 21 SAS Regiment (Artists Reserve).

“In his formative years he developed a passion for martial arts which led to his first major adventure – karate training in Japan”

Thorny Issue

Now this is where things get complicated. Being a reservist in the Territorial Army isn’t quite the same as being in the army per se, in as much as the amount of time committed to service is limited, typically to around 27 days in a year. That said, in theory the duties reservists are expected to perform while they are participating in military service are identical to those of their full-time soldier counterparts – thus their abilities must be identical also. In theory.

Thornier Still

The same principle applies to the 21 SAS Regiment (Artists Reserve), of which Bear Grylls is acknowledged to have been a member. This part-time regiment, alongside the 23 Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve), has acted as reserve support for the regular SAS Regiment in Afghanistan as recently as 2008 (Wikipedia, 2015).

Photo: Flickr

Even Thornier

However, in 2014 both of the SAS reservist regiments mentioned above, alongside the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) left the Special Forces to be placed under the command of the 1st Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade. Rumblings at the time suggested this was a direct consequence of a deficiency of ‘operational capacity’ on the part of the reservists, and the lack of a ‘clearly defined role’ for them within the organisation (Wikipedia again, 2015).

Bear Grylls in the SAS Reserves. Photo:

Far Too Thorny By Half

So the real issue isn’t so much “Was Bear Grylls really in the SAS?” as “Was the bit of the SAS he was in really the same as the ‘real’ SAS anyway?” Now, the elite military servicemen are a fairly secretive bunch at the best of times, so when it comes to openly undermining whole regiments in public (albeit reservist ones), it’s hardly surprising that they’d be a little bit backwards in coming forward.

Bravo Two Hero

Unless, or course, they’ve long since left the military and have spent the intervening years nurturing an enviably lucrative media career of their own. Which brings us to the esteemed author Mr. Chris Ryan.

Chris, alongside fellow thriller writer Andy McNab, is famous not only for managing to survive years of superhuman derring do in the midst of some of the world’s nastiest conflicts, but also for carving out a decent niche putting together popular blockbuster novels after arriving back on civvy street.

Now Mr Ryan’s military record is as unimpeachable as his right to a spot on the front table at Waterstones come Christmas time. But given that he was the go to guy for anything SAS-related for nigh on a decade before the young upstart Mr Grylls took the television, publishing and hiking accessory worlds by storm (and all in less time than it takes Ryan to work up another first draft), you could be forgiven if the grapes in the fruit bowl at his house began to taste just a tiny bit tart.

Bear tucks into something delicious on TV. Photo: Discovery UK

Then again, most of the reports of Chris’ supposed chagrin at Bear being trumpeted as the new face of the Special Forces come from the more unseemly end of the tabloid press. So in reality we’ll never know much, if anything, about what his thoughts on the matter actually are either.

There’s no business like…

What we do know for sure is that, even if Bear Grylls wasn’t ever really in the ‘full-on’ SAS, he was certainly in something very closely related to it. If nothing else, he’s been doing a demonstrably more flattering impression of an ex-SAS man than anyone else has over the past ten years or so. And if the odd TV producer has applied a little poetic license to the old back story, that’s all just part of the fun. He definitely looks and acts the part, so what more do people want? In the mean time, we’re still happy to carry on watching Running Wild and The Island. I mean, who isn’t interested to see US president Obama snacking on fish? – Watch: Barack Obama Eat A Chewed-Up Fish Carcass


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Bear Grylls Running Wild – Everything You Need To Know

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