When comparing CVs, David Blakeley's would give most people a run for their money. At just 21 years old he was promoted to the rank of Captain in the British Army, making him the youngest ever to achieve the position. He went on to be Second in Command of the elite Special Forces unit, the Pathfinders, leading one of the boldest missions of the Iraq War. In 2006 he left the British Army having recovered from a serious injury and has gone on to write two books about his time in service. He has also starred in a number of films and TV shows including Channel 4's 'Hunted', a documentary series in which ordinary people go on the run from expert hunters.
Your best selling book ‘Pathfinder’ is an incredible true war story of triumph over adversity. How did you and your specialist operators deal with being trapped behind enemy lines and abandoned by coalition command?
The most elite military units work very differently to conventional forces. There is no saluting or calling anyone ‘Sir.’ Each man goes through one of the most physically and mentally challenging selection courses in the world. Whilst skills and tactics can be taught we believe that human nature and strength of character cannot. We look for high calibre individuals who have the discipline to work within a team. Each man is selected because he adds value to the patrol. If you remove ego and the need to validate oneself and compete for a career then you have the best chance of being able to achieve the seemingly impossible. The missions we execute are high risk and extremely dangerous. Pinned down by the enemy and outnumbered by over 2,000 to 9 we faced being sure to be killed or captured, tortured and executed. One of my team came up with an audacious plan to take the fight front on to the enemy. Thankfully I listened to him, and the rest is history.
Your second book Maverick One illustrated the extreme physical demands of the Pathfinder selection process. How did you go about getting yourself to that level of conditioning?
I did lots of gym preparation to improve strength and reduce risk of injury. However, all the time in a warm weights room cannot prepare you for days on the mountains unaccompanied and navigating with a heavy back pack on. Thus the focus of my training was mental and physical endurance. I did this by travelling at speed over the Brecon Beacons in horrendous weather conditions. I used positive visualization techniques, which I explain in the book to trick my mind into giving in not being an option. Most men fail themselves by giving up.
Publishing ‘Pathfinder’ and ‘Maverick One’ details your first hand accounts of secret missions and the 'Ghost Platoon.' You clearly ruffled a few military feathers? What was the reaction from former colleagues?
Some people believe that the public do not have a right to know about clandestine operations and real life Black-Ops. I believe that no government has the right to indefinitely hide its secret operations from the public. That said I recognise the need to protect national, operational and personal security. Fighting the Ministry of Defence to publish my experiences was one of the greatest challenges of my life and a very lonely period. I was eventually successful in demonstrating that there was no danger to any operative other than myself. This is because all faces other than my own are digitized in the photographs within the book and their names are changed so they cannot be identified. That said the books are controversial and there will be a mixture of opinions about whether the public have the right to know about the existence of special units and our extreme roles.
You helped develop and starred in the groundbreaking hit Channel 4 TV show ‘Hunted.’ This has given us a slightly paranoia-inducing insight into how a Special Forces Operative would track down a target. What were the common traits of the four people that successfully avoided capture?
A fugitive’s achilies heel is his or her desire to communicate with their loved ones. Those who did this less had a greater chance of success. Being unpredictable and changing your modus operandi was key. Using decoys buys the target time as it ties up the Hunters resources. Some were just lucky!
How do you negotiate with an Afghan Warlord?
With great difficulty! Fighting head on is usually not the best way. Build a rapport and understand human nature and connection. Always listen first. Thereafter use every skill you have as well as your intuition.
Which bike do you ride? A matt black Cannondale hybrid.
Where do you cycle most? As rural as possible and ideally alone. Never the same route.
Describe your style? Classic, functional, robust and above all almost always black. I am fascinated by LUMO’s ‘Regent’s Parka.’ Switching from ‘Black Ops’ stealth mode to winning the fire fight is right up my street.