When you’re putting the finishing touches to your wedding plans, taking on a gang of former special forces soldiers is usually not an item on the list.
But, if you’re double Olympic champion rower James Cracknell, it makes perfect sense.
The 49-year-old is enjoying the first weeks of marital bliss, having last month tied the knot for a second time.
But while wife Jordan Connell, 35, was planning their big day, James was putting himself through hell having signed up for SAS: Who Dares Wins.
If he was hoping to have a lucky escape from the last-minute stress and sleepless nights before a wedding, he might have regretted his choice.
Instead he was gassed, shot at, thrown off a helicopter and forced to abseil down a cliff while being screamed at.
Drawing on his experience of previous challenges, including swimming across the Strait of Gibraltar, the dad-of-three felt well up for the adventure.
But he soon realised that facing off with former SAS hardman Ant Middleton and his tough team was a whole new ball game.
“This is like nothing you’ve ever done before, you can’t prepare,” admits James.
“If I had to classify what I was good at it would be coaching myself through tough moments, endurance, physical pain, and coping with doing that in a pressurised environment.
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“But what I realised, very quickly, was I was very good at putting myself under pain for a length of time that I knew.
“In the Olympics, it was six minutes and there was no excuses, you had to absolutely red-line it all the way. Whereas on this course you didn’t know how long it was going to take.
“You didn’t know how long you’re going to be in pain or what was coming next. I really struggled with that.”
James flew to Scotland’s Isle of Raasay for the series with a host of famous faces.
Ulrika Jonsson, 54, Kerry Katona, 40, Paralympian Aled Davies, 30, Strictly champ Ore Oduba, 35, and ex-England footballer Kieron Dyer, 42, were along for the ride.
And given his sporting background, including Olympic gold at both Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, he had a target on his back from the start.
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All the other celebrities wanted to do their very best to beat the man they branded “a machine”. And Ant’s team, known as the Directing Staff, were keen to see what he was made of, too.
So far, viewers of the Sunday night C4 show have seen some celebs pull out, including Loose Women star Saira Khan, ex-BMX ace Shanaze Reade, Corrie’s Jake Quickenden and former I’m A Celeb winner Vicky Pattison.
But James persevered – and found himself facing one of the most mentally exhausting challenges: the grilling in the infamous mirror room.
The stuff of nightmares, it is where the contestants’ biggest fears and failings are usually exposed by the DS.
But it seems they didn’t try to break James, who suffered a brain injury after he was hit by a car while cycling in the US in 2010.
The injury changed his personality and led to the breakdown of his marriage to first wife Beverley Turner.
“There are cracks there they could have dug into,” he admits. “They could have gone down the life changes after the accident and getting divorced.
“They would have got to me that way, but they didn’t come after me.”
The DS could not make him cry. But being asked to write a letter home to his kids – Croyde, 17, Kiki, 12, and Trixie, 10 – did the trick.
The challenge mirrors what SAS forces do before a mission – in case the worst happens.
“I guess it’s just that reflection on your life, the things you wished you said and could never say,” he shrugs.
“It took me right back to the accident and being a day away from never seeing my kids again.
“My ex-wife was pregnant with our third when I was in a coma, so I never would have met our youngest.”
James’s children have split time between him and Beverley since their divorce after 16 years of marriage was finalised in early 2019.
He still struggles with not being with them every day, a blow that is lessened by the bond they have now formed with Jordan.
“It’s utterly sh** not waking up with your kids every day,” says James. “But my wife is amazing with the kids. They love her. I think all of us are guilty of taking too many things for granted and if the last year has taught us anything, it’s appreciation of the things you do for normality.
“It’s weird to have that kind of realisation on a TV show, but nothing is normal in that place.”
James has not let his 2010 brain injury slow him down, but the course was adapted slightly to accommodate him and avoid the risk of further serious harm.
“We had to jump out of a helicopter and they wouldn’t let me fall headfirst into the water. I went feet-first,” he explains.
“And then during the boxing there was no punching to the head allowed.”
The DS, however, pulled no punches on the rest of the course. But decades of training his body to peak physical condition have allowed James to thrive – so much so he even managed to give instructor Jason “Foxy” Fox, 43, a run for his money.
“At one point we’re running behind Foxy with our bags on our backs and that was it, we just had to run, and eventually everyone started to drop off but I was with him the entire time.” Did he feel like he had something to prove? Well, yes and no.
“I wanted to test myself, but I’m sure as hell not going to rank it up there with the Olympics,” James says.
“Whereas I think it’s really hard for people who’ve done nothing outside of showbusiness. That initial discomfort is really hard.”
James is tight-lipped about how far he gets, but being on the show made him realise there’s more to being in the special forces than brute strength.
“They are incredible athletes, and incredibly skilful, co-ordinated, resilient in a different way,” he says.
“It just makes you respect them on way more levels than just being tough and strong. There’s way, way more to it than that.”
*SAS: Who Dares Wins, is on Channel 4, Sunday, at 9pm.