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CHRIS RYAN: Abseiling out of a helicopter is easy....

Written by Calum MacLeod

Chris Ryan                                                        

Or 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 signing.

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 gray 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 deal with.”

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 Bravo Two Zero, 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 world.

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 casualties.

“There was a bit of hassle, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs,” Ryan commented.

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 helicopter.”

The conflict in Afghanistan provides the background to Ryan’s most recent bestselling thriller, The Kill Zone, 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 Taliban.

 “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 horizon.”

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 guides.

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 Force. Documentary series of his own followed, including one on elite police units of the world and Hunting Chris Ryan, 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 military.

“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 here.”

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 perfectexample of this.

“The one I’m looking at now is based on the Carlyle Group which George Bush was involved with,” he revealed.

“There’s 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.”

The Kill Zone by Chris Ryan is published by Coronet Books, price £18.99.


Author Photograph © Chris Ryan

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