Phil Campion’s no stranger to the back streets and alleyways of Portsmouth.
As a youngster he lived in more than one children’s home in the city, but spent much of his time running away.
Adopted at a young age, Phil has every reason to associate Portsmouth with a dark and miserable period of his young life.
But with a bellowing laugh he reveals he has fond memories of the years he spent evading capture, leading the police on a merry dance around Paulsgrove and Southsea as they tried to return him to the care of social services.
In a funny kind of way he has his links to the city to thank for where he eventually ended up – being part of the elite SAS and now author of a book that charts his experiences as a private security contractor, working in some of the toughest and most dangerous parts of the world.
Phil credits police in the city with keeping him on the straight and narrow at a time when he was already beginning to mix with the wrong crowd. It was while living in Portsmouth that he first got introduced to the idea of a life in the military.
‘You get exposed to it in Portsmouth,’ he explains. ‘You see the navy guys and you see a bit of that sort of life. It appealed to me.
‘Later, when I was in the Royal Hampshires, we were based in Tidworth and spent every weekend in Pompey. As a young squaddie it was like being handed a sweetie jar.
‘I have brilliant memories of Portsmouth.’
The 43-year-old has now tapped into the many memories he has of working as a modern-day mercenary to write Born Fearless.
While he’s sworn to secrecy about his time in the army and his days in the SAS, Phil does lift the lid on running anti-piracy patrols in Somalia, running training camps for coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and living it up in Ibiza as a security guard for British rock band Kasabian.
Known to those he works with as ‘Big Phil’, he sees himself as a hired hand with a pretty unique set of skills to offer.
And from his work in countries including Sudan and Israel, he knows there are a lot of ex-military men like him taking money from the world’s oil companies and shipping firms to provide protection or training.
Sometimes armed, sometimes not, the married father has had to adapt to whatever’s been thrown at him, no matter how dangerous.
After leaving the SAS in 2001, Phil was introduced to the world of private security by a friend. At first it involved mundane tasks such as escorting computer chips around London, but he’d soon progressed to delivering diamonds to Abu Dhabi and training local lads to protect the vital Karni border crossing into Israel.
The book – described by legendary SAS soldier turned author Andy McNab as ‘one of the best first-hand accounts of life in combat ever written’ – reveals the firefights, close-calls and near-misses in a blaze of colourful language.
Now working on his second book and nursing an ambition to start a career on TV, Phil says he was against writing Born Fearless to begin with.
But in the end it was a desire to set the record straight about the work of a mercenary that changed his mind.
‘It wasn’t a decision I took lightly,’ he says.
‘There are other people’s mercenary stories out there of years gone by, but I didn’t think anybody was giving a fair account.
‘I thought it was quite important that people understood that we’re not out there doing that kind of stuff any more. I just wanted to chart what was going on and let people hear my story.’
He adds: ‘It’s not like the old mercenary days. The guys like me who are going to Iraq are helping the coalition, the stuff I did in Gaza was helping out.
‘It’s not like I’m going into a country and I’m in cahoots with a tin-pot leader.
‘The word mercenary is a bit strange these days. Whatever you want to call us – contractors, private security details – the fact is that there is a lot of this going on. People are making a lot of money, we’ve picked up skills that are marketable.
‘The army isn’t massively well-paid. For young soldiers who’ve been out in Afghanistan it’s an attractive option.’
Phil describes his line of work as a ‘growing industry’ and that’s certainly true in the case of the anti-piracy patrols he’s been involved in since 2007.
A massive problem in the Indian Ocean, especially around the coast of Somalia, the Royal Navy has been called on to protect cargo ships from those who hijack vessels for theft or kidnap.
But the escalation of the attacks has prompted insurance companies and shipping firms to hire their own security to travel on-board to protect cargo and crew – and that’s how Phil once found himself called on to defend a ship with nothing more than a heavy fridge.
‘Sometimes you’re able to carry arms, sometimes you’re not and that’s another issue,’ he says, laughing at the memory of what happened next.
‘You’ve got to use your experience because a lot of our job is to keep people out of harm’s way.
‘It seems ridiculous but all I had on one occasion was a fridge. We’d used every last flare and I ran to the ship’s bridge and there was this really heavy fridge. So I picked it up and threw it off the side at the pirates’ boat and thankfully it worked.
‘At the time you do what you’ve got to do.’
n Born Fearless, by Phil Campion, costs £7.99 and is published by Quercus.