AWESTRUCK cadets could do nothing but smile when they met a real-life special forces hero in the flesh.
Ant Middleton visited his former home city to talk to youngsters at the Portsmouth Royal Marine Volunteer Cadet Corps at their base on Whale Island.
The veteran — now chief instructor on Channel 4 reality show SAS: Who Dares Wins — had a glittering military career, serving in the Special Boat Service, the Royal Marines and 9 Parachute Squadron Royal.
Dozens of children listened to his harrowing tales of life as a Tier One operator– the most elite level of the world’s military forces.
One of those was young Royal Marine Cadet recruit Jack McNeill, 10, of Havant.
The Saint Thomas More’s Catholic Primary School pupil was stunned when he heard about Ant’s visit and even managed to grab a selfie with the war hero.
I loved the visit and I really hope I can influence the future of our youthAnt Middleton, former SBS operator
He said: ‘I couldn’t believe it. I was really shocked that he was visiting us.’
Jack added: ‘It was inspiring to meet him.
‘It was amazing the way he survived all the stages of the military forces.’
Born in Portsmouth but raised in France, Ant joined the SBS in 2008, spending four years with the elite squad – the sister unit of the SAS.
He was point man and lead scout and took part in a number of secret missions.
But his military service came crumbling down after he was jailed for assaulting two police in 2013, spending four months in prison.
The father-of-five said it was the ‘harshest lesson’ he had ever learnt – one he hopes to pass on to others.
Speaking of his time in Portsmouth, Ant said he was delighted to inspect cadets at a small passing out parade and added he hoped to build closer ties with the unit.
He said: ‘What stood out to me about the cadets was how knowledgeable and keen these young individuals are.
‘I tried to help them focus this knowledge in the right direction and I feel absolutely honoured to have been a part of that. I loved the visit and I really hope I can influence the future of our youth, whether that be in the armed forces or other careers.
‘I’ve been fortunate enough to learn so much through my life experiences and I’m hoping to pass this onto the younger generation to arm them with the life skills to strengthen their futures.’
Ant will feature on two new Channel 4 shows this year, Mutiny and Escape.
He is also returning as the chief instructor on SAS: Who Dares Wins.