The Flabbiator ... How one out-of-shape Mail on Sunday writer took his chances on Gladiators


Last updated at 23:36 10 May 2008

Contender, rrr-ready!" I am standing in the middle of Shepperton Studios holding a giant cotton bud and wearing a figure-destroying leotard complete with a cricket box stuffed down my front.

"Gladiator, rrr-ready!" In front of me stands 6ft, 15-stone Tornado, who first winks, then snarls. A 22-year-old Royal Marine Commando, he has promised to beat me to a pulp.

A familiar-looking man with white hair, a baseball cap and the black-and-white striped shirt of an American ice hockey umpire starts the countdown for Duel, the most famous Gladiators challenge.

Scroll down for more...

Fighting unfit: Stafford with, left to right, Tempest, Panther and Ice

"Three," bellows referee John Anderson. "Two." I grip my pugil stick, the padded training "weapon", and wonder, for the 20th time, what on earth I'm doing here.

"One!" Anderson places a whistle to his lips and blows.

And then Tornado clonks me hard on the head with a 15lb weight.

A few days earlier I had been invited to try my luck in a couple of events to mark the return of Gladiators.

After an absence of eight years, the series has been resurrected on Sky One, complete with a new team of athletes taking the place of Wolf, Hunter, Jet and the rest of the Gladiators who appeared on the original ITV show.

The only testimonial required was a letter from my GP confirming I was healthy and reasonably fit: a request that provoked much mirth from my doctor.

A friend of mine asked whether it would be more relevant if I became a "Flabbiator".

I had agreed to take part in two events: Duel, in which the Gladiator and the contender are armed with pugil sticks and attempt to knock each other to the ground; and The Wall, in which the contender has to race a Gladiator up a 35ft climbing wall.

I would be facing Tornado in Duel, and Oblivion on The Wall.

Tornado, whose real name is David McIntosh, cites Rambo as his inspiration. He was asked: "If you were an animal, which would you be?

His reply: "A gorilla or a polar bear."

Scroll down for more...

I decided such indecisiveness was a weakness I'd exploit. I mean, which is it, a gorilla or a polar bear? They don't even live on the same continent.

Oblivion is 21-year-old Nick Aldis, a professional wrestler who promises to put "110 per cent into everything". If he were an animal he thinks he would be a Siberian tiger. Not just any tiger, but a Siberian tiger.

I decided he was too clever for his own good and that might work in my favour, too.

All this made me realise I also needed a stage name. Most of the good ones had already been taken, either by the original "Glads" who starred between 1992 and 2000 or the current lot (such as Atlas, Spartan and Destroyer).

"How about Danger?" asked the wardrobe assistant as I emerged from the changing room in my red leotard, cricket box and official Gladiators jockstrap. "Red for Danger."

Watching nearby was the glamour model Danielle Lloyd, a "celebrity" contender.

She must have wondered, as my love handles protruded from my leotard, how I'd somehow escaped her radar over the years.

As a male contender I would be taking on male Gladiators, but before the battle commenced I was asked to pose for publicity pictures with three of the female stars.

But what hadn't been explained to me was that the arena was packed with nearly 1,000 fans waiting to watch the recording of the semi-finals.

So when I emerged with Ice, Panther and Tempest, I was greeted with shocked silence, followed shortly by mass abuse.

"What are you hiding down your pants?" the crowd began to chant and then launched into a deafening chorus of "Where's your muscles gone" to the tune of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.

In a life full of humiliating moments, it was an indisputable new low.

Back safely behind stage I sat down with John Anderson and asked whether a respected athletics coach with five world record holders to his name enjoyed officiating Gladiators.

"It's great fun," he said. "Although it's amazing how I could go about my regular business unrecognised, but as soon as the first show went on air back in 1992 everyone seemed to know who I was."

Unfortunately, he then added: "All the Gladiators and contenders this time round are incredibly fit. I don't think you stand much of a chance."

It was time to find out. Tornado was waiting for me, all in black, wielding his giant pugil stick.

In the few minutes we had before we fought I tried to make polite conversation.

He was on a six-week sabbatical before returning to the Marines and joining the commando display team. He had seen some serious action.

"Five-and-a-half years, including the Gulf, the Horn of Africa, where we raid pirate ships for drugs and people trafficking, and Afghanistan," he reeled off.

"It wasn't so much fighting the Taliban on the front line that was so dangerous, more the suicide attacks and the roadside mines. I've lost three of my friends that way, including my training partner."

He'd been given special dispensation to join the cast as he'd always been such a fan of the show. So what exactly did he expect from our Duel? "Not much," he replied.

The call to action came and we stood facing each other.

Thud. His giant cotton bud crashed down on my head.

He'd agreed previously to let me land the first blow, but had clearly reneged.

I was wearing a helmet but the blow still made me stagger and by the time I was upright, a second crashed against the side of my head. I had made the mistake of asking for no special treatment and Tornado happily obliged.

Thwack, thud came his thrusts. Phut, splosh came my replies as the effort of brandishing my stick, and the two 15lb weights on either end, began to make my arms burn.

If my opponent was a Tornado, then I was a minor squall. I reckon I landed five clean blows to his 20.

"Not bad," he said, as we shook hands and Anderson declared him the winner. "You were good, but you came up against the Tornado."

Watching all this was a grinning Oblivion, who was just desperate to get on The Wall.

"You wanted someone who wouldn't take it easy on you," he said. "Well, you got the right man then, and you've got the right man now."

I was put in a harness by a climbing expert and told to plot my route up the wall.

"Forget I'm chasing you," Oblivion advised, which sounded like a pretty difficult thing to do when a wrestler with shoulders as wide as the wingspan of an albatross is racing up below you.

Anderson bellowed his command and off I went, climbing gingerly and counting the seconds before the referee blew his whistle for a second time; the signal for Oblivion to give chase.

To my surprise I made it more than half-way up, although I was running out of steam even before Oblivion swooped.

My biceps and forearms were burning and my fingers were numb.

Oblivion was directly below me and I placed my foot directly on to his hand. It was done gently, but it was a clear message too.

Unhappily, he did not take the hint. Moments later he launched himself at me, wrenched me clear off the wall and left me dangling from my harness 25ft up in the air.

"It would have been a mistake to have played dirty with me," he said, as we were both lowered to the ground. "I'm glad for your sake you didn't."

With bruised ego and arms, and my paunch and love handles desperate to be freed from my leotard, I sat down to recover breath and saw the smiling face of Predator, one of the other Gladiators.

"I watched you," he said with a sympathetic expression. "Have you thought of a name yet?"

"Well, I thought maybe Danger, or Cyclone, or Volcano."

"I've got a much better one," he said, slapping me on the back with a mighty hand. "Imbecile."

• Gladiators begins tonight at 6pm on Sky One.

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now