Janey Meets: SAS Who Dares Wins Vicki Anstey

We’re the biggest fans of Who Dares Wins here and we’ve often thought if we were just a bit younger, and male, we’d love it.

So IMAGINE our delight when we got to meet uber-tough competitor Vicki Anstey: She entered when the show decided to reflect the SAS’s change of policy on female applicants. 

Is Ant really terrifying or does he spend breaks in a fur coat sipping tea and talking about his feelings? Do all the contestants swan off for a fry-up and a sauna between takes… Errr no, apparently it’s much, MUCH tougher than that…


Vicki is a fitness instructor and the founder of Barreworks, the original ballet workout in London, but military style training is a different thing entirely, so we were fascinated to here how she prepared, why she applied and how it went!

Vicki, we’re so excited to chat to you. You’re one of the first collection of women on SAS, Who Dares Wins, which we know is tough for its male contestants.  What made you decide to apply?

I had seen that they were accepting women on the show and I posted about it on my social media channels, in support of gender equality. I received so many messages from people saying that I should apply that I decided to give it a go.

What was the selection process like? Did you know you’d get in?

I obviously thought I could get in or I wouldn’t have applied, but it was a tough selection process.

Out of 5,000 applicants I had to attend a series of interviews and a gruelling physical assessment. A bleep test to a minimum of 10.2, 50 sit-ups in two mins, 44 press ups in two mins, a progressive lift over 1.45m, a jerry can carry (40kg) for two mins.

I had a medical examination and CPET test to test my fitness levels and rule out any medical conditions. But I didn’t find out I was going until a week before we left for Chile.

Fitness is a huge part of your life – tell us how that came about?

I used to be very inactive. I worked in advertising and marketing, eating for convenience and never really put my health first.

I decided to make a change and over the course of two years I had lost five stone in weight and discovered the Lotte Berk method (the original pioneer of Barre) and started to run short distances.

Lotte Berk transformed my body and I decided to give up my marketing career to train and teach the method.

Two years after that I had set up my Studio in Richmond (Barreworks). I have since run five marathons across the world, cycled the length of Sardinia (then circumnavigated the island by sea kayak) and my business is nearing it’s 10 year anniversary.

In the background, I train across a variety of disciplines at least twice a day, six-seven times a week. I have done that for 15 years consistently.

How did you train for the show?

When I knew I had passed the physical, I really ramped up my training. I already had a varied training programme @barreworks @oneperformanceuk @evolutionldn @bemilitaryfit, I had just done the @strivechallenge but I upped the ante with weighted runs, heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, dragging.

My PT @meldeane12 did wrestling practice with me, boxing (including, at my request, hitting me square in the face) and water drills. I had never been hit or had to ‘fight’ and I was terrified of water.

At the pool, he pushed me in, kept me under, made me jump in from the boards and made me swim 30-40 lengths at a time. I tried to get my head around some navigation skills with the help of an ex-military friend. And I walked, ran and trained in the military boots I had been sent by the show’s producers.

At 40 you’re also one of the older contestants on the show – how did that affect your experience – is there a difference between the younger and older contestants?

Being older didn’t inhibit me at all, I actually think I was fitter than some of the younger contestants. I also think I was able to cope with the mental side of the course better than some younger contestants and keep emotions at bay.

Are Ant Middleton and the others as scary as they seem?

Yes! Ant is particularly scary, but they are all a force to be reckoned with, but I’m totally in awe of them.

They tore us apart for our mistakes because in a real-life situation, they could cost lives. They had been in those situations and bore the responsibility for those lives.

It was definitely more REAL than I had anticipated. I thought that I would be able to maintain a notion that it was a TV programme and that whatever happened, it wasn’t real.

Within the first hour of being there, I realised how wrong I had been. The DS were TERRIFYING. The tasks were DANGEROUS. Our bodies were DESTROYED, we had cuts, bruises, injuries, chest infections, altitude sickness and the worst DOMS of our lives.

We were not cleaned up, patched up and given plentiful food off-camera. We fended for ourselves 100%.

Can you share any standout moments from the show?

I can’t share any specifics, but I can tell you that every second, minute and hour was harder than any other second, minute or hour of my whole life.

And you literally lived it moment-by-moment. The beastings were brutal and (for me at least) some of the tasks were terrifying, but the toughest part of it was permanently living in a high anxiety state.

Never knowing what was next. Where we were going. What we would be doing when we got there. How long we might have to catch our breath after a 3 hour beasting before the next one, or how long we might have to sleep in-between night watch postings. ‘Lights-out’ was meaningless. 

You became institutionalised very quickly. Bonding with the other recruits immediately and by the end of the course, feeling totally dependent upon each other for survival. 

At times, it was very, very cold. At times, we were very, very hungry. Most of the time we were beyond the point of exhaustion and just kept going anyway. That’s when you realise just how much mental resilience you have.

We lived on pure adrenaline, which by-passed most moments of pain/discomfort, minor (and critical) medical issues and assessment of risk in completing tasks. When I came home, I found that to be the hardest thing to adjust to. For several weeks, my sleep was affected, I had nightmares and generally felt very apathetic about most ‘routine’ aspects of my life

We think applying was very ballsy. Can you share your thoughts on being brave – are you quite a confident person?

I think I am reasonably confident. I’m confident in my own abilities. But I’m not the kind of person who is confident in big groups of people, for example.

I don’t know if I have ever thought of myself as being brave (and you will see in the show that there ARE some things that scare me to death), but I am resilient and gritty. I know how to knuckle down and get a job done. I’m competitive with myself and once I set myself on a path to something, I never give up. 

I’m pretty head-strong and stubborn too, so I wanted to prove that THIS particular female could do anything that most men could do.

Our audience is made up of 40/50 plus women.  What should they be doing if they want to get started in being fit and healthy?

As you head into your 40s and 50s, you really have to start looking after your bone health.

The best way to do that is through resistance training – against a force heavy enough to create a training effect. In addition to ballet, barre and running, I also lift heavy weights and do a lot of bodyweight work to build muscle mass.

The rate at which we can build muscle diminishes as we age, so you have to really up the ante. I’m far stronger now than I was in my 20s and 30s.

Can older women enjoy Barre, which you teach?

Absolutely! We have clients ranging from 25 to 75 in age. And it is an incredibly versatile training method.

Essentially, barre mirrors a dancers training regime. All the behind-the-scenes strength-building, posture-improving, total body ‘balancing’ that a dancer needs to perform.

I always say that Ballet dancers are the most supreme athletes. You’re working on stability and flexibility and strength, but you have this higher goal of control and aesthetics.

Our workouts incorporate use of weights, resistance bands and other small props. We have classes for men and also have Rehab classes for anyone with movement limitations and/or injuries.

We work with athletes too, to improve their performance, change the training stimulus for them and ensure they stay out of injury. We’ve worked with rugby players, hockey players, professional horse riders and olympic rowers amongst others. 

You’re obviously in amazing shape – what’s your usual routine like?

I’m a real ‘workhorse’ I never give up and have a steely determination (that sometimes gets the better of me!). I map out my training schedule every week and stick to it no matter what.

I do a really high volume of training and probably don’t rest as much as I should, but it is very varied so I think that helps me manage my recovery.

I’ve been a member of British Military Fitness for 12 years, I’ve run five marathons, completed a 400km cycle across Sardina in four days, I train extensively with Mel Deane (ex-professional rugby player), do olympic lifting and of course a LOT of barre!

Is there one exercise you advise all older women to try?

Aside from weightlifting (as mentioned above) just to keep moving is key!

Find something you enjoy – so many of our older clients LOVE our ballet workouts, they keep you strong, standing tall, maintain your joint health and flexibility and you don’t really even feel as though it’s exercise – certainly not a chore!

Would you apply to the real-life SAS?

No! What we did was a two-week ‘taster’ of SAS selection. The ‘real-life’ version would take at least six months and that’s just to train. Then you have to do the actual job!

I just wanted to see firstly if I could do the same as men, secondly, how far I could go in the selection process and thirdly, what my physical and mental limits were. I discovered a lot about myself in the process.

What’s next?

I’m still trying to work that out! I’d love to find something a bit left field, unusual – especially for a woman to take on. Something a bit crazy. Something that I have to adapt my training for and learn new skills, push my limits in other ways. Any ideas?!

We’re celebrating our 10 year anniversary at Barreworks in February this year and launching some exciting new strands of the business – hoping to continue to work with more athletes and teams/squads to bring something different to their programmes.

We have some ground-breaking events planned for the barre industry and I’ll be looking to take my personal training and associated training to another level. I’m participating in the Turf Games in February and the National Fitness Games later in the year. Lots going on!

SAS Who Dares Wins airs at 9 pm, Channel 4 on Sunday nights.

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