Gladiators Story


My Story

Photo by Max Maxwell

You could do that mum!” … So I did – 3 times!

It was a typical Saturday evening and ‘Gladiators’ was on the television. I was in the kitchen washing up when suddenly one of my boys shouted out: “You could do that mum!”
I stopped washing up and walked into the lounge. I thought about it for a moment, and then, a little flippantly, replied, “Yes I suppose I could.”
“Well then, why don’t you apply?” said Paul, my eldest, who was 14 at the time. My other son Darryl, who was 10, nodded enthusiastically in agreement at his brother’s suggestion.
On seeing their gleeful little faces, I said; “OK, I will” …so I did!

I had always loved sports at school, especially springboard diving and gymnastics. After my second son was born, I decided to take up weight training to get my figure back. Before I knew it, I was entering local bodybuilding competitions – and winning!
The boys were very proud of their somewhat ‘unconventional’ mum!

I wrote off to ‘Gladiators’ and I soon got a date for my fitness trial in London. These trials were held all around the country. Thousands entered hoping for the chance to be picked for the popular TV series. I was up against sports people, a lot younger than myself. (I was 31 at the time – almost a veteran!)
However, to my delight, I received a letter from Nigel Lythgoe, asking me if I would take part in the ‘Gladiators’ “Live Event” at Wembley Indoor Arena in March 1993. Of course I ‘gladly’ agreed (excuse the pun!)

The live shows, which were actually ‘stand alone’ competitions without heats, were held for the UK ‘Gladiators’ at Wembley Arena (1993, 1994, 1996), Sheffield Arena (1995) and the Royal Tournament in London (1997, 1998). The tickets to these events were not free (about £16 each), but proved extremely popular nonetheless especially with the fans that couldn’t get to see the TV shows filmed at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham – Incidentally, the tickets for these shows were free!

These shows provided a means of generating cash to fund the television series. They also served as a useful ‘proving ground’for the Producers of the series to test out new games and ‘Gladiators’, as well as to ‘single out’ potential contenders for the forthcoming TV series – in particular, those who showed they had a certain amount of confidence and personality in front of an audience. Therefore, winning one of these live shows, did not automatically qualify you for the TV series.

Also, in the live shows, the introductions and games were all staged in the proper running order. Whereas the TV shows were always filmed in a disjointed manner for convenience, for example sometimes they would film event 4 even before the opening interviews! This was because of the amount of time it took to set up some of the equipment. The day of the contest soon came around. Wembley was packed with spectators and the press were there.
It was a massive set up. The equipment for the show was huge and took quite a bit of setting up between events. It was great to see the ‘Gladiators’ in the flesh, let alone do battle with them!

It was quite tough – The ‘Glads’ had their own coach and they’d also had a lot of practice on the equipment in the weeks running up to the show, so they knew all the best techniques to use. Whereas, we the contestants, were only allowed one or two goes on the game apparatus a couple of days before the contest – but hey!..That’s show business for you!

‘The Eliminator’ was a huge construction, consisting of many different pieces of apparatus that almost filled the entire Wembley roof space. This took a long time to set up so I had to wait for ages before I could finally compete in this last and most important event. It was quite late in the evening and by that time, I was pretty tired and my muscles had started to seize up due to the battering they’d received earlier that day!
However, what was even more worrying, was the fact that, at that point in the contest, I was 12 points behind my opponent, which meant she had a 6 second head start!
My heart was pounding as I watched her go “on my first whistle”.
The six seconds seemed like an eternity. Then finally, the second whistle blew – and I was off! – In hot pursuit! – Over and under the roller beams, up the rope, across the hand ladder, over the rotating poles – I was gaining on her!
She leaped onto the cargo net. My muscles were burning, but the adrenalin and the will to win kept me focused on her. I had to win this for my two boys, or they would never forgive me!

As we both struggled up the cargo net, we were suddenly neck and neck. Then, as I reached the top of the net, I heaved myself up onto the platform and gained the lead! This was my chance! I raced to the ‘Zipline’ and launched myself off the high platform, into mid air and down to the ground below.
The beam was next. Oh no, that beam!
Tired and somewhat disoriented, I began my ascent up the diagonal part of the ‘Balance Beam’ – which was only a few inches wide. I got three quarters of the way across it when disaster struck! – I slipped, cracking my ribs on the end of the beam as I fell to the floor!
The whole audience gasped and went deadly silent as they watched to see what would happen next. But all I could think about was getting up that ‘Travelator’! – so I picked myself up and took a run at it. There were a couple of ‘Gladiators’ standing at the top cheering me on so I focussed on them.
I gave it everything I had! – It’s extremely hard trying to run uphill on a sloping ramp that is ‘travelling’ at speed, in the opposite, downhill direction!
‘The Travelator’ was well known for ‘finishing off’ contestants, and many have failed at this last hurdle.

The next moment my dream came true…
I could hardly believe it! – I suddenly found myself on top of the final platform.

I grabbed the rope and triumphantly burst through the Gladiators’ logo and swung onto the finishing mat. – I had actually won by a six second lead!

I was ecstatic! – It was the most incredible feeling of triumph that I’d ever experienced. Ulrika Johnson presented me with the winning trophy and £300 prize money. My two sons were the proudest boys in the world as they watched their mum do the winner’s ‘lap of honour’ around the arena.

The next day I could hardly move. It took me ten minutes to get out of bed! The resident physiotherapist felt that I may have fractured rib, but I didn’t care….

I had… The Winner’s Trophy!

Photo by David Oke

I received a letter from Nigel Lythgoe thanking me for taking part in the live event, but I would have to wait and see if I would be one of the chosen ones to compete on the TV series.


‘Glad’-Tidings from Nigel!

A couple of months later I was overjoyed to receive a phone call telling me that I had been selected as one of the twelve women who would take part in the 1993 series that was to be filmed in the Birmingham Indoor Arena in June.

It was fantastic! They put the contestants up in a 4 star hotel for a week while we trained. I’d got to know some of the ‘Gladiators’ quite well by then. I have to say that ‘Wolf’ was my personal favourite – he was a great character.

Then, to my delight, someone made a mistake with the hotel bookings and I ended up staying for one night in the ‘Gladiators’ five star hotel and had breakfast with ‘Wolf’ and his girlfriend the next morning – Nigel Lythgoe, (the producer), wasn’t too happy about it when he found out! – Too late! (hee hee..!)

The contest was hard going – but that’s what you’d expect from a show like that! The audience were brilliant and really made the whole thing great fun – They all had a great laugh with me, especially when one of the ‘Gladiators’ tried to rip my top off during ‘Powerball’!

It was a close contest but to my amazement and absolute elation… I won again!
This qualified me for the quarter finals a couple of weeks later.

With Ulrika Johnson at the end of the TV show – having just won.

Then disaster struck again!..
My training had gone well and my enthusiasm was high. I had travelled up to Birmingham on the train, the night before the contest. However, on the morning of the competition I was not feeling particularly on ‘top form’.
I got dressed and began walking to the Arena – it was just a few hundred yards from our hotel. By the time I got there I was shaking, nauseous, and quite dizzy.

A couple of the ‘Gladiators’ commented on how ‘dreadful’ I looked and asked me if I was feeling OK. It was pretty obvious that I wasn’t. Anyway, I got changed into my contestant’s kit ready for my first event – ‘The Wall’. It was apparent to everyone that I wasn’t my usual ‘bubbly’ self and the floor manager suggested that I went and got myself ‘checked out’ by the resident doctor. He examined me and said that both my blood pressure and temperature were far too high for him to allow me to compete. I was devastated!
They announced to the audience that a substitute would have to take my place. I watched in despair as my substitute went on to win the show.
I felt sick to my stomach at the ‘after show’ party. Everyone else was in ‘party mood’ celebrating the day’s events.
Although I received a lot of support front Nigel, the ‘Gladiators’ and of course other contestants, I went home the next day in utter disbelief at what had happened. They reckoned it might have been food poisoning, possibly caused by a crab sandwich I’d eaten on the train the day before!

“That’s it!” I thought – “that’s the end of ‘Gladiators’ for me”

A year passed. It had been a difficult year for all the family, coping with the illness and subsequent death of my stepfather. My training had dwindled to nothing.
Then to my surprise, ‘out of the blue’, I got a phone call from Nigel Lythgoe saying that he hoped that I’d kept up my training, because he wanted me back on the Series – The filming was due to start in just under three weeks!
I was stunned! – People weren’t usually asked back.
Of course, I hadn’t done any training for nearly a year. I didn’t know what to say to him. I needed a little time to think so I asked him to phone me back a little later and I would give him my answer. He said that I had better not leave it too long, as there were now about 9,000 other ‘hopefuls’ around the country who had undergone ‘try-outs’, just waiting for a chance to be on the show!
I had to think quickly! – How could I get fit enough in less than three weeks? I knew that if I went to the contest without proper training I would surely lose. But then I thought to myself – “So what if I do lose?” – either way it would be a great life experience… So I rang Nigel back and said that I would do it!…

…I did as much as I could to get myself fit enough in time for the show. I even got myself a great tan! – So at least I ‘looked’ pretty fit. – Unfortunately, I knew that my cardiovascular fitness wasn’t nearly as good as I would have liked.

The week of the contest soon came around and the contestants were gathered for the briefing – There were twelve men and twelve women – all the chosen contestants for that entire series.

We were all looking at each other and wondering whom we would be ‘up against’ in our particular show. The girl that I sat next to began telling me that she was a pentathlete currently competing in the Commonwealth Games during that very same week. I remember thinking “I wouldn’t want to compete against her in the show!”

Finally, the official listing of the competitors for each show was given to us, which we all looked at eagerly. I couldn’t believe my bad luck… They had put me up against the very pentathlete that I had just been speaking to! – I suddenly experienced the worst sinking feeling I can ever remember!

“Well, Rowan”, I thought. “Time to crash and burn.” – And guess what?..
That’s exactly what happened!
Oh well… ‘C’est la vie’… You can’t win ‘em all!

Still, looking back, it was a brilliant life experience. The winning and the losing!

I’d just like to say, that one of the most memorable things I remember about it all, was the amazing support I received from other mothers who had watched me on the series. Many had come up to me after the shows and said how I had been “an inspiration” to them and how they wished they could do something like that.
And do you know what? – I would always turn round to them and say – as my son said to me -
“Well, why don’t you?”

My Gladiators Showreel:

Exerpts from UK Gladiators: Series 2 (1993)

Being a mum, even a single mum shouldn’t mean that you can’t go ahead and do something just for yourself occasionally – even if it is something crazy like entering ‘Gladiators’!