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Home > Reviews > Who Dares Wins

Who Dares Wins

Author Phil Campion


Review date 03/07/2022

No of pages 273

Publisher Quercus

Publisher URL

Year of publication 31/01/2022


Our Review


£ 20, hardback

Phil Campion has something in common with the cricketer, Andrew Flintoff; both were very good at what they did as active young men - Campion, to give his life story very briefly (as on page 187) had gone from children's homes into the British Army, reaching Northern Ireland while still a teenager, in 1989; and served for a dozen years, 'which was the absolute saving of me - after the kind of start I'd had at the hands of the British care system' (page 65).

In fact it's worth quoting further: "The military taught me many, many things: self-discipline, self-belief, principles ... It had also taught me the vital lesson of a classless society. Not rank-less - but classless, in the sense that we are all created equal." Campion decided to seek work 'on the private military circuit - turning my elite forces skills to protecting people and assets in some of the more conflict-torn areas of the world'.

After a bad experience stopped in Togo for carrying body armour on behalf of one private security company only to be stopped at the airport and facing an accusation of being a mercenary, and in the end feeling grateful to take a return plane to London, he's working for a mine in Guinea, having child militia pointing an AK47 at his face. He's at a loss for how to get through the checkpoint, until: "Reaching into my pocket, ever so slowly, so as not to get shot by the kid with his gun up my nose, I grab a handful of Jelly Babies and offer them to him. Incredibly, it seems to do the trick .... as they start to wolf down the candies."

Only a short chapter is given over to 'the celebrity circuit, bodyguarding the stars, or as I like to call it 'hobby-guarding'. It's worth quoting at some length to puncture the close protection world and celebrity in general:

The truth is that most of the time you're just a fashionable accessory. You're rarely there because there's a real and pressing need, although I have had to make a few timely interventions. One thing is for sure, I have never had any qualms about walking off the job if somebody was a complete idiot." Campion is evidently not expecting to have to return to CP work because he goes on to detail two amusing stories, of picking up Dizzee Rsacal over his shoulder and running through the crowds to make for the 'relative safety of the VIP area' - which sounds bizarrely like a scene from the Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston film The Bodyguard - and yet more absurdly when guarding the singer-songwriter Mika in concert at Baalbek in Lebanon, throwing cushions back at spectators.

That brings us to page 187 and Campion has 'lived it large on the private military circuit' of the 2000s. "Over two decades or more behind a gun I'd soldiered in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and across wartorn Africa - so in just about any hotspot in the world where there was trouble in the offing and guys like me were in demand."

Campion was 'about to crash and burn big time'; he finds himself on remand in Winchester Prison, the author of a memoir, Born Fearless (like any proud author, he signs a copy in the prison library). Like Flintoff, he forges a second career in the media. By drawing on a contact working for Sky, he makes a documentary, Big Phil's War, in Syria.

As a sign of how his life-work has changed subtly, he is accompanied to the front line by cameras, where Kurds are fighting the far better equipped ISIS (equipped by the fleeing Iraqi troops, themselves equipped by America). A cameraman is getting some 'great' (that is, loud and vivid) footage, only it's being ruined by a mobile phone ringing, that has fallen out his pocket. It's 'John', the film crew's security guy, who saves the day for the project. Campion sees John 'spring to his feet and hurl himself across the track, executing the most dramatic combat-roll I've ever seen. In one swift motion he dives, rolls, snatches the phone, rolls over again and dives straight into a ditch on the far side, where he proceeds to calmly switch the damn thing off ... it literally saved the day in terms of the soundtrack'.

We're then in the last tenth of the book, when Campion finds some resolution to his mental health troubles and his troubled memories of his youth. He has an offer to become an ambassador for the Army Cadet Force taken up, and he urges other ex-military to volunteer 'to pass on some of your invaluable experiences to the younger generation'.

He makes a powerful and moving case for being honest about your mental health, and welcomes the change in culture in the British military and more generally, that you can 'stick your hand up' with mental issues, besides if you do something wrong in the physical world.