Zoe Lyons took part in Celebrity SAS because she wondered if “I’ve got what it takes to keep going”.
Stand-up comedian, and game show host, Zoe, now 51, is fitter than she was at 30 and wanted to discover what she was capable of physically and mentally. The idea of taking on the SAS course terrified her and she wanted to discover what she had within herself. Having alopecia on and off since the age of 11, losing her hair and her identity has made Zoe feel very vulnerable.
Well, I’d watched it, and I wanted to see whether I could do it or not. I think it was just as basic as that, I really wanted to see whether I could do it or not. I’m in my fifties now, but I’m probably fitter than I’ve ever been and I thought, “I wonder if I’ve got what it takes just to keep going?” It was that just to test myself. I know it sounds really cliche, but it was just that, I’ve watched it and thought that it looks absolutely horrific and brutal and most people would go, “I’ll leave it at that”. My brain went, “I wonder if you can do that?”
What was your biggest fear or concern about taking on the course?
I suppose everybody, if they’re honest, one of the fears that pops up, you don’t want to be the first out. That’s the thing, because you’ve paid for airport parking! It’s always that thing of, “oh God, I hope I don’t make a prat of myself in the first 10 minutes”. I’m very uncoordinated and cack-handed, despite enjoying my exercise, I am a danger to anybody around me. So, I thought, God, I hope I don’t just fall flat on my face in the first 30 seconds and have to leave. I did fall over and hurt myself within the first 30 seconds! I ripped my knee open! I looked down, my trouser was all split. I just didn’t mention it and taped it up with some Sellotape. So that was a big fear and then my thing has always been heights, because of my bad coordination I just can’t function around heights. And I knew there’d be a lot of heights involved, so I was interested to see if I could get to that point of complete and utter terror and push through it.
What do you think your strength would be on the course?
I suppose mentally, it’s not that I don’t take things too seriously, but you have to have a lightness of touch with things. I volunteered to go in there, so mentally I cope with things through humour, obviously, that’s what I’ve done my whole life, I’ve made a career out of that. So, I knew I had that in my back pocket as well. I suppose the other thing I was worried about as well, because I had terrible alopecia at the time. My hair’s grown back, so I’ve got a full head now. I hadn’t exposed myself in that way on television, so I continued to work, but I’d worn wigs and I’d worn hats, and I knew in that environment it just wasn’t going to be possible, I had to square that in my head before I went, I was like, this is going to happen, you’re going to look odd, because my hair looked odd, I had sort of strangely bits. Are you all right with that? And I thought, well, yeah, if I can do this, then I can do anything. With all due respect, and there are some beautiful looking people on this series, but none of us were looking our best. And I thought, well, if you’re going to do it anywhere, do it in an environment like that.
As a comic, were you worried about cracking jokes and getting punished?
They don’t want that. Actually, do you know what? The first few days were so intimidating and terrifying, that the clown was very much put away for a while, put your clown shoes over there and don’t annoy these guys. It is so immersive, it is so real and there’s a man that far from your nose, staring at you in the eye with these beautiful blue eyes. I mean, I’ve got to say the best eyes I’ve ever seen, but everything is so alert and so terrifying. The clown shoes were truly put away for the first few days.
You must be used to hecklers, but how was it having them screaming at you?
It’s a different level, it’s very intimidating. It’s really, really intimidating and I suppose a bit of me was thinking, “they take this seriously, so I have to take this seriously”. I was just very aware of being very respectful to them and what they do. So there was a time and the place for the humour to come out. I think when you’re being screamed at in the face by them, let’s say yes, that wasn’t the time!
How did it feel tackling the trainasium?
Awful, that was my worst day. I hated that because it’s not that I’m a scaredy-cat, I’m not, I just can’t cope with the heights. I just cannot cope. I’ve never been frozen with fear before and I genuinely was frozen with fear, I couldn’t let go. I couldn’t let go of the thing I was holding onto and that is when I went, well, that’s why you’re here, because this is what you wanted to see if you could do. So there was a bit in my head going, well, now we’re doing it. So you’re in Vietnam, dangling above a patch of ground with two scaffold poles, this is why you wanted to do it, you idiot. At the very least, let go, let go and fall, at the very very least. I hated it, absolutely hated that. I knew that wasn’t going to be my finest moment.
How bad were the beastings?
There was one in particular that we did where Billy made us crawl on our stomachs with our backpacks on, and I genuinely thought I was going to expire. I thought if it goes on for another second, I’m going to die. I think a lot of us were right on the edge of just going, do you know what, I’d rather do Antiques Roadshow. It was so hard, so hard. I was seconds away from going, I can’t do this anymore. Then you get to that point, and I find this when I’m doing my long runs, you go second to second. Lots of people when they’re taking on challenges go day to day, whatever that is you’re trying to do. So you’re trying to lose weight, you’re trying to drink less, you go day to day. But when things get really, really hard, you go second to second. You break it down to hours to hours and it’s minute to minute. And then in a situation like that where you are gasping for breath and you are utterly exhausted, you just have to go second to second. You just go one more second, that’s the only way I know to get myself through.
How would you sum up the experience?
It is completely unforgettable and it’s like nothing else you can ever do. There’s a bit of me that’s thinks I’m incredible fortunate that I got to participate in the show because it does test you, and there’s quite a bit of fun to be had if you don’t mind losing a few toenails! But how lucky am I to have been able to take part in something like that and have a good long look at myself as a human being? I’m very fortunate and very grateful.