Andy McNab: who is the SAS soldier and author behind Sky’s SAS: Red Notice starring Outlander’s Sam Heughan

McNab has admitted he is a ‘functioning’ psychopath and that the character Tom Buckingham’s experiences are inspired by his own

Friday, 12th March 2021, 11:55 am
Updated Friday, 12th March 2021, 11:58 am

Outlander actor Sam Heughan is starring in Sky Original film, SAS: Red Notice, which premiers on Sky Cinema on 12 March.

The Scottish actor plays the lead role as special forces operator Tom Buckingham in the adaptation of the novel Red Notice, by former SAS soldier Andy McNab.

McNab has recently described himself as ‘a functional psychopath’ while discussing the new movie, and said Buckingham is inspired by his own experiences.

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Scottish actor Sam Heughan has told how his character is as exciting as James Bond, and playing the role was exhausting (Picture: Sky Cinema)

So, who is Andy McNab, author and SAS soldier? This is what we need to know.

Who is Andy McNab?

Andy McNab is the pen name of Steven Billy Mitchell, a former British Army soldier who has authored a plethora of fiction and non-fiction books.

McNab was born in 1959 and abandoned on the steps of Guy's Hospital in the London borough of Southwark, in a Harrods shopping bag. He was then adopted and raised in Peckham, London.

Growing up, McNab spent some time in juvenile detention for petty crimes such as burglary, before enlisting in the Royal Green Jackets at the age of 16.

He had applied for the Royal Airforce, but failed the entry tests. He was assessed on his entry to the army and it was discovered that he had a reading age of an 11-year-old.

McNab has since reflected on the achievement of the first time he read a book, aged 17. It was a primary school level short story, titled Janet and John.

He said: “I can vividly remember the sense of pride and achievement I felt. It was meant for primary school children but I didn’t care. From then on I read anything and everything I could get my hands on.”

What was his role in the British military?

Upon completing basic training in Kent, McNab’s first experience of warfare was in Gibraltar in 1977.

The 18-year-old then left for Northern Ireland in December of that year, and returned for a second time to County Armagh in 1979, this time as a promoted Lance Corporal.

It was in an incident with IRA soldiers that McNab stated he first ever shot and killed.

He said of the experience: “I remember vividly the first time I had to kill someone to stay alive.

“I was a 19-year-old soldier in Keady, South Armagh, and my patrol stumbled across six IRA soldiers, preparing for an ambush.

“When the shooting started, they were just 20 metres away from my patrol. I was scared, very scared."

It was later determined that the soldier McNab had shot did not die from wounds sustained from his bullet, but from another shoot out later that day.

McNab was promoted to the rank of Sergeant following his return from Northern Ireland and In 1984, he passed out as a member of the SAS.

The decorated SAS legend was awarded the Military Medal in 1979 for gallantry in action while serving with the Royal Green Jacket in Northern Ireland.

He then spent a decade as an “air troop” with B Squadron, 22 SAS Regiment, training as a specialist in counter terrorism, prime target elimination, demolitions, weapons, tactics, covert surveillance roles and information gathering in hostile environments, and VIP protection.

He spent time in the Middle East, Far East, South and Central America and Northern Ireland, most notably commanding an operation with eight other SAS soldiers, in the Gulf War.

In January 1991, he and his fellow soldiers were given the task of destroying underground communication links between Baghdad and north-west Iraq.

The mission was soon compromised and they attempted to escape on foot towards Syria.

Three of the eight were killed, and McNab and three others were captured.

One escaped and the others were held for six weeks, before being released on 5 March. McNab suffered from nerve damage to both hands, a dislocated shoulder, kidney and liver damage, and hepatitis B.

He returned to the service six months later, and received the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his part in the Persian Gulf War.

He later wrote ‘Bravo Two Zero’ in 1993, a biographical account of the military mission he had taken part in with his SAS team.

In 2010, he took part in a psychological study at Oxford University which determined that he was “a functioning psychopath”, meaning he doesn’t feel normal emotions like empathy or fear.

In 2012 he wrote the fictional novel Red Notice, the first novel in his Tom Buckingham Series, which also includes Fortress (2014) and State of Emergency (2015).

What is SAS: Red Notice about?

The Sky film adaptation of the book is about an SAS soldier who is onboard the Eurostar underground train travelling from Paris to London, when it is hijacked by terrorists.

McNab and his wife, credited only as Mrs McNab, have been involved in the production of the thriller - to ensure Heughan and the rest of the cast can depict their roles realistically.

Sam Heughan’s character, Sergeant Tom Buckingham, is unsuspecting of the attack which sees 400 hostages held at gunpoint and terrorists declare war on the UK government.

Buckingham is injured and off-duty, but he still attempts to stop the terrorists and save everyone on board - including Dr. Sophie Hart (Hannah John-Kamen), the woman he loves.

What has Sam Heughan said about the role?

Heughan, 40, commented on his lead role amid speculation that he was in the running to be the next James Bond.

Asked about replacing Daniel Craig as 007, he said the speculation was all media driven and added: “I feel like Tom Buckingham is equally as interesting and, who knows, maybe this could be the new franchise.

“It is an action movie and there are a lot of fights but strangely I loved it. It was exhausting and fun.

“Every day I loved going to work and playing a new character, and of course I love action.

“And then you have Andy McNab who is this relentless ball of energy. He just doesn’t sleep. Well he does, but he only sleeps enough and then he’s just go, go, go and it was fun to try and keep up with him.

“I feel so fortunate to be able to do other projects with my other job on Outlander and I think it’s actually been a great place to learn the skills that I’ve needed. A lot of the physical side has been really useful to then take it to other projects.”

“Obviously this is based on the authentic actual reality of how the military and how the government operates as well, and all the experiences were based on Andy McNab’s experiences so I would say this is, dare I say it, more of an authentic Bond than Bond is. Bond is a lot more heightened.”

When will SAS: Red Notice be released?

SAS: Red Notice is available on Sky Cinema, from Friday 12 March.