Singer Alexandra Burke has shown true grit to become the last woman standing on SAS: Who Dares Wins.
The X Factor winner has dealt with everything Ant Middleton and his special forces pals have thrown at her – falling from a helicopter, staging a mock armed rescue, walking a tightrope over a ravine.
Alexandra and 11 other famous faces landed on the Scottish Isle of Raasay to be tested to the limit in the mock SAS selection process.
And the 32-year-old believes her mum Melissa, who died in her arms in 2017 after a stroke six months previously, gave her the strength to make it through to tomorrow’s finale, despite suffering broken ribs and an agonising ankle injury.
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She says: “There’s nothing that prepares you for losing a parent.
“I think that is where my strength comes from because I don’t have an excuse in my eyes to be anything but strong – I saw what my mum went through when she was ill. And what she went through was tough.
“What we witnessed as a family, what my mum went through and how she fought for herself, it only gave me strength.
“It’s given me the passion to live and to have enthusiasm for life because you don’t know how long you’ve got, tomorrow is never promised.”
Chief instructor, Ant, 41, lost his own mother last year.
Alexandra says: “I think Ant is someone that can relate. It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 32, you cannot prepare for that huge loss in your life.”
That bond may have been at the root of accusations of favouritism towards the singer, which Alexandra has denied.
But it’s clear the connection between her and Ant was strong. In one challenge, the celebrities had to fall head-first from a helicopter into the sea.
Alexandra says: “Ant turned to me and said, ‘Alex, the sun just came out for you. And there’s a rainbow. That’s our mums telling us that we can do this’.
“The moment he said that to me, that was it, there was a switch in my brain. I knew my mum was watching me.
“It turned things round for me, it gave me strength.”
Strength is clearly something she’s not short of and, as we begin Black History Month, Alexandra is just the kind of inspirational role model we are highlighting as part of our series Celebrating Black Britain.
Alexandra used her anger at the racism she and her mum have faced to spur her on in the Red Man challenge, where she tackled instructor Jason Fox as if he was an enemy on the battlefield.
Alexandra says: “They said, ‘What gets you angry?’ And I said, ‘Everything done in the world with Black Lives Matter’.
“I said, ‘George Floyd’. I said, ‘That could have been my brother, my dad, my cousin’.
“All the young black men in my family I think of that get stopped all the time for just their appearance. The racism I’ve endured, my mother endured. That’s what gets me angry.”
Asked why she thinks it’s important to celebrate Black History month, Alexandra says: “It’s integral that not only the black community celebrate Black History, but the whole of the UK. I really hope young black girls and boys see people like me and believe that if we are able achieve what we have in our field of work, they can do it too.”
Alexandra has been pushed to her limits on the series, fans watching as she walked a tightrope across a ravine, pulled herself on to a speed boat from the freezing water off the coast of Scotland and was gassed in a mock chemical warfare challenge.
Five of the line-up were forced out through injury, including former footballer Kieron Dyer, 42, who punctured a lung after breaking his ribs, and reality star Jake Quickenden, 33, who tore his bicep muscle from the bone.
Alexandra broke her ribs during an abseil, but kept quiet in case she was medically withdrawn from the show.
AFP via Getty Images)
She recalls: “I felt something go, I probably should have said something, but I didn’t.
“Then when I had to capsize the boat, and it hit my head and made it worse.
“That was it for me, I was done, I literally couldn’t move, my ribs broke.
“I kept going though and basically just lived off painkillers in order to get through it. I’ve never ever been the type of person that’s quit anything.”
A strength she picked up from her mum, perhaps?
“Yeah, my mum always said to me that she didn’t raise a quitter. So all I could hear was my mum going, ‘Keep f***ing going, you’ve come this far’.
“Everything that I’ve done and achieved up until that point I didn’t think I could do. So a broken rib was not going to stop me.”
Or hypothermia or the torn ankle ligaments she suffered on a hike.
The UK began celebrating Black History Month, an idea first spawned in the United States and then also adopted by European countries including Ireland and the Netherlands, in October 1987.
Black History Month helps give context to modern life and the country’s history, while championing the experiences and celebrating the contributions of Black Britons here in the UK.
The observation was first organised through the leadership of Ghanaian-born analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo. He served as a coordinator of special projects for the Greater London Council.
Consequently, Akyaaba created a plan aiming to recognise the contributions of African, Asian and Caribbean people to the economic, cultural and political life in the UK.
She says: “I didn’t give three flying fudges. I was carrying on.”
Alexandra also felt a duty to the other women who fell by the wayside.
While Kerry Katona, 41, and Vicky Pattison, 33, quit, the remaining three were forced out through injury.
TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson, 54, was pulled from the show after suffering with hypothermia, former Loose Woman Saira Khan, 51, broke her ankle and British World Champion BMX star Shanaze Reade, 33, dislocated her shoulder.
Alexandra says: “I was like, all the other girls that have been here and had to leave from injury – they would be here right now if it wasn’t for their injury. Therefore, I’ve got to do it for them, and I’ve got to do it for every single woman that will watch this show and think they can do it too.”
But Alexandra admits she wouldn’t have made it this far without the remaining men, Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell, 49, Paralympian Aled Davies, 30, broadcaster and 2016 Strictly champion Ore Oduba, 35, and Love Islander Wes Nelson, 23.
She says: “The others looked after me so well because by the point I’d broken my ribs, I was a mess.
“The way they were waiting on me hand and foot. I’ve never seen men act like that. It made me realise I need this kind of man in my life. These men were showing me what real men are.”
Despite their camaraderie, they were all on their own as they reached the interrogation stage of the course.
For hours the contestants are subjected to deafening noises and put in stress positions between grillings by interrogators who want to crack a cover story the celebs must protect.
Alexandra was determined not to crack. She says: “There was one point where I refused painkillers because I wanted to remember my story and the co-codamol was making me drowsy. When it had completely worn off, the pain became unbearable and I couldn’t stop crying. And then it got to the point where I had hypothermia so I was shivering the whole time.
“They chucked four buckets of ice-cold water all over me, but I refused to speak. I said, ‘I’m not speaking. You’re getting nothing out of me’.”
Fans will have to tune in to Sunday’s final to see whether she goes all the way to claim victory, but one thing is for sure, the experience has had a profound impact on her.
Alexandra says: “It was the most life-changing experience to understand what your worth is.”
- SAS: Who Dares Wins, Sunday at 9pm on Channel 4.