Prison, therapy and ruptured biceps: what happened to the stars of Gladiators?

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Gladiators… ready?! They soon will be, as the BBC is set to revive ITV’s 1990s Saturday evening favourite (again, following a previous revival on Sky in 2008-09), in which everyday competitors face beefed-up, Spandex-wrapped demi-gods across various challenges – the likes of the dreaded Wall, Duel, Hang Tough, Atlaspheres and Gauntlet.

Dan Baldwin, the managing director of producers Hungry Bear has said: “It’s the perfect time for Gladiators to return. What other show combines electric excitement, superheroes, giant sponge fingers, elite athletes, and a pinch of pantomime? Watch out for the new breed of superhuman, supersized, superstars bursting on to your screens on BBC One and iPlayer.” Watch out, indeed.

But whatever happened to the original superhuman, supersized, superstars of Gladiators?

Wolf

Wolf, aka Michael Van Wijk - ITV
Wolf, aka Michael Van Wijk – ITV

Long before Pop Idol’s Nasty Nigel Lythgoe (actually the Gladiators producer) and Simon Cowell made a living snarling as young hopefuls, Wolf – or “the Wolfman” to his friends – was Saturday primetime’s original villain.

Real name Michael Van Wijk, he played up to the bad guy persona – inspired by wrestling theatrics – and was prone to being shown the yellow or red card from no-nonsense ref John Anderson.

Pantomime surely beckoned – and indeed it did – as well as other roles, including “a chef-with-attitude in New Zealand’s equivalent of Coronation Street”. Moving to New Zealand, he competed in cage fighting and has opened a chain of gyms.  As recently as 2019 he said that he’s in better shape than ever and could still do every single Gladiator game “blindfolded”.

Jet

Jet, aka Diane Youdale - ITV
Jet, aka Diane Youdale – ITV

The true sweetheart of Gladiators, Jet – real name Diane Youdale – had the nation’s heart and loins in a vice-like grip. Very much like one of those out-of-breath contenders who got caught between her legs on Hang Tough.

Previously a gymnast, dancer and fitness professional, she left Gladiators after sustaining a neck injury.

She later became a psychotherapist, counsellor and coach – she even appeared as an in-house psyche on Big Brother’s Bit on The Side. Jet makes convention appearances and continues to embrace the Gladiators legacy.

Shadow

Shadow, aka Jefferson King - Alamy
Shadow, aka Jefferson King – Alamy

At 6’3” and 245lbs – not to mention 20-inch biceps and the unblinking eyes of a nails-hard man-shark – Shadow was master of the Duel, in which he walloped contenders off a 15ft platform with a giant earbud. He was finally defeated by Ian from High Wycombe. But his fall from grace didn’t end there.

Real name Jefferson King, Shadow was booted off Gladiators for taking steroids, alongside accusations of snorting cocaine.

Battling a long-time drug habit, he got clean and later worked at a rehab clinic. In 2021, however, he was jailed for six years over a blackmail plot – kidnapping and beating a man to get a £1,000 ransom.

Hunter

Hunter, aka James Crossley, with host Ulrika Jonsson and fellow Gladiator Trojan, aka Mark Griffin - ITV
Hunter, aka James Crossley, with host Ulrika Jonsson and fellow Gladiator Trojan, aka Mark Griffin – ITV

Joining Gladiators in its second season, Hunter – aka James Crossley – is remembered for his dalliance with Ulrika Johnson as much as being crowned “Ultimate Gladiator”. Very much the hunk of the show – like a Boyzone member who could break your legs – he acted post-Glads, including in a Peter Hall production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It at Theatre Royal Bath, alongside Rebecca Hall and Eric Sykes.

Still a fitness specialist, he works as strength and conditioning coach and specialises in fitness for over-40s.

Crossley recently appeared on reality show The Circle and posed as an NHS nurse called Gemma. He said he would give half the £100,000 winnings to the NHS. He didn’t win.

Lightning

Lightning, aka Kim Betts, at the Royal Tournament - Brian Smith
Lightning, aka Kim Betts, at the Royal Tournament – Brian Smith

Lightning was the “Queen of Hang Tough”, undefeated on the rings in the UK arena. She’s also the longest-tenured female Gladiator, appearing in all eight original seasons and later returned as a legend in the 2008 revival.

Real name Kim Betts, Lightning did some presenting on the British Forces Broadcasting Service. She worked in property development for many years and runs various businesses, including a beauty parlour and fishery.

Originally a gymnast and bodybuilder, Lightning has continued as a competitive bodybuilder – she was crowned IBFA Miss Universe in 2020.

Saracen

Saracen, aka Mike Lewis - ITV
Saracen, aka Mike Lewis – ITV

Firefighter Mike Lewis was the true backbone of the Gladiators line-up – a stalwart of all eight original seasons and especially proficient at Hang Tough. He was beaten on the rings only once. After Gladiators, he admirably returned to firefighting duty.

An occasional TV personality, he appeared on Gladiators knock-off Ninja Warrior in 2015. He took part in the show to prove that, at 52, age wasn’t a barrier – then fell into the water after about five seconds.

Panther

Panther, left, aka Helen O'Reilly, with fellow Gladiator Scorpio, aka Nikki Diamond - ITV
Panther, left, aka Helen O’Reilly, with fellow Gladiator Scorpio, aka Nikki Diamond – ITV

Real name Helen O’Reilly, Panther was a powerful, giant-haired addition to the original line-up – often seen outmuscling contenders in the Atlaspheres and Gauntlet.

Panther suffered neck and back injuries following an accident on the Tilt and hung up her Glad-rags after the fifth season. She’s now a personal trainer and runs her own gym in Uxbridge – named Panthers Gym, naturally.

She recently appeared on a Comic-Con panel celebrating 30 years of Gladiators.

Amazon

Amazon, aka former swimmer Sharron Davies - ITV
Amazon, aka former swimmer Sharron Davies – ITV

A later starter, Amazon was a well-known celeb before joining the Gladiators ranks for the fourth season. Amazon – aka Sharron Davies MBE – was already a record-breaking swimmer and Olympic and Commonwealth Games medallist.

Her time on Gladiators was short lived after suffering an injury on the Pyramid.

Davies became a motivational speaker and a charity patron, and has created her own training program. She has caused some controversy by diving into the trans women in sport debate, including comparing trans women in women’s sport to the dope-enhanced East German competitors that she once competed against.

Cobra

Cobra, right, aka Michael Willson, with fellow Gladiator Shadow, aka Jefferson King - ITV
Cobra, right, aka Michael Willson, with fellow Gladiator Shadow, aka Jefferson King – ITV

The cheery looking Cobra – real name Michael Willson – was perhaps the most likeable of all the Gladiator men. That can’t-help-but-love-him, cheeky-chap aura continued, when he later admitted to being drunk before climbing The Wall – which almost got him sacked by producer Nigel Lythgoe.

He became a motivational speaker and fitness advocate. But he’s blamed his own fitness regime – punishing workouts and Gladiator-ing though injuries – on a series of recent health problems, including pancreatitis, ruptured and detached biceps, a depleted immune system, and pneumonia. “I’m just glad I haven’t kicked the bucket,” he told the Guardian in 2019.

Warrior

Warrior, right, aka Michael Ahearne, with host John Fashanu - ITV
Warrior, right, aka Michael Ahearne, with host John Fashanu – ITV

Warrior – real name Michael Ahearne – was a former bouncer, rugby player and Mr Universe competitor. Alongside Shadow, he was the real muscle of the original series and served for an impressive six seasons.

But like Shadow, Warrior hit legal problems. In 1998 he was convicted of corruption perverting the course of justice – for a plot involving a gangster and police officer – and served part of a 15-month jail sentence.

He later opened a gym in Birkenhead, but made headlines again in 2020 after being busted with Tesco bags filled with anabolic steroids.

Gladiators will return on BBC One in 2023

Published by anthonyhayble

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