SAS veterans interrogated Matt Hancock over his lockdown affair because the nation wanted to understand his decision-making, the former soldiers behind it have said.
In a new series of Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins, the blindfolded former health secretary is bundled into a cell and aggressively questioned over the 2021 scandal that triggered the end of his political career.
Muscle-bound special forces operators can be seen shouting over him, swearing at him, and accusing him of “weak leadership”.
Initially, the West Suffolk MP, who had already failed a high assault course and taken a muddy beating from a former Premier League footballer, tried to defend himself.
But he quickly confesses that he let himself down, saying in a chastened voice that he regrets his “lack of leadership” in the matter.
The scene in the typhoon-swept jungle of northern Vietnam is one of the centrepieces of an opening episode in which Mr Hancock is the butt of repeated criticism from the directing staff, who described the contestant as having “a bit of an attitude and thinks he’s above everyone”.
At one point, the ex-commandos barely disguise their mirth after pushing the former Tory cabinet minister into a swollen river.
At another, they loudly order him to stop running “like a f------ ostrich”.
However, it is during the interrogation, or “Mirror Room interview”, in which Mr Hancock appears arguably at his most vulnerable, as the directing staff demand that he “put the barriers down” and explain himself.
One of them, Chris Oliver, says: “You think ‘f--- this, I’m going to have a bit of that. I’m going to break the rules here, I’m going to break the rules on a number of occasions.’ From sitting on this side of the table that’s exactly how it went down.”
Mr Hancock responds that in conducting his extra-marital affair with Gina Coladangelo, he was “very careful” not to break the law but did not think about guidance that the Government was putting out at the time.
The special forces staff were unimpressed.
Jason “Foxy” Fox, says: “When we dish out a set of orders, we f------ live our life by that as well.”
They go on to explain their criticism is not personal, but designed to put him under pressure.
However, speaking this week at a launch event, chief instructor Mark Billingham admitted that his colleagues had especially wanted to get to the bottom of Mr Hancock’s decision-making.
“We pushed as hard as we could to get it out of him,” he said. “I wanted to know. We all wanted to know. And, yeah, I guess the nation does want to know. So we got as far as we could with him. But, you know, it was hard work.”
Airing on Channel 4 next Tuesday at 9.30pm, the first episode, which takes place in unrelenting heavy rain that nearly scuppered the filming process, features the contestants traversing a pair of high poles raised 50 metres above the ground, a test not just of agility but also of courage and discipline.
Mr Hancock does not progress far before diving theatrically between them, supported by a harness, for which he is derided.
In a second task, “milling”, a form of military boxing with no rules to test candidates’ aggression, Mr Hancock is put up against the former footballer Jermaine Pennant, and is judged to have lost.
Despite the opprobrium in which he is held by many in the public, the other celebrity contestants were complimentary about Mr Hancock’s conduct when the cameras stopped rolling, describing him as “respectful” and “honest”.
However, one did question why he appeared to be always hogging the medical tape.
Future episodes include a more lengthy interrogation phase, where the candidates are put through an imitation of the gruelling physical and mental abuse special forces soldiers are trained to withstand if captured.