Major Phil Ashby
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Phil Ashby is a genuine hero. His autobiography rocketed into the bestseller list in 2004. To escape a desk job in London, he volunteered for a 6-month tour with the United Nations as a Peace Keeper in war-torn Sierra Leone (at the time the poorest country in the world).
The mission was brought to a violent end when the rebels restarted the country's civil war. They turned on the UN's representatives, torturing and butchering them and taking over 500 hostages. Phil and three other Western soldiers found themselves cut off in a small compound in hostile territory, surrounded by rebels who taunted them by throwing the blood-stained uniforms of fellow UN workers over the walls.
After four days of physical and psychological bombardment with no hope of rescue, Phil took the decision to risk being killed trying to escape rather than be taken alive. So at 2.45 am the next morning, faces blackened with charcoal, he led his team over the wall. They were surrounded by rebel troops and outnumbered by at least twenty to one and were completely unarmed. Their chances of escaping alive were very slim. Despite trekking day and night for almost a week without food or water, Phil found the courage and strength to lead his colleagues on a daring and dramatic race to freedom through the hostile jungle. He was awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal for his actions.
However, perhaps the toughest challenge for Phil was yet to come. On his return to Britain, he was rushed to hospital, paralysed from the waist down. He had brought home a memento of the West African jungle in the form of a virus lodged in his spinal cord. He has had to face a whole new set of challenges both personally and professionally, even re-learning how to walk as he has come to terms with long term disability.
Born and brought up on the West Coast of Scotland, Phil has always had a taste for adventure. He won a scholarship to Glenalmond College, Perthshire and was a talented gymnast and musician. His parents contemplated sending him to ballet school. Instead he discovered rock climbing and was quickly mastering some of Scotland's hardest extreme rock climbs, before finding another physical career as a Royal Marine Commando.
Commissioned into The Royal Marines at just seventeen and a half, making him the youngest officer in HM Armed Forces, he won his Green Beret one-week after his 18th birthday. Phil was sponsored by the Marines to read Engineering at Pembroke College, Cambridge, but he was more likely to be found climbing on the College Library than studying in it! He has climbed all over the world and survived an epic 2-man rowing expedition in the Arctic Ocean. This was the first - and only - human-powered circumnavigation of the polar island of Spitsbergen. One thousand miles of rowing through ice floes for eight weeks in a 17-foot, open-topped wooden boat, he survived becoming trapped in the pack-ice, a polar bear attack, hurricane force winds and capsizing in icy water.
Phil met his wife Anna, a fellow student, on Valentine's Day 1991. Phil saved her life after they were caught in an avalanche while climbing together in the Scottish Highlands on New Year's Day 1994.
After a further fifteen months of Royal Marines officer training in 1992, Phil won the Commando medal for 'Leadership, Unselfishness, Cheerfulness, Determination and Courage'.
Areas of Expertise
In 1995 Phil was selected to join the elite Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre, completing eleven months of arduous Mountain Leader training, the longest and hardest infantry course in the British Armed Forces. He is also a qualified Jungle Warfare instructor. He has served in command of Royal Marines around the world from the mountains of Alaska and Norway to the jungles of Brunei and Belize. He was promoted to Major at the age of 28, making him the youngest officer of that rank in the British Armed Forces. He is currently studying for a Master's Degree in Defence Technology.
Phil is a powerful and charismatic speaker, who can really reach, move and entertain his audience. He is a natural storyteller who can adapt to suit any occasion. He has already shown real flair on television and radio with his appearances on CH4's Richard and Judy, CH5's Gloria's Open House, R4's Midweek with Libby Purves, R5 Live's Simon Mayo Show and numerous serious current affairs programmes. He is an accomplished journalist writing articles for a wide variety of publications including the Sunday Times, The Daily Mail and The Lancet. He has recently been commissioned by The National Geographic Magazine to write about his first climb since being ill - an attempt on the North Face of Mount Robson in the Canadian Rockies.
Phil has been a guest speaker for clients such as Gartner, the D Group, Accenture, British Telecom, D'Arcy, Durham & Co, Marie Curie Cancer and the Foreign Office.