SAS hardman Ant Middleton is planning to take celebrities to jet into space with Virgin Galactic for a TV project

HE’S fought the enemy in dusty warzones and climbed Everest, now SAS hardman Ant Middleton wants to take recruits where they’ve never been before — outer space.

The former Special Forces soldier today launches an audacious bid to be the first telly star to lead an expedition with the cameras rolling.

So serious is Ant — who has become a best-selling author and sold out tours up and down the country off the back of Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins — that he has already sounded out partners.

The 38-year-old has discussed the plans with Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, 68, and his space-conquering pilots.

In an exclusive interview with The Sun, he reveals: “My future project is hopefully being fired into the stratosphere. I thought Richard Branson was quite a good fit.

“We’ve been talking about it. I had a very interesting conversation last night, me and the pilot for Virgin that does these trips, I wouldn’t rule it out.

“It would be some kind of training programme and then being fired into the stratosphere.

“It could make for a very, very interesting documentary, so it’s something I’m pushing.

“There’s a big physical aspect to it and there’s obviously a different mindset aspect to it as well.

“It’s a new space. Excuse the pun.”

Ant’s aim to become just the eighth Briton to leave Earth is a far cry from his glittering Forces career, in which he served in the Special Boat Service, the Royal Marines and 9 Parachute Squadron Royal.

And not content with two tours of Afghanistan — and hopefully one into orbit — Ant says he wants to try his hand at cracking Hollywood, going from battering the Taliban to movie baddies.

With a twinkle in his eye, he says: “I know that it’s going to be Daniel Craig’s last 007 so I think I’ll just jump into the fold there. Why not have the real McCoy?

“Don’t rule it out mate.”

Before our interview, he is a 200/1 outsider to replace the moody actor as James Bond. But in another show of his networking ability, Ant has become close pals with acting royalty Mark Wahlberg, 47.

The twice Oscar-nominated star is giving him tips on how to become the new Vinnie Jones — the 54-year-old former Wimbledon footballer who has featured in a host of big movies.

Ant met Mark at the launch of his London burger restaurant, Wahlburger, last week, and the two tough nuts have stayed in touch.

Ant adds: “It’s quite surreal really, because I spent quite a lot of time with him that evening.

“I was with him for a good hour — we were chatting about the military, his training regime, how things can sync from the US to UK.

“It wasn’t just a case of, ‘Here, let’s grab a couple of photos’, we exchanged details.

“I’m now touching base with his people, there’s some interesting conversations taking place.

“He’s great company and like-minded, and you sort of have that connection and hopefully it doesn’t end there.”

Ant was unknown to telly viewers when he first appeared on SAS: Who Dares Wins in 2015. The show puts civilians through gruelling Special Forces training, with the most recent series filmed in Chile.

But such is his popularity off the back of the show that as well as a best-selling book Ant has sold out theatres across Britain as fans flock to hear him recount tales from his extraordinary life in the military.

And he admits that if staring down a Taliban insurgent was ranked a ten out of ten on the fear scale, walking out on stage is not far off.

He says: “You’re probably looking at a seven. No, I’d say about a six if I’m being fair, it’s up there.

“It’s a different adrenaline. The difference between stepping on a battlefield, if it goes wrong you’ve got yourself to blame.

“It’s almost all on you, it’s your life that’s on the line so you can sort of take ownership of that and go, ‘Right, listen I’m willing to do that’.

“But when you go out to a couple of thousand people, it’s like, ‘This isn’t about me really, it’s about these guys having spent their hard-earned money to come and see me — I’ve got to make sure that they walk away with something’.”

The last time I interviewed Ant he swore an impressive 97 times in just 40 minutes, but he is more mellow now, and that goes for his live shows too.

Ant admits: “When I get out on stage I always ask for the youngest person in the audience, then I tell them, ‘I’m talking about bettering myself, so that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.

I’m trying to swear less’. So I say to the youngster, ‘Every time I swear, you count and I will donate £5 to a charity of your choice’.”

He then quickly adds with a laugh: “I didn’t make anything out of that last tour.”

Ant has been married to Emilie, 38, for 13 years and credits his wife for making him the man he is today.

Together they have daughters Shyla, 11, and three-year-old Priseis and sons Gabriel, nine and two-year-old Bligh, while Ant has 17-year-old son Oakley from a previous relationship.

The hardman came under fire earlier this week when he admitted he tries to encourage Gabriel not to cry and “have a stiffer upper lip”.

Ant says he wants his children to instead harness their emotions and put them to good use.

He explains: “I’m teaching my son to be resilient, there are times and places that you should use your emotions and you should let them out.

“They need to be controlled and I’ve done that my whole life. When you’re on a battlefield, your emotions are going haywire and you have to take control because it’s not only going to cost your life, it’s going to cost the life of the person next to you. It has saved my life.”

Ant’s straight-talking antics have brought their fair share of detractors, particularly on Twitter, where he recently said a No-Deal Brexit would be a “blessing” because a bit of hardship would bring back British values.

When I ask if he has political aspirations, Ant is coy. He says: “That’s another conversation, but what people appreciate is I keep things very, very straightforward.

“Emotions and feelings are completely irrelevant, so I tell people facts and what a lot of people agree with but can’t say nowadays.

“I find it quite upsetting that you can’t say what you believe in, and I’m probably giving a voice to the majority that are actually like, ‘I would say that but I can’t because I will lose my job’ or ‘I would say that but I can’t because I’ll upset or offend this person’.

“As long as your intent isn’t to offend or your actions aren’t malicious, then go out there and say what you believe in. More power to you.”

Before Ant tackles space, crying children or Parliament, he is dabbling in horse racing, after signing up to partner with Epsom Downs Racecourse to make a fitness guide based on thoroughbred training regimes. And the project has led him to want to get into the sport himself, including buying his own nag.

He says: “I’m looking at buying a racehorse and getting into the breeding side of things, so yeah, when it came along it was just a nice fit, and we brought our interests and everybody jumped on board. It was a great connection.”

When I cheekily suggest to 5ft 8in Ant that he would have made a good jockey, he fires back: “I’m going to rip your ears off! I’m a good height, but not a good width, mate. In another life.”

  • The Investec Derby Festival takes place at Epsom Downs Racecourse from May 31 to June 1. See thejockeyclub.co.uk/Epsom.

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