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Inside Gladiators’ wild secret history of heroin addiction, racy backstage romances and a sinister blackmail plot

Inside Gladiators’ wild secret history of heroin addiction, racy backstage romances and a sinister blackmail plot

GLADIATORS fans are more than ready as the show’s long-awaited reboot draws ever nearer.

But with secret drug addictions, shocking jail stints and racy romances behind the scenes, the upcoming BBC reboot will have a hard task matching the mayhem of the original Nineties ITV hit.

Gladiators was one of ITV’s biggest hits in the Nineties

During an appearance on The One Show earlier this week, the first two new Gladiators were announced as CrossFit star Zack George and sports champion Jodie Ounsley .

It was also revealed that father and son duo Bradley and Barney Walsh would be hosting the show together.

In recent years, the OG Gladiators have lifted the lid on the unbelievable and sometimes dark underbelly of the show, which first ran from 1992 to 2000.

From life-threatening accidents to sinister blackmail charges, we look at the wildest tales.

Life-threatening accident

Gladiators stunner Jet quit the show after suffering a catastrophic fallITV/ Rex Features

Jet – real name Diane Youdale – nearly suffered a fatal snapRex

Nineties pin-up Jet – real name Diana Youdale – was one of the original cast, but ended up quitting after four seasons.

Jet bowed out due to a neck injury she sustained in a nasty fall during one of the challenges in a 1996 live show.

She told The Sun: “I remember thinking, ‘Have I broken my neck?’”

Had she not been so bendy, medics said she would have suffered a fatal “hangman break” – the type of fracture that killed prisoners executed by hanging.

Jet and Panther in 2017 marking 25 years since the start of GladiatorsITV/Rex Features/Shutterstock

She explained: “It terrified me so much that I could have sat in a chair for the rest of my life and possibly worse.

“I had a choice, and I made that choice, and that was to leave.”

In recent years, Jet has retrained as a psychotherapist and pilates instructor.

Panther – real name Helen O’Reilly – also sustained a serious neck and back injury after falling head-first during the Tilt event.

Secret relationships

Gladiators hunk Hunter ended up dating the show’s presenter Ulrika JonssonITV/ Rex Features/ Shutterstock

Hunter on Good Morning Britain in 2019Rex Features

Hunter – real name James Crossley – was involved in a romance behind the scenes at Gladiators.

Hunter himself ended up dating the show’s presenter Ulrika Jonsson between 1996 and 1997.

They kept their romance under wraps until Ulrika’s 2003 autobiography.

Jailed for corruption

Gladiators legend Warrior was jailed for corruption and perverting the course of justice in 1998Rex

Warrior received a suspended sentence in 2018 for possession of CS spray canistersGladiatorsTV / Facebook

Warrior – real name Michael Ahearne – was cheered by millions on Gladiators until his life came crashing down.

The 6ft4 muscle-man starred in the first six series of the show, but in 1997 became embroiled in a plot to foil the prosecution of Philip Glennon Jnr, a then-associate of former international cocaine baron Curtis ‘Cocky’ Warren.

Glennon Jnr was jailed for six years at Preston Crown Court in 1998 for attempted murder after being accused of firing a handgun at a doorman and a police officer outside a nightclub in 1996.

Also in 1998, Warrior was sent to prison for corruption and perverting the course of justice in a firearms case.

He was sentenced to 15 months in prison but served just six after impressing bosses at Wealstun jail in West Yorkshire.

However, he ran into trouble with the law again in 2018 after a police raid of his Wirral home uncovered a CS spray and a stash of anabolic steroids.

He was charged over the CS spray canisters and admitted three counts of possessing a weapon “designed or adapted for the discharge of a noxious liquid”.

He was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for 12 months, at Liverpool Crown Court in October 2018.

‘Bleeding drunk’

Gladiators favourite Cobra admitted to being drunk on set during his time on the showRex

Cobra – real name Michael Wilson – admitted he was often “bleeding drunk” when he battled contestants on Gladiators.

Despite his rippling muscles and peak physical fitness, he would sometimes struggle to chase contestants up the infamous 32ft-high wall because he was so drunk.

Cobra, who was on the show from start to finish, told the Mirror in 2020: “I didn’t take it too seriously. I was mucking about pranking, I had so much fun…

“There were end of show parties, when we had international Gladiators come over, we would be up all night boozing.”

In recent years, Cobra is living a quiet life and has battled serious illness, even landing himself in hospital with pneumonia in 2019.

Blaming his illness on his punishing workouts for the ITV show, Cobra told The Sun: “I’m only half a Gladiator now. It’s been touch and go.”

Cobra also suffered with pleurisy, a ruptured bicep and shoulder, as well as severe acute pancreatitis in 2019, but his current condition is unknown.

Spiralling addiction

Gladiators hero Shadow was fired after steroids were found in his systemRex

Shadow – real name Jefferson King – was one of the most formidable Gladiators on the show, but his TV career was cut short in 1995 when he found himself at the centre of a drug scandal.

A drug test found steroids in his system and he was booted from the show.

Afterwards, Shadow’s marriage collapsed amid a cheating row and he went on to struggle for the next two decades with addiction and legal problems.

It appeared that Shadow has turned his life around, forging a new career working in a drug rehabilitation centre, but he hit headlines again last year after falling foul of the law.

A mugshot of Shadow revealed a shocking change in appearance since his Gladiator daysRex/ Shutterstock

Shadow was jailed for six years and three months after admitting two counts of blackmail over a drug debt.

He was one of four people who held Aaron Ali hostage for hours in a flat in Acton, west London, where he was subjected to an eight-hour ordeal of being beaten and filmed for “highly distressing” videos sent to his family to elicit a ransom of up to £1,000.

It has been reported that Shadow is a long-time user of crack cocaine and heroin.

His fellow Gladiator star Cobra claimed last year that Gladiators producers “turned a blind eye” to Shadow’s spiralling addiction.

He told the Mirror: “They knew he was doing cocaine and steroids for six months and they turned a blind eye to it…

“They built him up to be such a big star, there was so much pressure on him.”

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