Former SAS commando Barrie Rice has been a bodyguard for the Sultan of Brunei's family, a security contractor for Blackwater in Iraq and now teaches gun skills to Hollywood actors. He was recently a key witness for a Canadian businesswoman accused of trying to smuggle the Gaddafi family into Mexico. This month he stars in new Maori TV reality series Survive Aotearoa.

1.What's this crazy story about a Canadian businesswoman ending up in a Mexican jail for attempting to smuggle Gaddafi's son out of Libya?

We went to Libya together on a fact-finding mission for her engineering company and her arrest was all on the word of this Australian guy who said he was ex-military, and he wasn't. She's home now - I played golf with her recently. You get a lot of wannabes in the security game, people who talk a lot and get themselves into poopoo. You can usually spot them because they're the ones doing all the talking.

2.How did you end up in the SAS?

I grew up in Gisborne and in those days you only had a few options: be a professional surfer, work at the freezing works or fish. At 20 I just disappeared - I was down at the wharf for lunch, saw some mates who were working on a Japanese boat, so jumped on and was out for two months. Then I joined the army like my sister and from the beginning I wanted to be in the SAS.


3.There's a lot of mystery and a bit of glamour about the SAS - is it really like that?

It's extremely competitive, both to get in and once you're in there. We don't like failure. It's full of A-type personalities and you stick to yourselves. We'd take the piss out of each other constantly. Everyone's a comedian. And we all still think we're Peter Pan. We never grow up. We get together now it's still full-on competition. I was in it for seven years and it opened up so many doors for me.

4.Why did you leave?

I got sick - leptospirosis - urine poisoning, which I caught in the jungle. Ended up in a coma for a few weeks in Singapore. Flatlined a couple of times. After a while in that kind of work the body starts to break down a little bit and I was offered a job as a bodyguard working in Brunei.

5. And that's where your Kevin Costner bodyguard stories came in. Biggest diva?

Whitney Houston was a friend of the Sultan's daughter. She was a prima donna pain in the ass. I never saw [Houston] doing any drugs but she was very demanding. I would always say if I thought what they wanted was ludicrous. And sometimes it was. When Prince Jefri's wife came (to Auckland), she wanted to go shopping at 10pm. And have the department store opened for her. Those things don't happen here.

6.Has doing personal security - or your private military work - made you rich?

It's been a comfortable life, a good life. When you leave the unit you have to work with the skills you have. I've had some serious low points as well - when you're out of work and you have no money. You've got all these skills and can't do anything with them. That's why the Gulf War was very good for New Zealand's ex-military people.

7.But you didn't go to Iraq until 2003?

I'd been doing SWAT training with the military police in the Philippines and went to Iraq with Blackwater. Some morally wrong things happened there. That's why I eventually left. Some of our guys were killed badly in Fallujah and it changed the rules for everybody. Before that there was some mutual respect but after that the gloves were off. We'd do three months on then have a month off. That was hard. The mood swings at home would be drastic.

8.How do you mentally survive a situation like that?

One guy, a good friend of mine, committed suicide. It was hard to say why. He went back to Australia and was acting really strange before he left. There's a saying "as long as it happens to someone else". If something bad is going to happen, let it be someone else.

9.You're 50 now - why do you stay in the game?

It's not just the money. I like to do things I'm good at and I must be good at it because I'm still around. It keeps you sharp. To me it's like a game and I like to test myself. And now I have the movie stuff too which I can juggle with the other stuff. That's good fun.

10.What have you taught your children about mental toughness?

I don't know if you can teach that stuff. But I tell them to never give up. I've probably been a bit hard on them over the years, particularly my boys. But parents nowdays are too damn soft on kids. And there aren't enough good role models for Maori. There's all the drugs and alcohol and broken families. We need more role models than just the All Blacks. There's only one Willie Apiata and he doesn't say enough.

11.Survive Aotearoa is about how to survive in real-life dangerous situations. But you almost drowned during filming?

Let's just say my water intake was bigger than my water out-take. We were being swept down the Whanganui River and I was trying to do it as if I had an injured leg, which is what had really happened to someone. But it took a very long time for me to come into shore. The thing was not to panic but I was in the water for about half an hour and it was cold.

12.So you're kind of a Kiwi Bear Grylls on the show?

Our show is about how to really survive with limited resources - the equipment, planning and willpower you need plus some good skills. I can't stand Bear Grylls. It's not real. He doesn't stay the night. It's good entertainment but what he shows verges on being dangerous. Best way to survive in the bush? Don't run. You'll break an ankle.