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Gary Barlow: Journey To Afghanistan
One of our biggest music stars Gary Barlow faces his toughest gig when he heads to the harsh terrain of Afghanistan to perform an exclusive concert for British troops.
The morale-boosting visit sees the X Factor judge spend two days with soldiers, sailors and airmen, both Regular and Reservist, experiencing life on the base and culminating in a one-off performance in front of around 1,000 troops.
Travelling around 4,000 miles to Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, our cameras are granted exclusive access to follow the superstar as he gains an invaluable insight into life in camp for these extraordinary servicemen and women.
The singer faces some daunting tasks which see him join the team in the air traffic control tower at Camp Bastion to see aircraft operations in action , step into the driving seat of a huge HET (heavy equipment transporter), head out on a 6am morning run with some troops and even get caught in the midst of a sandstorm which hit the camp.
Gary also makes the heartbreaking visit to the vigil site, paying tribute to those British troops killed in Afghanistan.
The climax of the visit sees the award-winning star unveil a pop-up concert joined by The Royal Artillery Band, performing his own songs and other favourite hits, including Michael Buble’s classic ‘Home’, The Hollies poignant ‘He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother’.
Out on his first tour of duty Senior Aircraftman Marenghi, 21, puts his singing skills to the test as he takes centre stage in a special moment to perform the Bruno Mars track ‘Just The Way You Are’ in front of his colleagues, joined by Gary on the piano. For the finale Lance Corporal Shaun Fowler, 45, from the Territorial Army joins Gary on stage with his guitar.
Talking about his trip, Gary Barlow says: “It's been amazing and inspiring; something I've been wanting to do for a couple of years now. I can't believe we have actually done it and achieved it. It's a memory that will stay with me forever. It's been a privilege being here and meeting people who are serving so far from the UK.”
Gary Barlow: Journey to Afghanistan is an ITV Studios and Shiver production for ITV. It was commissioned by Elaine Bedell, Director of Entertainment and Comedy, ITV. The executive producers are Lee Connolly and Fiona Clark, ITV Studios.
Notes to editors:
Camp Bastion is the main British military base in Afghanistan. It is situated northwest of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, and exists to be the logistics hub for operations in Helmand. It is the largest British overseas military camp built since the Second World War. It was built in early 2006 and now measures four miles long by two miles wide. It adjoins Camp Leatherneck (the U.S. military base) and the Afghan National Army base, Camp Shorabak. There are also currently troops from Estonia, Denmark and Fiji based there.
The airport on the base is currently the fifth-busiest UK operated airport.
The base is home to the majority of the British military support operations and, for example, houses the following amongst others:
British military helicopters
Base for all of the British military transport and vehicles
The main British military hospital
Working Dogs Section
The military hospital is world-class and is at the cutting edge of new treatments and technology. As well as injured British/US personnel it also treats injured Afghan soldiers. It also provides emergency life, limb and eyesight saving treatment to Afghan nationals before returning them to the care of local Afghan medical facilities.
Q&A with Gary Barlow:
Q: Did you have any nerves or trepidation about heading out to camp bastion? Was there any moments whilst there where your nerves crept in?
Gary Barlow: No I felt safe, there were a couple of moments like coming in to land, but in reality no, I felt extremely safe.
Q: Why did you decide to make the trip?
Gary Barlow: The fact that a number of our servicemen and women are going to be away for Christmas, distractions from people are welcomed, especially because the shortest stint is three months but the longest is nine months! There are people out there for nine months! We wanted to create a bit of a distraction for them all!
Q: What did you family think about you going?
Gary Barlow: They weren’t happy, weren’t happy at all, because like everybody else, when you mention that word, it just says danger, fear and war, but the reality was I was going to a very safe British and American camp. I met and spent time with some incredible people and that was the real reason of the trip and I felt very safe there.
Q: Can you tell us some of the things you did when you were there?
Gary Barlow: We went to put on a gig, but rather than just take a band there I wanted to include the people in the camp, so we arrived and put a band together; they were all soldiers and they all had riffles on their back as they were playing, it felt so inclusive. The crowd loved it, some of their comrades did solos, which was amazing. It was more like a camp fire gig than a stage show. It was brilliant night.
Q: What was your highlight for your trip?
Gary Barlow: The highlight was the gig itself because you couldn’t believe that we were going to put this on a stage. You didn’t believe these people were going to learn so quick and work together as a band so quick and that ultimately, we would get this on a stage! Everything was thrown at us, we had to deal with a storm and a military alert, which delayed the gig for 24 hours, but we did it! It went down brilliantly and everyone involved were amazing. It left me with a warm heart.
Q: You invited some of the troops to perform with you? Were you surprised by the musical talent?
Gary Barlow: I was, they were really great. They are not only commitment to their jobs but also helping us all put on the very best performance we could. There was a real mutual respect, they were thrilled to be working with me and I was thrilled to be working with them. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever done.
Q: What can viewers expect to see from the show?
Gary Barlow: Viewers will get an insight into what it’s like to live at Camp Bastion, however, the real reason for going, for me, was the people. I really wanted to meet the servicemen and women who work there and find out why they do that job? How they are feeling being away from home for Christmas? The life and soul of the camp are the people and we I was thrilled we got to learn more about them.
Q: How was it performing for the troops? Did it compare to a sell out tour in the UK?
Gary Barlow: It didn’t feel like a performance it felt like we were all on stage together. The crowd were singing louder than me. It felt like a big sing song rather than a gig.
Q: Has the trip changed you in anyway?
Gary Barlow: “I wasn't there doing operations or learning how to be a soldier, I there to observe, to get a little insight into life on camp and I’ve come back with a massive respect for the work our servicemen and women do and the sacrifices they make. They're all really proud to be there, doing this for their country. They are all at the top of their game and maybe for some people it’s just a small part of a BIG jigsaw but for all of them it’s a very important part and they all work to 150%. It’s incredibly admirable.
Q: Has your support for the British troops changed now you visited camp bastion?
Gary Barlow: These people are doing a great job for us around the world and I just find it amazing. I know how I feel when I’m away from home for two weeks. To not only be away from home but to be there in those conditions for six months, it’s hardcore. I have total respect for that. Although I should add that it did take me two days to get the sand out of places I didn’t know sand could get!
Q: How emotional did you find it to meet our heroes?
Gary Barlow: Yes extremely emotional, we were all stood down by the memorial one night for about 10 mins just reading the names and stuff and it’s real, so real. Its not a training exercise this isn’t, these are missions every day they are going out they are flying up, when the helicopters go up, that’s because they are going to do something somewhere or rescue someone or that’s the difference.