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Britain's Manliest Man - Interview with Alun Pepper

Flight Lieutenant Alun Pepper managed to fight off over 1000 applicants to become Britain’s Manliest Man after appearances on `This Morning` and mentions in numerous national papers. He is now ambassador for the `Orchid` male cancer charity and is raising awareness of male cancer after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2006. Here Al talks to us about the competition, cancer awareness, his RAF career and his passion for sports and martial arts. Please follow Al on twitter @alunpepper and Facebook at Alun Pepper – Uncle Bulgaria – Britain’s Manliest Man Hey Al, let’s talk about where you saw the advert for Britain’s Manliest Man first of all. The advert was in Men’s Fitness Magazine. I was just about to flick the page, and didn’t even see the advert I don’t think, but I saw `Orchid` on the bottom of the page and I know that `Orchid` are the male cancer charity having had the disease myself. I flicked back and looked at it, and the headline was `Are you Britain’s Manliest Man`? So I had a bit of a giggle but then read it and it said they weren’t looking for looks they were looking for a good job, a hobby, a good story and some charity work and I thought that I fulfilled all the criteria. I’ve always done some awareness work where I can for testicular cancer so I saw an opportunity there that if i could win it as a testicular cancer survivor, that would show other guys out there that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about, or any lack of manliness associated with the disease. Ironically they said not look dependent, but the entry criteria was to send them a picture. So I didn’t, I sent them an email with my entire story and a couple of pictures. It was a national competition run by a premium shaving company and they decided the final 40, after that it was down to a public vote. In this way I was pretty lucky as I have friends in the `Red Arrows` who were all tweeting about me and have their own websites, and the RAF family is pretty big and once they found out and stopped taking the mick, they helped. I was on the Battle of Britain Memorial flight as well so they put it on their web page and as luck would have it `This Morning` were doing a testicular cancer piece and I wrote to them saying about the competition. They didn’t get me on for the competition but did get me on for being a testicular cancer survivor so once I’d been on telly with Phillip Schofield and Amanda Holden, that really helped and I got 23,000+ votes, and the runner up got around 11,000. Can you talk a little more about your reasons for entering the competition? Yeah obviously the main reason was that I had testicular cancer in 2006. I was waiting to deploy to Afghanistan, found a lump and luckily I’d seen awareness. It’s really hard for me to see what’s happened to Lance Armstrong as he probably partly saved my life. I had read his books and what he had been through and was therefore very aware and so as soon as I found a lump I went straight to the doctors. Within about 2 weeks of seeing the doctor I’d had an ultrasound to rule out any cysts and about 2 weeks after that I had the surgery. Luckily as I caught it so early it hadn’t spread, I’d only got a stage one seminoma, and then after that they offered preventative chemotherapy so just one dose. People hear chemo and see the horrible pictures but that’s usually 2 or 3 drugs over 10-12 weeks, where mine was 1 drug, 1 dose preventative to kill any free cells that are floating around the bloodstream and maybe have got away. After that it was a 3 month screening program for 2 years, then a 6 month one for 3 years and in 2011 I was given the all clear. So not more scanning now and I’m back into the general population! What was the reaction once you’d won? How did you find out and what happened after? I found out by email, so got the email saying that I’d won and the main thing from the competition is that I’m now an ambassador for `Orchid`. I went down to one of their training days with a few other male cancer survivors, and some people who unfortunately weren’t so lucky and had lost partners who were all doing their bit and really I hope this win to just be a door opener to raising more awareness about testicular cancer. Rather than just writing to TV, Radio etc asking if I can come to talk about testicular cancer, I can now say I’m Britain’s Manliest Man and it gives another dimension. I’m trying to get on `Sunday Brunch` at the moment, someone mentioned `Top Gear` and star in a reasonably priced car but I don’t think I’m quite up to the level of Tom Cruise just yet but you never know! The more public opinion and swell I can get, the more social media-ing etc, the more chance I have of getting on these programmes like `The One Show. I’m in preliminary talks with Manchester United football club as I used to be flown in helicopters by the guy who is now their operations director so if I could go and brief the first team, just the publicity that goes with that would be incredible. Their Facebook page has over 60 million views so just think how many men you could reach with that. Could you tell me a little more about the `Orchid` charity? The `Orchid` charity is for the main three male cancers; testicular, which is the “obvious one” he says in inverted commas, that everyone knows about, prostate which is the other one and penile cancer which I suppose is the lesser known one, but again it’s all about early detection. These are the ones people don’t like talking about and the consequences if they have got it, but that doesn’t stop you getting it, if you do you have to deal with it. So if you log on to the Orchid website, they’re the doctors and specialists, I’m no expert, my only advice is if there’s something that feels different than before then do something with it, don’t take a chance, just go and get it checked out. 9 times out of 10, he says throwing a random statistic at you, it’s just things down there are a bit lumpy, if you play sports, they can get damaged or twisted, if it is the big C, again 98% curable if caught early. Absolutely, let’s talk a bit about you, your career and your interests then. I always wanted to join the army as a lifestyle after seeing too many Rambo films and got to about 16 and realised I wasn’t that brave and wasn’t quite ready to leave home yet so got a job at Rolls Royce. I then saw Top Gun and thought, boom! That will do me, flying around in them all day! Unfortunately, the Air Force didn’t see it this way and it took me 3 attempts to get in. The first couple of times they said no thank you and by the third time I think they’d just given up on me and thought it was easier to get rid of me once I was in. Hadn’t got the aptitude to be a pilot but they took me on as a navigator for helicopters and had an amazing 31/2 year tourflying the Wessex out in Northern Island. I then got put on to fast jets at Marham and did that for 6 years with a gap to instruct at Cranwell. I’ve flown over Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and my last fast jet tour, I was lucky enough to get a secondary duty flying the Lancaster on the Battle of Britain Memorial flight, only one of two in the world! I now instruct leadership at the RAF College to new officers and the RAF has given me great opportunities in sports as well. I’ve done Martial Arts all my life, but through the RAF I’ve been to Thailand to train, and qualified as a Boxing coach through the Amateur Boxing Association. In terms of the martial arts what is your history there? I started like most people due to some bullying and saw a couple of Bruce Lee films then wanted to learn something. There was a great Kung Fu school in my local town that had a great model that I think martial arts should adopt now. He used to advertise 4 times a year beginners classes, so you didn’t feel too intimidated walking in, and I remember when I went and signed up there was a queue down the stairs and he was interviewing people to become part of his school. So I started that and loved it. I joined at a time when my style of Kung Fu was doing really well in competitions but I wasn’t really interested in competing. I then think I saw Steven Seagal in `Nico` back when Steven Seagal was good and wondering what the hell it was he was doing and found out that it was Aikido. I did a lot of reading on the subject and found that Yoshinkan Aikido was the style I wanted to do but there was nowhere near me at the time that practiced it. I then got in to a bit of boxing mainly for fitness and some Thai Boxing, again for fitness and now train in that with a commonwealth champion in Lincoln. I then managed to find Yoshinkan Aikido in Lincoln and it was the real deal so I train in that whenever I can as well as some sword work. So what’s the plan for the future in terms of your work with Orchid and your development in sports and martial arts? I’ve always got big ambitions and am busy planning rather than doing, there’s a potential opportunity for me to have a 6-7 week break later on in the year and I’m thinking about going to Japan to compete in sword work, as well as getting some Aikido training in while I’m there with some of the top instructors in the world. In terms of the Manliest Man bit and working with the charities, they call me up for help as and when. There’s a lady I work with called Wendy whose son died of it and she’s got an ambassadors meeting in a week’s time. A week after that is my first school visit and I’m going to a school in Bourne and giving their 6th formers a talk. I’m chatting with someone at the moment who has contact with Lincoln City Football so to chat to their first team would be great. As and when opportunities come up I’m going to take them. Orchid had their cancer awareness month in January to February but there are so many cancer charities out there that they are all having their awareness months at different times of the year. I’m not solely working with Orchid, if someone else says come and do something for male cancer awareness I will do. The more followers on social media and the more interaction I can get the more influence I can have however so please like and follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Twitter - @alunpepper Facebook – Al Pepper – Uncle Bulgaria – Britain’s Manliest Man Orchid website –