Contender ready! Gladiator ready! The much-loved 90s show is making an explosive comeback – 30 years after it first smashed onto our screens. On the sound of the whistle, Gladiators is being brought to the BBC for a massive 11-part series with a brand new generation of superhuman stars.
The BBC say the new series include brand new games alongside classic challenges, culminating at the end of each episode with fan favourite The Eliminator. Confirming the news Kate Phillips, Director of Unscripted at the BBC, said: “Gladiators is back and a whole new generation of viewers can now look forward to watching a Saturday night spectacle like no other. Will the contenders have the will and the skill to succeed against our mighty new Gladiators? You’ll have to tune in to find out!”
It’s not yet known which muscle-bound stars will be taking part or whether original hosts Ulrika Jonsson and John Fashanu will return with gruff-voiced referee John Anderson. Millions of us tuned in to see the dramatic battles, eye-popping muscles and skin-tight lycra, but life off-camera was often even more dramatic than what we saw on TV.
Here is what became of some of the Gladiators after the show went off air…
Wolf – Mike Van Wijk
Way before Simon Cowell came along, Wolf was TV’s original Mr Nasty because of his bad boy antics.
One of the most popular Gladiators, Mike Van Wijk became the main villain during seven years and eight series of the show.
Wolf also returned for the revived Sky series as the “Leader of the Pack” and appeared in all of the series 2 episodes.
Mike, now 69, moved halfway across the world to live in New Zealand where he owns his own business – Wolf’s Gym.
Wolf has gotten into the “best shape” of his life, with images of his ripping muscles filling the screen behind him and videos of him working out.
He still keeps up his fitness regime and also appears on the Kiwi cage fighting scene, but has lost all of his famous long hair.
In August 2020, he appeared on Lorraine and confessed he’d been begging TV producers to bring the show back once again.
He said: “I would love to do it, I wish the producers would bring it back. You would get all the baby-boomers from the past watching it and you would get a new generation coming up as well.”
Amazon – Sharron Davies
You may recognise this former Gladiator, as she is actually much more famous for her achievements outside of the show.
Sharron, 59, was a successful swimmer before becoming Amazon, winning a silver medal at the Olympics in Moscow in 1980 and representing Great Britain at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships.
After retiring from the sport, she became a Gladiator in the ’90s, but had to retire after just a year on the show due to a knee injury.
She went on to become a successful TV presenter, hosting the Big Breakfast and going on to become a regular face of the BBC’s sports coverage.
Sharron, who competed in Dancing On Ice back in 2010, was the subject of much criticism in 2019 after demanding that transgender athletes ‘with a male sex advantage’ be excluded from women’s sport.
In March that year, she tweeted: “I have nothing against anyone who wishes to be transgender.
“However I believe there is a fundamental difference between the binary sex u r born with & the gender u may identify as. To protect women’s sport those with a male sex advantage should not be able 2compete in women’s sport.”
The former Olympic swimmer sparked a fierce backlash in July 2019 after saying a transgender female and a biological man were the last people alive on an island.
The swimmer tweeted: “If you put 2 biological females on an island humanity dies out (but they’d talk loads) if you put a biological male & a trans woman on an island humanity dies out.
“But if u put a male & a female there we might stand a chance! Providing they can fish of course. Binary Sex matters.”
In a recent interview with You magazine, Sharon revealed she has suffered a huge drop in income after anxious employers dropped her because of her stance on the ‘toxic’ transgender debate.
Hunter – James Crossley
Hunter, now 49, was the youngest castmember as he was just 19 when he started and he became the Gladiators heartthrob.
Speakijng about the show, he said: “When I did Gladiators I was a machine. I was training twice a day, once with the weights, once with the events training, because the thing with Gladiators is all the events are very unique. My absolute fittest would have been in my late 20s.”
He even and ended up bedding the show’s presenter, Ulrika Jonsson, and they dated for a year between 1996 and 1997.
The pair kept their romance out of the spotlight until the telly presenter told all in her 2003 autobiography.
After getting out of the Gladiators game in 2000, James has kept up his love of fitness and is a keen weightlifter. He spent years pursuing an acting career and working in theatre.
He’s gone back to the fitness industry in recent years and now works as a personal trainer.
Most recently, James was back on our screens in Channel 4’s The Circle – where he pretended to be a 31-year-old single NHS nurse.
Shadow – Michael Jefferson King
Shadow, real name Michael Jefferson King, was one of the most popular stars of the hit ITV series but was axed from the show in 1995 after testing positive for steroids.
He said at the time: “There is no excuse for cheating. I was mixing with drugs before Gladiators and when I was tested during the show there were no traces of cocaine but they found steroids.”
After Gladiators, he became a wrestler and had a cameo role in the Spice Girls movie Spiceworld in 1997.
In August last year, King was jailed for his part in a blackmail plot where he threatened to kneecap a drug-user if he did not pay a £1,000 debt.
The 61-year-old had threatened to take a hammer to a man’s legs after he tried to escape from a terrifying ordeal in which he was hit with a metal pole and gagged.
King lived in a flat in Acton, west London that was a “safe haven” for people to take drugs in. He admitted two counts of blackmail and was jailed for six years and three months.
Jet – Diane Youdale
Jet was one of the original cast members and was much-loved by fans at home.
The gymnast and dancew star ended up leaving after four seasons due to a neck injury she sustained in a nasty fall during one of the challenge at a live event in Wmbley Arena in 1996.
She said of her decision to quit the show: “I was beginning to see more spinal injuries. You can damage your ankle or your knee and it will recover, but breaking your neck – that’s a different story.
“After my accident, I decided to quit while I could. I decided it wasn’t worth it any more. I wanted to leave while I could still walk out of the studio.”
Diane, now 52, who hails from Middlesbrough, retrained as a psychotherapist and pilates instructor.
She has found herself back on TV and has popped up on our screens many times, appearing as an expert therapist on Big Brother’s Bit On The Side between 2012 and 2014, and competing on Celebrity Pointless in 2014.
Last October, Diane spilled on her love affair with Hunter, before he started seeing Ulrika.
Speaking to the Daily Star, Diane said: “James and I were together for a year and it was after I left that we kind of split up.”
She continued: “I think he was 19 and I was like 21. I mean I’m being a cougar at 21 but we remained good friends ever since and it was after I’d left the show that I think he got together with Ulrika.”
Warrior – Michael Ahearne
Michael Ahearne was cheered by millions during his time on the show but his life came crashing down.
He played rugby union for England at youth level before becoming a prize winning bodybuilder – representing Great Britain at Mr Universe.
The 6ft 4in athlete became a household name as one of the stars of Gladiators during the first six series and was earning up to £100,000 a year.
However, his world came crashing down in 1997 after becoming 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 had been accused of firing a handgun at a doorman and a police officer outside a nightclub in 1996 and was charged with attempted murder of both.
Glennon Jnr was jailed at Preston Crown Court in 1998 for six years for attempted murder.
In 1998, Ahearne was sent to prison for corruption and perverting the course of justice in a firearms case and served part of a 15-month jail sentence.
Ahearne was released from prison after just six months, having impressed bosses at Wealstun jail in West Yorkshire.
He returned to his home on Oxton, Wirral, where he was the subject of an electronic tag.
In 2020, Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard how Ahearne was the subject of a police raid at his home in the Wirral on January 23, 2018.
Officers uncovered a stash of anabolic steroids inside a plastic Tesco shopping bag, another bag and some boxes.
Ahearne was arrested on suspicion of possessing the Class C drugs with intent to supply, but no charges were brought over the haul.
However, Ahearne was charged over the CS spray 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 for these offences.
The case was brought back to court as Merseyside Police applied to destroy the steroids, which was granted by the district judge.
Ahearne was not at the hearing at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court.
Ace – Warren Furman
Yorkshireman Warren, 50, was most famous for being Katie Price’s first fiancee back in the 1990s when she was known as Jordan.
They were engaged for two years before splitting in 1999 after their luxury lifestyle led to the romance turning toxic.
Ace told us: “We travelled the world first class, went for expensive dinners, had big houses and fancy cars.
“We both came from working-class families and were hustling for a few quid. We were put into a lifestyle where people had everything.
“We were absolutely petrified we would lose it. So we made some dubious decisions together. It jeopardised our relationship.”
He was on the ITV show from 1996 until 1999 when he turned his back on the showbiz world and found God.
Warren, who now lives in York with his wife and two children, dmitted in 2019 during the appearance that he sometimes struggled to earn £20 an hour since the show finished.
Lightning – Kim Betts
Lightning was one of the toughest of the Gladiators – reigning supreme as the Queen of Hang Tough.
She was a gymnast before becoming a Gladiator, and went on to become the longest-serving star of the show.
Kim competed in all of the UK series as well as the majority of the international versions, as well as returning for two Legends specials as part of the 2008 revamp.
She gave birth to son Lexus just three weks before competing in 1999. However, the blonde bombshell quit TV after bowing out of the Gladiator ring.
Kim, 50, became a successful businesswoman spending 15 years in property development, as well as running companies including her own beauty parlour.
Even though she got out of the Gladiator game, Kim has maintained her buff physique and regularly posts pictures from the gym showing off her incredible body.
Kim was crowned winner of 2020 IBFA Miss Universe and is now an Equestrian Yard and Fishery Owner.
Cobra – Michael Wilson
During his eight series on the show, Cobra had rippling muscles and was in the peak of physical condition.
Many of the Gladiators fell into the party lifestyle, but for Michael it became part of his filming days as well.
But he would often struggle to chase contestants up the infamous 32ft-high wall because he was so drunk.
He confessed he was often “bleeding drunk” while he battled contestants on the show and got a telling off from producers.
“I didn’t take it too seriously,” admitted Michael to the Mirror in 2019. “I was mucking about pranking, I had so much fun. It was brilliant I was with a lot of mates with similar interests, we were all similar age, it was fun…
“There were end of show parties, when we had international Gladiators come over, we would be up all night boozing.”
Michael, now 59, leads a much quieter life now after leaving the showbiz world.
He became a motivational speaker in schools and youth clubs up and down the country.
In 2019, Cobra was seriously ill and battling pneumonia in hospital and blamed his illness on his punishing workouts for the ITV show.
“I’m only half a Gladiator now. It’s been touch and go,” he told The Sun.
“I don’t feel like I’m kicking the bucket at the minute, but it will only take another cold or cough and I’m in trouble.”
He added: “I’m isolated in my own ward. It goes to show – you never know what’s around the corner.”
Rhino – Mark Smith
Mark was one of the stars of the original American version of the show before transferring to the UK version.
He exited the show in 1999 and went on to become a successful actor, living in Los Angeles.
He had a recurring role as ‘Jonhson’ in EastEnders before heading Stateside, where he’s starred in shows such as Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D, and NCIS: Los Angeles.
His movie roles include parts in acclaimed dramas Yardie, Creed, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
Mark, who is now 52, also made an appearance as ‘Shadow Warrior’ in Batman Begins and is good friends with Idris Elba.
Last year, he said his most remarkable encounter had to be meeting the Queen at The Royal Tournament in 1997 when he was at the peak of his Gladiator fame.
He explained: “I curtsied and she said, ‘hello, how long have you been working on your muscles?’.
“I said since the age of 16. She asked if I enjoyed it and I said very much so. She said, ‘You look very well’.”