A GYM instructor is the hard-nosed star of a new reality TV programme.
Retired Army Colour Sergeant Darren Dugan, from Felpham, was head-hunted by ITV to be the strict enforcer of law in Bringing Back Borstal.
The four-week series began last Thursday and follows the tales of 14 young troublemakers and their journey to change their ways in a mock-up of the 1930s Borstal – an infamous institution designed to reform young offenders.
Between them, they have about 60 criminal convictions. Many have served time in prison.
The four-week series sees 25-year Army veteran Darren as the ‘chief’ in charge of disciplining the lads, taking them through a rigorous regime of exercise and early starts.
However, the 41-year-old admitted, he was confident he could handle whatever the troublemakers could throw at him – as a black belt in judo and an experienced boxer.
“I used to deal with the discipline of a battalion of 680 men, so dealing with a few young men was never going to be a problem at all,” he said.
When Darren, who helps instruct at a Littlehampton gym, burst into their room on the first morning, ringing a bell, one of the lads had a few ‘choice words’ for him.
“He refused to get out of bed, so I flipped it over with him still in it,” Darren said.
But he knew he had to be harsh on the boys because his experience showed how discipline and routine are essential.
“Before I joined the Army at 16 I was on the wrong path,” he admitted. “I came from quite a troubled background.
“I came from Leigh Park, in Portsmouth, and I was always getting into fights.
“The Army was life-changing for me. If I hadn’t have joined it I would have gone to prison, I’m sure.”
During the programme, the boys are taught invaluable skills and trades and use them to help areas in Northumberland, where it is based. They also attend school.
Darren said the time had been intensely rewarding.