Gladiators returns: Where are the stars of the original TV show now?

12 January 2024, 13:33

Gladiators intro

By Mayer Nissim

Contender ready! Gladiator ready! Three! Two! One!

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We've lost track of hit 1990s TV shows that have returned in recent years, with everything from Twin Peaks and Frasier to The Worst Witch and The Demon Headmaster being revived or rebooted.

One of the most exciting comebacks is Gladiators, which dominated the ITV schedules on Saturday nights for much of the decade.

There was a short-lived comeback on Sky in 2008, but the BBC hopes that its upcoming revival does a better job of matching the success of the '90s original.

Based on the previous US show American Gladiators, a big selling point of the original ITV Gladiators was its larger-than-life characters, including not just the gladiators, but also the presenters, announcers and all-important on-screen referee.

As we limber up for the new show, we're taking a look back at the biggest names from the original run, and asking where they are now.

  1. Wolf (Michael Van Wijk)

    Wolf then and now
    Wolf then and now. Picture: Getty/Michael Van Wijk

    Every show needs a villain, and everyone's favourite pantomime boo boy was the big, bad, Wolf.

    Born in Bombay (now Mumbai) in India, before Gladiators, Michael Van Wijk ran a gym in Bromley, London, and was the cover star of 1987 video game Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior

    He auditioned for Dances with Wolves in 1989 and had a part on London's Burning, and after Gladiators appeared on Sky's Toughman, before returning to the gym business, this time in his new home of New Zealand.

    As well as popping up on the Sky revival, Van Wijk has also been involved in cage fighting over the years, and – aged 71 – is still living up to his big-mouth bad boy persona.

    "I still work out five days a week, lifting weights with guys half my age," he told The Sun. "I could do Gladiators tomorrow."

  2. Jet (Diane Youdale)

    Diane Youdale
    Diane Youdale. Picture: Alamy/Diane Youdale

    A firm crowd favourite, Jet was also a classic 1990s pinup, with her posters on the wall of many a bedroom during the decade.

    As a teen, she was a North of England Junior Champion gymnast and before Gladiators, she played the werewolf form of Kate Hodges' Randi in the titular She-Wolf of London, Randi and worked as a choreographer.

    Riding her Gladiators fame, She had a (just about) charting single 'I Don't Know' in 1994, but had to quit the show in 1996 due to a neck injury.

    She went into TV, with hosting duties on Finders Keepers and You Bet! before retraining as a psychotherapist.

    Diane popped up as a reporter on the doomed Sky revival of Gladiators and has also worked for Radio Tees.

    She dated James Crossley (fellow Gladiator Hunter, more on him later) for a couple of years, later marrying and divorcing TV exec George Mayhew, before marrying Zoe Gilbert in 2023, after a chance meeting in a supermarket.

    "'I've never felt tied to any one sexual identity," Diane later told Closer. "I've always been very relaxed about my sexuality whether I was aware of it or not."

  3. Saracen (Mike Lewis)

    Saracen. Picture: Alamy/ITV

    Another fan favourite and the King Hang Tough, before Gladiators, Michael Lewis was a bodybuilder and gym worker before becoming a full-time firefighter in South London.

    He and his then-girlfriend Chrissie both auditioned for the show, with Mike becoming a Gladiator and Chrissie becoming a contender, but playing on opposite sided didn't stop them alter becoming married.

    Now 60, Mike continued to work as a firefighter until his retirement, and he popped up on Ninja Warrior back in 2015.

  4. Hunter (James Crossley)

    Hunter. Picture: Alamy/James Crossley

    Before his time as a gladiator, James "Hunter" Crossley was first a bodybuilder, winning Teenage Mr York and Teenage Mr England, and also a professional rugby player.

    One of the toughest opponents on the whole show, after seven years fending off contenders Hunter won The Ultimate Gladiator accolade by beating his fellow male gladiators in The Battle Of The Giants special.

    Crossley also enjoyed a TV career with roles in Emmerdale and The Upper Hand, as well as his own fitness show Peak Performance.

    He has also had a successful time in theatre and now runs personal training and fitness consultancy Chelsea Fitness.

  5. Lightning (Kim Betts)

    Lightning. Picture: Alamy/Kim Betts

    A gymnast from the age of six who competed from the age of eight, Kim Betts went on to pick up oodles of medals with the British Squad before she turned 16.

    She then shifted to bodybuilding and was a runner-up in the British Championship Finals of Miss Figure Bodybuilding.

    After Gladiators, Kim presented British Armed Forces TV kid's show Room 785.

    The Queen of Hang Tough married Francis Betts and they have two children – Lexus and Skye – together. They moved to Spain before returning to the UK.

    In 2022, Kim popped on Instagram to reveal that she'd found her old Gladiators kit and both she and her daughter Skye took turns trying them on for the camera.

  6. Cobra (Michael Willson)

    Cobra. Picture: Alamy/BBC

    Like many of his gladiator peers, Cobra was a bodybuilder – winning Mr South London and Mr Kent – but he also had more actual battling experience than most, being an amateur boxer, kickboxer and martial artist.

    After Gladiators and back to being plain old Michael Wilson, Cobra visits schools and youth clubs to spread the keep fit message.

    He also does a spot of watercolours in his spare time, and successfully fought a tough bout of pneumonia in 2019.

  7. Ace (Warren Furman)

    Ace in Gladiators
    Ace in Gladiators. Picture: Alamy/Ace Active

    Before his time as a gladiator, Warren Furman was an apprentice sign maker and worked at his father's roofing business,

    He then shifted gears to become a model, bodybuilder and tennis player, before becoming well-loved gladiator Ace.

    At the time, he attracted as much attention for his romantic life – he dated model Katie Price – as for his performances on the show.

    He later became a born-again Christian, preaching to schoolkids with some interesting ideas.

    "My ambition is to get Hang Tough in churches,” he told The Guardian in 2019.

    "You know how you do the communion? I reckon you should be able to Hang Tough your way straight up there. I think people would enjoy that."

  8. Shadow (Jefferson King)

    Jefferson King
    Jefferson King. Picture: Alamy/James English

    Shadow was the toughest of gladiators in the show, regardless of the game, though his sports and TV career has sadly been marred by his recent imprisonment following a conviction for blackmail.

    Jefferson King came into the show from an incredibly competitive sporting background. He went from track and field to school to American Football, before moving into bodybuilding – winning NABBA Mr Teenage Britain three years in a row, among other accolades – and weightlifting.

    After Gladiators, which he left following a steroid abuse scandal, Jefferson became a professional wrestler and had a cameo in Spice World - The Movie.

    Following previous legal troubles it appeared as though King's life had turned for the better, becoming a Course Tutor at Intuitive Recovery, which aimed to help people recover from their mistakes.

    Unfortunately he was part of a criminal gang plot and pleaded guilty to charges of blackmail, being sentenced to six years and three months in prison in August 2021.

  9. Warrior (Mike Ahearne)

    Warrior. Picture: Alamy/Michael Ahearne

    Mike Ahearne played for England Colts Under 19s RUFC as a teenager and contiunued to play rugby into his 20s before becoming a bodybuilder, winning the North West Britain Title and beign a runner-up Mr Britain.

    A gladiator built of pure strength, he later had an acting and singing career and ran his own gym in Merseyside.

    Another Gladiator with an unfortunate postscript, in 1998 Ahearne was convicted of an act with tendency to pervert the course of justice and jailed for 15 months.

    He was also sentenced to a suspended six months sentence in October 2018 after pleading guilty to possession of CS spray.

  10. Falcon (Bernadette Hunt)

    Bernadette Hunt
    Bernadette Hunt. Picture: Getty

    As a gladiator, Falcon earned a reputation for being one of the loveliest of the lot, always having time for her army of fans.

    Originally a ballet dancer with a spot at the London Contemporary Ballet School, a back injury put an end to her fledgling career and she shifted to teaching aerobics.

    She then moved into bodybuilding, winning Miss Natural Health, Miss Novice Britain, Miss London and Home Countries and Miss South Britain, before being picked up for the show.

    After Gladiators, Bernadette worked as a fitness instructor and also supported Help the Aged and Children with Leukaemia.

    Following a long cancer battle, Bernadette died on March 14, 2023. She was 59.

  11. Amazon (Sharron Davies)

    Sharron Davies
    Sharron Davies. Picture: Alamy/Getty

    Sharron Davies was arguably the most famous Gladiator before the show, having represented Great Britain in the Olympics and European Championships as a swimmer in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.

    Her time as Amazon on Gladiators was short-lived after a cruciate ligament on the show.

    She has since gone on to TV presenting, mainly fronting BBC Sports shows, and is also a patron of Disabled Sport England and SportsAid

  12. Nightshade (Judy Simpson)

    Judy Simpson
    Judy Simpson. Picture: Alamy/ITV

    Another athlete-turned-gladiator was Judy Simpson, aka Nightshade, who had competed at three Olympic Games as a heptathlete prior to the show.

    She also had great experience combat, having been a British Tae Kwan Do champion.

    Judy had prior telly competition experience having appeared in The Grand Knockout Tournament in 1987, before her run in Gladiators, which was cut short after three years due to illness.

    She later became a campaigner for the Women's Sports Foundation and the British Sports Association for the Disabled.

  13. Rhino (Mark Smith)

    Mark Smith
    Mark Smith. Picture: Getty/Mark Smith

    Rhino was an apt name for Mark Smith, another bodybuilder and battering ram of a gladiator that every contestant was right to be wary of coming up against, despite his penchant for a cheeky dance.

    He won the Junior British Championship, London Men's Heavyweight, Northern Regional Championship and Junior London titles.

    After Gladiators he had a stint as a boxer, as well as an enviable TV and even movie career.

    Forget about his well-regarded spots on EastEnders, The Bill and Robin Hood, he also voiced rhinoceros policeman Officer McHorn in hit Disney movie Zootropolis (aka Zootopia).

  14. Panther (Helen O'Reilly)

    Helen O'Reilly
    Helen O'Reilly. Picture: Getty/Mick Wilson

    Unlike most of her peers, Panther didn't grow up bodybuilding but came to it relatively late in life, only starting to work out at the age of 27.

    She made up for lost time, eventually becoming Miss Central Britain, Miss Europe, Miss North Britain, Miss England, Miss World, Miss Great Britain, Miss Russia and Miss Universe.

    A strong competitor, she suffered a horror injury on Tilt, and it looked like more than her Gladiators career could be over after a terrible fall resulting in serious neck and back injuries.

    After five months though she returned, though she soon retired to open up her own COR fashion store and run the Panthers Gym.

  15. Scorpio (Nikki Diamond)

    Nikki Diamond
    Nikki Diamond. Picture: Alamy/Bew Events

    Nikki Diamond was born to be a gladiator, having been an honours drama student, gymnast and high-jump champion, as well as a model and winner of Miss Isle of Man.

    She had minor roles in movies like Nuns On The Run and The Meaning Of Life, before becoming one of the toughest gladiators of the lot.

    Following an injury in 1995 she took some time out for panto and decided against a return, instead focusing on her TV work and acting, including a gig at Watchdog and 48 episodes of kids' TV show Demolition Dad.

    She also wrote the book Body Dynamics.

  16. Ulrika Jonsson

    Ulrika Jonsson
    Ulrika Jonsson. Picture: Getty

    Stepping into Gladiators as its main host having been a successful weather presenter for Good Morning Britain, Ulrika Jonsson has been an ever-present on our TV screens ever since.

    We don't have the space to list all her shows here, but her career standouts have included everything from Shooting Stars and the Eurovision Song Contest to Dog Eat Dog and Celebrity Big Brother.

  17. John Fashanu

    John Fashanu
    John Fashanu. Picture: Getty

    Known as a footballer for various clubs, most famously Millwall and Wimbledon, before his time on Gladiators, John Fashanu continued his playing career during his run co-presenting the show.

    His football career wound up in 1995 after he suffered a serious injury, and since then he's frequently popped up on telly.

    His own Sunday league football team Fash FC was the subjecr of a show on Bravo, while he has appared on I'm a Celebrity... Get Me out of Here! and Dancing on Ice, as well as a presenter of Deal or No Deal Nigeria.

  18. Jeremy Guscott

    Jeremy Guscott
    Jeremy Guscott. Picture: Getty

    A successful rugby union player, Jeremy Guscott was an outside centre who played for Bath, England and the British and Irish Lions during his playing career.

    When Fash had a couple of yerars off in 1997-98, it was Guscott who filled the gap.

    After his retirement, Guscott was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame and works as a BBC pundit for its various rugby shows.

  19. John Sachs

    John Sachs
    John Sachs. Picture: ITV/Alamy

    From Marcus Bentley on Big Brother, "Our Graham" Skidmore on Blind Date, Caroline Aherne (and then Craig Cash) on Gogglebox and Peter Dickson on X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, the right narrator's voice is essential to take TV shows to the next level.

    Gladiators had John Sachs, and we can't imagine those original Gladiators shows without him.

    He worked for Capital FM for over a decade, and more recently did the voiceover for ITV hit Alan Carr's Epic Gameshow.

  20. John Anderson

    John Anderson
    John Anderson. Picture: Alamy/James Crossley

    Whether it was a disgruntled contestant who had just been knocked down or an angry Wolf unhappy about being bested, no-one could argue with John Anderson, whose immaculately phrased word was law on Gladiators.

    After ruling the show with an iron whistle, John returned to the show for its Sky' run, but retired at the end of its first run.

    Prior to his time on our tellies, John was a teacher and coach for Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games athletes, and he went straight back to it afterwards.

    Into his 90s now, he's still listed as a coach and mentor on the Power of 10 British Athletics website.