Eagle-eyed film fans who watch the all the way to the end of new action movie SAS: Red Notice might notice the name “Mrs McNab” as the credits roll.
The wife of author Andy McNab, whose bestseller the movie is based on, is thanked for “advising on how to grip a good functional psychopath”.
“She’s very happy about that,” says her SAS veteran husband.
“She makes us sit down and watch it with her, and it has to be totally silent at the end because we’re all waiting for this credit. And then she’ll get up and say, ‘that’s me, that is,’ and then walk out!
“It’s the first film credit she’s got, and also the first time she’s been thanked for the years she’s put up with me.”
Andy is the inspiration behind the Sky Cinema movie’s leading character Tom played by Outlander star Sam Heughan.
Tom is a fearless Special Forces soldier battling mercenaries trying to blow up the Channel Tunnel. He too is a functional psychopath – so director Magnus Martens drafted in Andy’s wife to help Hannah John-Kamen, who plays Tom’s girlfriend Sophie, understand what it’s like living with one.
The author received the diagnosis in 2010 after he took part in a psychological study at Oxford University. It means he doesn’t feel normal emotions like empathy or fear.
He explains: “Most people think of psychopaths as those portrayed in the media, like Hannibal Lecter. But there is a small group of psychopaths who are the ‘good, functional’ ones. For me empathy doesn’t exist. It’s not callousness, its because of this thing called the amygdala in my brain. The basic emotions are missing.”
He adds: “It’s one of the reasons I was successful in the military, because it was all of a game to me.”
While the condition made him an exemplary soldier, it’s been more problematic since Andy left the SAS in 1993 and became a husband and father.
He says: “In the context of the military that’s a good thing, but when I try to get up onto the roof with a piece of rope rather than using a ladder, that’s not so good. That’s where an understanding wife comes in handy.”
Andy says he tries to respond to situations in the right way, but doesn’t always get it right.
He says: “You see, I don’t care if the cat has died or whatever, and I don’t naturally react when other people are sad or upset, but now if I see that someone who I know is upset, I think, ‘right, clearly that person is upset, so what do I have to do about that?’
“But I sometimes get my reactions wrong. If I see that my wife’s upset I think I’ve got to get her a present, and so I get her a Nutribullet blender.
“The problem is I buy her a Nutribullet every time. We have eight of them which I’ve given her over the years. She gets it.”
Mrs McNab has devised a system to help Andy recognise what she is feeling.
He says: “She’s got these strips of emojis with all the basic faces. And she told me, ‘if you see that face on me, you have to make me a cup of tea, if you see that face on me, you give me a cuddle. So I look at it and think, ‘OK, now I know what to do’. So she knows how to live with me.”
He says Mrs McNab’s insights were invaluable in helping Hannah, who appeared in Game of Thrones and Black Mirror, play the part authentically.
He says: “Hannah and my wife had lots of talks, meetings and email exchanges. She plays it so well and the interactions between them are spot on.
“Like when Tom has just returned from a mission and killed a woman, and his girlfriend wants him to talk and offload, and gets p* off when he’s not interested. My wife says my life is on a three-hour time loop, after that I’m not interested anymore because I’ve moved on to something else.”
Andy, 61, never divulges his true identity and his wife’s name is also secret.
He is willing to reveal that she is six years younger than him, and that she shares his love of surfing – the reason the pair moved to Cornwall after a stint living in Los Angeles. He also has a grown up daughter who has “a boyfriend, a mortgage and a cat”.
Andy says: “She got into surfing years and years ago when we went to a mate’s wedding in Hawaii.
“She decided to give it a go, and the very first time she got on a board she caught a wave and went all the way. All the lads there were clapping. We go surfing together every day, even in the winter. But when the weather ’s bad, she’s the one who has to tell me to go home because I don’t recognise the danger.”
The rest of his life remains a mystery. He says he hides their identity because he still gets death threats after spending a year on SAS operations in Northern Ireland. “It’s just being sensible,” he says.
“I don’t want to show my face because it puts me at risk.
“Over the years there have been lots of threats, and every now and again one is credible. The last one was a couple of years ago from a dissident group.”
Anonymity hasn’t stifled his success. Andy, who claims he was the most highly-decorated serving soldier when he left the SAS in 1993, published his first book, Bravo Two Zero, the same year. It is still the best-selling military history book of all time.
He then moved from memoirs to fiction and has had phenomenal success on both sides of the Atlantic, shifting tens of millions of copies and achieving eight Amazon number ones.
He was appointed CBE in 2017 – but his name was gazetted under his pseudonym.
He also found himself in Hollywood after Robert De Niro read his first book and asked him to be a technical advisor on his next film Heat, directed by Michael Mann, in 1995. He stayed several years in LA helping other productions.
As well as being the first his wife has worked on, SAS: Red Notice is also the first film on which he is credited as a producer.
In the action-packed movie, SAS soldier Tom is taking his girlfriend off to Paris with the intention to propose when their train is hijacked by mercenary group the Black Swans, let by Grace, a fellow functional psychopath played by The Meg star Ruby Rose.
Andy says: “They asked me if I wanted to help produce it. So I started to get involved in the process, and that was almost like graduating for me, going from the advisory role to producing the film right from its inception.
“I was helping come up with the basic ideas, working out how we were going to film them and where the money was coming from. It was great but made me realise how much hard work is involved.”
Andy is now gearing up for another new experience. He flies out to Mumbai this year to help with a Bollywood film.
“It’s going to be brilliant,” he says. “It’s an action drama and a love story, it’s Bollywood. There’ll be dancing, but you won’t catch me joining in – that’s one thing I don’t know how to do.”