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Gladiators: The referee who was once a firefighter

Lee Phillips in a referee shirt beside his two fellow referees, all pointing at the viewer
Lee (left) is assistant referee to Mark Clattenburg, a former Premier League official

A firefighter and fitness trainer has described working on the reboot of the 1990s gameshow Gladiators as his "coolest job".

Lee Phillips, from Aberdare, Rhondda Cynon Taf, said he remembered dreaming of being on the show as a child.

He jumped at a chance to be part the new Gladiators on BBC One, first as a fitness tester behind the scenes, and then on screen as an assistant referee.

The London firefighter of 23 yeas said: "I was like 'why not?'"

"It is a pretty cool thing to do," he told Behnaz Akhgar on BBC Radio Wales.

Growing up in the valleys, Lee said Gladiators was a "big Saturday night event".

"We didn't have phones and social media to distract us so everyone sort of got round the TV and watched it.

"I think [the new series has] stayed true to the original," he said.

"There are people now who grew up watching that show as kids who've now got kids themselves… so it's sort of excitement across the whole family, I think."

The stars of the BBC's new Gladiators remake
Gladiators has returned to UK screens on BBC One

As a fitness professional gold medal winner at World Police and Firefighter Games, Lee said he was initially asked to run fitness test for the Gladiators.

That turned into a role wearing the black and white stripes.

He and Sonia Mkoloma, a coach with the England women's netball team, are assistants to head referee Mark Clattenburg, a former Premier League football match official.

"I remember the original ref John Anderson, who is in his 90s now, so a bit to old to come back."

Man with short white hair wearing black and white striped top standing in front of Gladiators logo
John Anderson was the head referee in the ITV and Sky versions of Gladiators

Lee said he got to know all the Gladiators during their fitness tests.

Viper is pretty much "as you see him on the show", he said.

"He doesn't say a lot… he's always got that sort of look on his face," Lee said with a laugh. "You've got to stay on the right side of Viper definitely."

viper
Viper is one of the scariest Gladiators

He also got a chance to feel what it is like to be a contender during rehearsals.

"I got to do an eliminator," he said.

"I remember thinking as a kid, 'I'd love to have a go at that', then to actually do it myself was pretty cool."