An Afghan war hero from Sunderland who struggled with PTSD swapped the frontline for the spotlight- by becoming a professional ‘Dreamboy’ dancer.
Chris Hunter, 37, from Sunderland served for almost 20 years with the Coldstream Guards, including tours of duty in Iraq, and 18 months in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban.
He even received a Task Force Helmand Commander’s commendation for his ‘inspirational leadership and calmness under fire’.
But Chris lost eight of his comrades including his best friend, Dougie Dalzell, who won the Military Cross for his bravery after his death on the frontline in Afghanistan on his 28th birthday in 2010.
After seeing so many friends lose their lives Chris developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and adjustment disorder which is a stress-related condition.
He was recommended for discharge but when he returned home he struggled to find a new role in life and even slept under his army poncho on a beach during a spell of homelessness.
Chris thought he’d try his luck at an audition to become a ‘Dreamboy’ in Newcastle and landed a spot with the prestigious national ‘Dreamboy’ tour.
He now does raunchy routines for crowds of female admirers- but that’s nothing compared to the fears which he faced against the Taliban in Helmand Province.
Chris, who has a series of tattoos on his body in tribute to lost comrades, said: “You adopt an alter ego on stage. It is like being a different person.
“I struggled when I came out of the army as it was all I had known since I joined up at 16. It was my life.
“With dancers, the bond is similar to the one with soldiers. They know about my tours of duty, they know I have been in the army and Afghanistan but I tend not to talk about it that often.
“The show is like a sexy musical. It is like a West End show with special effects and hours of hours of rehearsal. The choreography is amazing.
“We did big theatres before lockdown, we would rarely perform to a crowd under 500. It is such a great feeling to be on stage, the crowd just loving it. I feel lucky to have been able to find a sense of purpose again.”
In his early days in shows across Tyneside, Chris even did the ‘Full Monty’.
Before lockdown, he appeared across the UK with Michael from Love Island, alongside dancers who performed with the likes of Justin Bieber, The Pussycat Dolls and Rita Ora.
However, the last six months have been a struggle as Chris was in rehearsals for the UK tour when lockdown was imposed in March.
During his military career, he rose through the ranks in the army to earn £42,000-a-year as a colour sergeant by the time he left three years ago.
His income was £250-a-show as a Dreamboy, but during the pandemic, he has had to rely on his £700-a-month army pension, and with rent at £500-a-month, he admits it has been a struggle at times.
Chris, who has a son from a previous relationship, said he has come through with the unstinting support of his girlfriend Elle Applegarth, a beauty advisor.
He also gave credit to fitness sessions, a strict diet and getting outdoors with the couple’s dogs, two Huskies, Loki and Luna, and a Jackawawa called Banana, near their home in Sunderland.
Elle jokes that she does not worry about women ogling Chris on stage.
After the nudity of his early career, the act means the full strip is ‘implied’.
She said: “I have always known what he does from the day I met him and I can totally trust him, which is nice. If fans throw their underwear, that is fine! It is all part of the job.”
Chris has enjoyed dancing since he did Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal in front of his entire school at eight years old.
He said: “It was always naturally in me to be this performer.
“I cannot wait to get back on stage – my job now is a professional dancer now, so I’m hoping to do some music videos and find other work opportunities until we can go back on tour again.”