A former Royal Marine commando turned TV presenter “burst into tears” when he realised the man flying him to Japan to host the Paralympics coverage was the same pilot who brought him home when he was wounded in Afghanistan.
JJ Chalmers was on patrol in Helmand Province in 2011 when he was caught up in an explosion, suffering head and facial injuries, losing two fingers and sustaining serious damage to his elbow.
He was subsequently flown out the country in an induced coma, so knew nothing about his journey or the man who piloted the plane.
But when he stepped on to his flight to travel to Tokyo as part of his new role as a TV presenter, he was told by a member of cabin crew that the aircraft’s captain, David Ellis, had also been the pilot on that day in 2011 and wanted to meet him.
He told BBC Radio 5 Live: “She said ‘Our pilot actually flew you back from Afghanistan, flew you back into the UK, when you were injured 10 years ago, and he’s noticed that, and he would like you to come this way.
“‘He’s going to take the plane off, and then he’s going to come and have a word with you.’
“And I burst into tears – that was my reaction.”
Mr Chalmers said he was “overwhelmed by emotion” as he waited to meet Mr Ellis, who had Googled his name after recognising it on the passenger manifest and confirmed the connection between them by consulting his RAF flight logs.
“He kept coming out throughout the flight and we were able to just talk like two veterans, and it was really nice to pass the time talking to someone that had a familiar background to what I did,” Mr Chalmers said.
“But I really made sure that, when I got off the plane, I was like ‘Cut the nonsense – it’s been really nice to talk to you as another human being, but I owe you something that I’ll never be able to repay to you. I’m unbelievably grateful for what you did to me.’
“And in fairness his response was just perfect; it was ‘We all had a job to do – that’s what you did, that’s what I did, that’s what we all did’.”
Mr Chalmers won a cycling gold medal at the Invictus Games in 2014, and has subsequently hosted Olympic and Paralympic coverage and featured as a reporter on The One Show, as well as starring in last year’s series of Strictly Come Dancing.
He is one of the hosts of Channel 4’s Paralympics coverage from Tokyo.