Written by Jill Mellor
Being a cop was never in question as far as I was concerned, not only was it a part of my DNA but it was further compounded when my 16 year-old-self went for work experience with Greater Manchester Police; where the warnings of sexism from the female officers were far outweighed by the white-knuckle ride around the Pennines in the RS Cosworth, tours of the local estates and gory crime scene images. That said, I managed to reach ripe old age of 26 before I was finally marching around the square at Police Training School in Durham at my passing out parade, but I never looked back.
After a short stint in uniform and all that it entails, I moved on quickly to become a career detective; Burglary Squad, City CID and into Major Crime; at much too young an age according to the white-haired male detectives close to retirement. Not that I cared, I just did what I did and I loved it, the Police was my family, my life and my raison d’etre. I’m sure that I’m wearing rose tinted spectacles as I look back on my career as no one can be untarnished by the death messages, rape, the painful loss of life and unnecessary violence but those things can be met with compassion, care and dedication to find answers to ease other’s suffering.
A move into the Serious & Organised Crime unit and the world of covert Policing was like starting over and the skillset I learned, whilst unknown to me at the time, would facilitate an unexpected career change a few years down the line. But we haven’t reached that point yet and there was a bump in the road to overcome first. Running covert investigations into Serious & Organised Crime and the dynamic deployments for man-hunts and live kidnaps was the epitome of my career. A career that I intended to last the full 30; with aspirations of progressing from Sergeant at least another rank or two and with my experience in the covert world coupled with my detective experience, it felt wholly attainable.
I can’t pinpoint when it all began to unfold but when I found myself in an Ambulance for the second time I realised that I may not have been as indestructible as I previously believed. My brain and body joining forces and deciding at regular intervals that they didn’t want to play ball anymore. After brain scans, EEG’s, medication that made me skeletal, medication that made me lardy, medication that made me depressed and exhausted, and injections in my skull, the diagnosis was a rare type of migraine for which we could find no resolution. Being horribly unreliable, vulnerable and incapable hurt me emotionally more than the physical pain of being unwell and god there was significant pain.
I couldn’t understand it people like me didn’t get ill, it’s in the rulebook and I’d followed all the rules, I was sure of it. I trained, ate a healthy diet, I’d played rugby for the Great British Police, ran a marathon, travelled, jumped out of aeroplanes, abseiled, bungeed, canoed, rafted, only maybe I’d used up all of my nine lives in the process?
I was a first in, last out type person, annoyingly motivated and dedicated yet now getting a shower in the morning was one of the most exhausting things to do, that was if I’d made it out of bed in the first place. When I was well the guilt of my unreliability and the paranoia of whether my brain would last the day overshadowed the short interval of good health. In retrospect one of the most damaging behaviours was my negative internal dialogue, for a situation that was out of my control, something I just could not accept. Not to mention the inherent distrust that exists in Police around invisible illnesses and being on restricted duties, which I eventually found myself on. To many the debilitating symptoms of migraine are unknown; the inability to move, to communicate, the visual interference, the brain fog, the exhaustion and migraine hangover, to some a migraine is just a bad headache, right?
My early retirement, 16 years too early in fact, was a bitter pill to swallow and the realisation that my aspirations of promotion would never be fulfilled let alone that I was leaving my ‘family’ left me feeling quite lost in the world. I struggled to compute who I was if I wasn’t a cop and who said the Police are institutionalised? No longer a cop and contending with 17 plus migraines a month was challenging to say the least, it certainly wasn’t the time that I wanted to hear the much repeated old clichés of ‘when one door closes… things happen for a reason…..’ But that is exactly what happened, another door opened and I fell pregnant, very pregnant.
Not only was my pregnancy a miracle in so much as there were three of the buggers in there, the changes that pregnancy brought to my body somehow remedied the short circuit and in time brought around much better health and the chronic migraines abated. I guess I didn’t have time to dwell on the loss of my career and aspirations of ever being a “Ma’am” because I was side tracked by the prospect of being a first time Mum to three premature babies and all that it entails. Blind ignorance was definitely the key to success with this, that, a frighteningly honest consultant and a 50% chance of ever making it to the finish line with them. Such statistics help to re-focus your mind and allow you to re-evaluate what is really important in this world. Health and family being the top two on my list and let’s not forget happiness intrinsically intertwined between the two.
My early retirement gifted me with the opportunity to be at home and raise my triplets; Harper, Brodie & Charlotte and gave me the time to dedicate to Charlotte’s additional needs; for which I owe so much to Great Ormond Street Hospital. The harsh reality of nursery costs for three coupled with a significantly unwell child would have necessitated a departure from the Police in any case. So all that heart ache and despair of leaving too soon was a waste of negative energy for the sliding doors scenario that it was my fait accompli anyway.
Motherhood suited me but what I never expected to follow was an approach from Endemol Shine TV to become a Fugitive Hunter in their acclaimed TV programme Hunted. My previous covert experience was ideal for the role of tracking members of public around the Great British Isles. Interviewing family members and friends to extract information, deploying covert devices and trackers was totally my bag. My health and Charlotte’s finally at a place where this was an opportunity I simply couldn’t ignore. The thrills of being a cop again without the responsibility of any actual crime being committed.
I found myself crewed with Hunted veteran Paul Cashmore (a fellow ex-cop) and not wishing to dispel the myth that all Hunters are surly, angry, grumpy buggers, we had an absolute ball chasing around the UK in our shiny XC90 and formed a life-long bond. The first series with a much-debated clean sweep and with filming for series 5 looming even I wonder how I ended up in such a lucky position from one that felt helpless and bleak.
Sometimes in the fog it’s hard to grasp the positives and believe that new opportunities are waiting around the corner. In a society where our worth can be judged upon the number of hours we graft and where illness can be seen as weakness it is hard not to join in and be your own harshest critic. Acceptance and self-care are part of the healing process, my life took an unexpected detour but I am so grateful for the opportunities that I have been given; my beautiful trio and the wonderful people in my life that have helped me get where I am today. Reading the inspirational stories on The Forge really resonated with me and made me sit and write this piece, and I think that knowing that others have battled and succeeded gives people faith and that inkling of positivity is sometimes all that it takes.
Jill is a fugitive hunter on Channel 4’s BAFTA Nominated series – Hunted. she is a former Detective Sergeant from East Midlands Special Operations Unit and responsible for covert investigations into serious & Organised crime. Mother to two year old triplets, Harper, Charlotte & Brodie