Boyfriend of Emily Hartridge says he’s fighting grief by taking on SAS challenge

A popular Channel 4 TV show known for putting contestants through gruelling physical and psychological challenges, SAS: Who Dares Wins, has seen its fair share of breakdowns.

Yet it was not attempting a punishing military assault course in freezing rain, or undergoing a battering ram-style interrogation that reduced Jake Hazell to — in his own words — ‘an absolute wreck’: it was an ordinary, friendly query from a fellow competitor.

The question was? ‘Are you single?’ And though innocently meant, for 28-year-old Jake it released a tidal wave of grief.

For, nearly two years ago, Jake’s girlfriend Emily Hartridge was killed in a terrible accident, when she was thrown from her e-scooter on a busy London roundabout in what is believed to be the UK’s first fatality involving one of the controversial vehicles.

The scooter had been bought for her as a birthday present by Jake, who just five days earlier had moved into 34-year-old Emily’s South-London flat, a step that they both hoped would lead to marriage and a family. 

Jake Hazell, the boyfriend of Emily Hartridge (both pictured), who was killed in an e-scooter accident nearly two years ago, applied for Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins to battle his grief

Amid the grief and self-recrimination that followed — the latter fuelled by horrible attacks on social media blaming him for what had happened — Jake hit rock bottom.

Few would think of Who Dares Wins as the obvious place to heal after such a bereavement. 

But as the anniversary of Emily’s death approached, Jake applied to take part, which he saw both as a way to pull himself out of the abyss, but also to pay public tribute to Emily, a blogger.

However, he wasn’t prepared for the torrents of grief it would unleash. 

‘I was lost and needed to see what I had left, but what I hadn’t expected was almost 15 months’ worth of emotion coming out on one single day as it did during filming,’ he says.

Seeing Jake, a well-spoken and charming fitness trainer, sob inconsolably for the girl he calls ‘the love of his life’ makes for poignant viewing, and the same raw emotion is on show when we meet to discuss Emily’s heart-breaking untimely death and its legacy.

With the controversy around electronic scooters only growing since her death, and a rise in injuries and crime linked to the vehicles (which can reach speeds of up to 40mph and are ridden by young people on busy roads) Emily’s name has become synonymous with criticism of e-scooters.

Inevitably, Jake’s feelings are coloured by his experiences.

‘I just wish the roads were safer,’ he says. ‘Ultimately, I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through what I have been through.

‘I don’t think the under-18s should be allowed use e-scooters as they’re not toys. But I don’t think they should be banned for adults, as they are electric, typically go a maximum of 20mph and don’t do any harm to the environment. They’re not that different to bicycles.’

For Jake, Emily’s legacy is not her death but her life. ‘Emily encouraged me, especially with me being a guy, to talk more about how I felt, so I know she would approve,’ he smiles. 

‘She was an amazing person. I wasn’t just her friend and lover, but her ultimate fan.’

As the anniversary of Emily's death approached, Jake applied to take part in the TV challenge (above), which he saw as a way to pull himself out of the abyss and pay public tribute to Emily

As the anniversary of Emily’s death approached, Jake applied to take part in the TV challenge (above), which he saw as a way to pull himself out of the abyss and pay public tribute to Emily

Theirs was a relationship forged on candour: both had struggled with anxiety requiring inpatient hospital treatment.

‘The first day we met, she suggested that we go for a coffee sometime and compare what she called ‘nutjob’ stories. So, we went for a coffee, sat in the park for six hours, went to dinner … and that’s how it all started,’ he smiles.

Today, Jake is a picture of health, but he’d be the first to say that it was only shortly before meeting Emily that he had got his life together.

At 18, he moved straight from his boarding school in Yorkshire to work in London — first with an advertising agency and then as a bonds broker at a prestigious city firm.

Yet for a young man predisposed to anxiety, the ‘work hard play hard’ philosophy of the job — not to mention the ‘macho’ city culture — proved to be ‘a recipe for disaster’.

‘It was a very fast-paced work life matched with a very fast-paced after work life,’ he recalls. ‘I was out all the time.’

Inevitably, drugs played a part too.

‘I’ve never been good at saying no, and I have this all-or-nothing attitude. It was a fatal combination really. The problem was that because I was young, I got away with it: I didn’t look like I had a drug or a drink issue.’

That is until, at the age of 25, he woke up in an ambulance after collapsing following a particularly crazy work-night binge.

‘In hospital, the doctor said to me: ‘You’re 25, and if you keep going like this then you’re already halfway through your life.’ It was a huge shock. Even so, it still took me a few more weeks to realise that I just needed to get off this stuff.’

He resigned from his banking job and joined AA and Cocaine Anonymous, only to be admitted into London’s Nightingale Hospital three months later to be treated for anxiety and depression.

‘The getting sober bit was hard because I didn’t realise at that stage how much I relied on drink and drugs to give my head a little breather,’ he says. ‘So my mental health deteriorated rapidly.’

Jake was at the Nightingale for three weeks before emerging with what he calls ‘an amazing new lust for life’.

Shortly afterwards, in August 2018, he was offered a job as the manager of an East-London gym. 

‘It was funny really — I was going from a big, high flying City job to sitting behind a gym desk in East London. And on my first day I met Emily Hartridge.’

Emily worked there as a trainer, although she also had a popular YouTube channel where she posted videos under the banner ’10 Reasons Why’. 

Covering relationships and mental health, her videos reached an audience of more than 354,000 subscribers.

Emily was beautiful and charismatic, and Jake says he was ‘blown away’ from the moment he set eyes on her. ‘I hadn’t dated anyone in ages, and it was a case of “Here is the girl of my dreams”.’

One of four sisters from Hampshire, Emily came from a loving and close-knit family but had fought her own demons. 

‘She suffered from anxiety, but she’d done a lot of work on herself and got to a point where she’d decided she wasn’t conforming to everything else anymore, she would do what made her happy,’ says Jake.

Eight years his senior and single for a decade, when they met Emily had also just decided to freeze her eggs.

Emily (pictured) was killed in an accident in 2019, when she was thrown from her e-scooter on a London roundabout in what is thought to be UK's first fatality involving one of the vehicles

Emily (pictured) was killed in an accident in 2019, when she was thrown from her e-scooter on a London roundabout in what is thought to be UK’s first fatality involving one of the vehicles

‘It meant we had the children conversation early on,’ he says. ‘I took her to her first egg extraction within the first six weeks of meeting her. At that stage, it was a case of not knowing whether I was going to be on the other side of it, but I wanted to support her.’

Even so, he admits that the early days of their relationship were not all plain sailing. ‘It was tough because neither of us was really ready to fall in love the day we met,’ he says. ‘Emily was 34, and I think I made it quite hard for her at times.

‘At the same time, there was this incredible connection and we had the same outlook on life — that you don’t live to work, you work to live.’

They shared sunny, carefree mini-breaks and holidays everywhere from Dublin and the New Forest to Tulum in Mexico.

And among the videos Emily shared on her YouTube channel was one of her squealing in excitement as her boyfriend presented her with an e-scooter. 

Jake said he initially bought her a standard scooter for her birthday but subsequently got her an electric one as it was on her wish list.

‘She was thrilled and loved using it to go to the gym,’ he recalls. ‘But she was always safe, wore a helmet and was conscientious on the roads.’

By summer 2019, the couple were ready to take the next step and move in together. ‘We’d agreed we would also try to have a family,’ says Jake.

As Emily was still in the middle of preserving her eggs, they agreed she would complete the process before they tried for children naturally. 

‘She was on her way to a meeting about her third egg extraction on the day she died,’ Jake says.

That day in July 2019 is etched on Jake’s mind for ever.

Having got up early to leave for work, he recalls tiptoeing back upstairs to kiss his still-sleeping girlfriend goodbye.

‘She got grumpy about being woken up, so she messaged me saying: ‘I really want to kiss you, but I think we should kiss in our heads going forward.’ That was typical Emily,’ he says.

It was her last message to him.

When Emily failed to turn up for her 10.30am shift, Jake became anxious, particularly as, unusually, her Instagram and WhatsApp accounts had not been updated.

‘It wasn’t like her. She was a girl who lived on social media, but her channels were silent and she hadn’t called me after the clinic, like she was meant to,’ he recalls.

‘I called my mum and said: “Emily’s died.” She told me not to be silly.’ 

Uneasy, Jake decided to return home anyway, only to come across the scene of the accident about a mile away from their flat.

‘I just knew it was her,’ he says quietly. ‘I remember running towards the policemen who were guarding the scene.’

His instincts were right. Emily had died instantly after being thrown under a lorry at a busy junction while travelling to her appointment on the e-scooter Jake had bought her six weeks earlier.

Later, a coroner would rule that Emily had lost control due to an underinflated tyre, but today Jake sees it simply as a freak accident.

‘It wasn’t Emily’s fault; it wasn’t the lorry driver’s fault,’ he says.

Nor, of course, was it Jake’s fault, although it did not stop social media trolls from suggesting that he was to blame.

‘I got messages saying things like “You bought her that scooter, it’s your fault, this is on you”,’ he says. ‘There are some horrible people out there. But it was also a drop in the ocean compared to the fact that Emily was no longer here. 

‘And I did feel guilty. It’s not my fault, but that’s grief. You blame yourself. I took a daughter away from her parents and her sisters.’

Jake is at pains to assert that it’s not a sentiment shared by Emily’s family, to whom he remains close.

‘I love them all. I see them a lot and they’re the biggest thing in my life away from my own family.’

Plagued by panic attacks and nightmares in the aftermath of his girlfriend’s death, Jake initially tried to return to work.

‘It was too early,’ he says. ‘My parents moved to London to look after me. I spent weeks pretty much unable to move from the sofa.’

On the show, seeing Jake (pictured with Emily), a well-spoken and charming fitness trainer, sob inconsolably for the girl he calls 'the love of his life' makes for poignant viewing

On the show, seeing Jake (pictured with Emily), a well-spoken and charming fitness trainer, sob inconsolably for the girl he calls ‘the love of his life’ makes for poignant viewing

Struggling to pull himself out of his depression, the inevitable isolation wrought months later by the pandemic didn’t help. 

‘I’d returned to work, so went from working seven days a week to nothing and I didn’t know when this was going to end. I started to go in on myself a little bit — there were definitely times when I didn’t want to be here.’

He was at a particularly low ebb when he saw an advert for applicants for the new series of SAS: Who Dares Wins.

‘It sparked something,’ he says. ‘I thought maybe I could do something like this to test what is left in me, so I applied.’

At first he couldn’t even pass the fitness test — running a mile and a half in nine minutes — but spurred on by his mum and dad, he managed to pull it off. 

‘And that’s when my mentality changed. It felt like this was the injection of life I needed.’

It’s a decision which was supported by Emily’s family and, he believes, would have been by Emily herself had she been here. 

‘She would have laughed so much,’ he says with a smile. Any longstanding viewer of the programme is familiar with the format — the physical challenges, the deprivations and the endless verbal abuse. 

Even so, Jake says the experience was far more difficult than he had anticipated. ‘I’ve never felt so vulnerable in my life — and exhausted, hungry and scared.

‘At the same time, it was life-affirming, because instead of running away from it I ran towards it.’

It was also unexpectedly healing. ‘I don’t ever want to fully heal from Emily because I always want to remember,’ Jake says, ‘but the experience helped me make peace with the whole situation and allowed me to take that first step forward into a new life.’

It’s a life that he hopes will, in time, include a wife and children.

‘I’d like to meet someone, and I’d like to be able to introduce them to Emily’s family, too,’ he says.

But not just yet. ‘Some people may think it’s time,’ he says. ‘But I’m not ready to let Emily go.’

SAS: Who Dares Wins continues on Sunday at 9pm on Channel 4 and you can catch up on All 4.

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