My great escape from Glasgow estate: fake army hero tells story Former call centre worker tries to explain why he posed as veteran in elaborate scam Audrey Gillan Tuesday July 25, 2006 The Guardian He claimed to be a highly-decorated war hero, an officer in the Parachute Regiment who finished top of his class at Sandhurst and went on to become a terrorism expert, serving in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. With a row of medals on his full military dress and his fiancee Lady Shona on his arm, Captain Sir Alan McIlwraith, CBE, DSO, MC, MiD, regaled a charity function with tales of his exploits on the battlefield as he drank champagne. But Captain Sir Alan was in fact plain Alan McIlwraith, a call centre worker who lived on a Glasgow council estate with his mum, dad and little brother. His Walter Mitty world, which he kept up for two years, fell apart in April when he was spotted in a society magazine by someone who knew his real identity - and he became a laughing stock across the country. In his first newspaper interview Mr McIlwraith admitted he was a charlatan and that he had created an "alter ego". "I have not got the education to be an officer in the army, I have not got the build to be anything to do with the army, I have not got the coordination. Everything that you need to be an officer in the army I have probably not got," he said. The 28-year-old had woven a fine fable of how he served with Nato as a military adviser to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Wesley Clark. He said he was badly injured protecting a young woman from an angry mob, making him "a hit within the military world". The army's chief of staff, General Sir Mike Jackson, allegedly lauded him as a "a splendid soldier, a credit to the country". But Mr McIlwraith was never a full time soldier. He served with the Territorial Army for 18 months. Mr McIlwraith spoke of how he had tried to kill himself on the day that he was exposed in Scotland's Daily Record. He says Lady Shona - in reality an insurance underwriter called Shona McLaughlan - took him to hospital then sent him his engagement ring in the post with no message. She had loved him as Captain Sir Alan, not the man he really was. His employers posted out his P45. Speaking for the first time, Mr McIlwraith told how the colourful charade began after he was hit over the head with a scaffolding pole by some youths in the street. Small in height and thin of build, he had been bullied at work and decided that if he created a history of bravery he would not be assaulted again. "It's like a lightbulb going off in your head. It seemed like a really good idea. If I tell people I am an officer in the army, they will leave me alone. A couple of days before I was attacked I watched a show on television about the army. It was following these couple of officers and nobody gave them any hassle. I figured to myself 'that's what I want to be'. By portraying myself as better than I was, they wouldn't want to attack me." And so it began. He read everything he could on the army and ordered medals and a dress uniform from the internet. Friends set up a Wikipedia page which said: "He is best known for risking his own life when his company was attaked [sic] by a battalion to protect his men he took charge of a GPMG [general purpose machine gun] and held off the enemy long enough for his men to retreat." Moving to a new call centre job, he told colleagues about his other life and a manager recalled that he had trained with him at Sandhurst. The deceit had become so elaborate that when he met Ms McLaughlan while he was drinking with friends at a bar he could not tell her the truth. She believed he was who he said he was, even when he went on to knight himself. "The lie had just gone too deep, it's like a weed that invades your life. Once it's taken root, there's nothing you can do about it," he said. "It's like the game Buckaroo, everybody keeps adding something on and you have got to try and keep up with everything. My mind started going like 'this is who you are' and this is when I started thinking that it was true. I believed I had been to all these places. The doctors say it stemmed from when I got smacked on the head. My mind went loopy." For almost two years, Mr McIlwraith's delusion went unchallenged. After the exposÃ©, colleagues claimed that he came to work in military dress, that his nametag said Captain Sir Alan and that he carried a gold credit card with the title Sir Alan McIlwraith. None of this is true, he says. He only attended one high-profile function, though tickets for another had been bought in the name of Major Alan McIlwraith and Lady Shona. "I am not condoning what I did. But it is probably the easiest thing in the world to do, take on a new personality. At this point I was going down a spiral," he said. "It's not like I robbed anybody or killed anybody. I made people look stupid, probably myself more than anybody else and I upset my family and friends. The only thing I blagged was the charity do. It just got out of control." Andrina McCormack, a psychologist, said head injuries often bring about a huge change in personality. "I could believe that this was a result of a head injury," she said. "He maybe didn't even know that he was lying. In his terms, it might not have been a fiction. His real self image was obviously planets away from his ideal self-image." The alter ego has gone, the uniform replaced by jeans and a T-shirt, the contact lenses eschewed for glasses. Mr McIlwraith has grown a goatee beard and wears a cap whenever he goes out of the house, which is rarely because he believes he will be attacked. He is being assessed by psychiatrists. "Last year was probably the best year of my life. I met Shona, I got a good job, I went to Egypt on holiday and it was the first place I had ever been," he said. "This year has been the worst year of my life. I've lost everything. I was made out to be an evil person. I don't think I am evil. I am stupid and I suppose I could say I was a bit callous with other people's feelings but I never set out to hurt anybody. Now I am probably the only man in the country without a secret to tell, the only man in the country that doesn't have a future. I can't get a job because I am untrustworthy, or a girlfriend because what woman is ever going to trust me? It depresses me."