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Skydiver, deep-sea diver – Andy Torbet doesn't do dry land

Whether it’s diving in uncharted waters or flying at the speed of a peregrine falcon, there’s no keeping former soldier Andy Torbet on dry land

Andy Torbet

Nothing can beat winning that pitch, smashing that presentation or getting that promotion. Right? Well, prepare to be deeply underwhelmed by all your professional achievements to date, because we’re about to introduce you to Andy Torbet.

You might be a CEO or a captain of industry. You may have thousands of staff and millions of pounds. But after you’ve read Andy Torbet’s CV, you’ll want to take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror.

Andy didn’t just join the Army. He became an expert in bomb disposal. Not just any bomb disposal; he commanded the Army’s underwater and airborne bomb disposal teams – and the high-risk search team of the maritime counter-terrorism unit. And when he returned to civilian life, do you think he got a desk job? No, he did not.

As a cave diver and technical deep-sea diver, he has mapped unknown flooded cave systems and discovered lost shipwrecks. During free dives around the world, he’s swum with sharks, whales and dolphins and continues to push limits as an aquanaut. Do you think he kept to the ocean? Did he heck! He’s competing in the speed skydiving World Championships this year. He once took on a peregrine falcon – and won. No joke.

And in his downtime? He’s a stuntman. He worked on No Time To Die – literally doing the things that James Bond is too scared to do. And at the age of 24, he robbed a bank. Mic. Drop. So, without further ado, meet Andy Torbet. Oh captain, my captain!

Square Mile: What were you like growing up at school? 

Andy Torbet: I was pretty studious at school, although not particularly social. The friends I had back home were all my older brother’s friends and when he left to join the Forces I kept hanging out with them. I didn’t play much team sports but was into diving, hill walking, mountain biking and climbing from a young age.

SM: Have you always liked to push your limits? Is that your MO?

AT: I’ve certainly always aspired to things that were difficult to achieve. I didn’t do them because they were a challenge but I didn’t see unlikeliness as a reason not to try. I’ve never planned my career based on the easy option.

Diver Andy Torbet

SM: When did you decide to join the Army?

AT: My brother and I grew up between farm workers and coal miners. A way out of that was the Forces. We were typical boys and would go off playing soldiers in the forests around our house. I think it was so ingrained in us that that was a way to make some money and see the world and have adventures that it never occurred to us to try anything else.

SM: How did you end up in Bomb Disposal?

AT: There are times when the Forces are not that busy and you find yourself on training exercises a lot. I never joined the Army to spend endless months on exercise or sat behind a desk. Bomb Disposal was the most operationally active part of the Army when I was in and it gave me the opportunity to join a specialist unit doing airborne and underwater bomb disposal or counter terrorist operations at home and abroad. 

And it was also very much a thinking person’s game. Where clear, calm thought and the ability to focus on the task at hand is imperative. In many ways it was a psychological challenge not unlike cave diving.

SM: What was the scariest moment of your career in the Army?

AT: We did have to rob a bank once in Mostar and I was briefed by the Brigade Commander that, as the leader of the main assault team, I’d be the priority for enemy snipers. I think I was 24 at the time.

Diver Andy Torbet

SM: Tell us about your approach to risk?

AT: It’s surprisingly simple, perhaps even boring. The first step is identification. This is usually where people go wrong. You have to ruthlessly and clinically interrogate the information and situation to determine the real risks, the ones that’ll kill you. Then you try and remove them, something usually impossible. 

The next step is to mitigate them, reduce them to a level you’re happy with. If this is not achievable then assume they will happen and have a plan already in place to minimise their impact.

SM: You could dive before you could drive – was it your father who got you into it? 

AT: No. None of my family were divers.

I’d grown up loving diving; no idea why. I’d watch any underwater series, fact or fiction – and I collected all the Action Man diving suits. 

SM: Tell us about your first dive?

AT: I think my first dive on scuba (i.e. not snorkelling) would have been off Cove Bay near Aberdeen. The water is pretty murky and very cold and my wetsuit was too big. I came out near-hypothermic and I’m sure if I started now under those conditions I’d have binned it right then. Fortunately, I was either harder or less sensible as a boy and so here I am today. Although freezing on dives still remains a common outcome.

Diver Andy Torbet

SM: Is diving still your biggest passion?

AT: Yes. I do a lot of skydiving, climbing and other outdoor sports, but diving is what I do most and what I do best – be it cave diving, deep wreck diving or freediving.

SM: What was your most memorable dive?

AT: An incredibly difficult question to answer. For underground dives, the filming trip to Ojamo mine in Finland to shoot Hells’ Gate is up there. When it comes to shipwrecks it has to be Britannic, the Titanic’s twin sister which lies in 120m of water in the Aegean; I dived it on my birthday, which I happen to share with Jacques Cousteau. But the dives I’ve done with wildlife like sharks, seals and whales are also very special.

SM: What watch do you wear for your dives? 

AT: I wear the Panerai Submersible Marina Militare Carbotech, not just while diving but skydiving, climbing, kayaking… sleeping. It’s on my wrist 24/7. I need a watch that is very robust and reliable, not just in everyday life but in my everyday life so it has to be capable of being dragged through an underwater cave system for many, many hours or to depths of 150 metres in the ocean and still work perfectly.

Diver Andy Torbet

SM: And you don’t just stick to water… when was your first skydive? How many hours have you done since?

AT: My first military jump was in 2001. Since leaving the Forces, I’ve racked up about 1,100 skydives in all different configurations including high altitude jumps over the Arizona Desert and wingsuiting.

SM: You undertook a skydiving race against a peregrine falcon… amazing. Did this idea first come up at the pub after a few drinks?

AT: I’d heard about Speed Skydiving – a competitive discipline within skydiving – and thought ‘now, there’s a cool way to look at wildlife.’ My degree is in Zoology so I was already aware that the peregrine falcon was the fastest animal on Earth and could achieve speeds of more than 250mph in a stoop [head-down dive]. And I thought… ‘I can beat that.’

SM: What’s the next big challenge for you in this space? 

AT: I qualified for Team GB so will be part of the Speed Skydiving Team going to the USA in October for the World Skydiving Championships. After that, I might retire from competition and focus on the filmmaking side of skydiving. Myself and some friends also have an idea for a stunt involving parachutes and fire. Watch this space!

SM: What’s next up for you underwater?

AT: On the underwater front, I have an idea for some adventure freediving trips to spots most people don’t go, like up into the mountains, deserts and jungles. We’re planning a big, technical cave diving trip involving surfacing in dry chambers to camp (our camping gear will be stowed in sealed aluminium tubes to keep it all dry).

I have the skydiving world champs in October and some of my own stunt projects I’d like to tick off. But I also want to take my two young sons away more. They’ve missed travelling because of Covid so a summer around the coasts and mountains of Europe and Christmas somewhere warm where I can take them snorkelling every day.

SM: As a new Friend of the Brand to Panerai, what was it about the watchmaker that led you to this partnership?

AT: Panerai has a long history spearheading the design and creation of truly robust, precision instruments for use underwater, especially in those zones beyond the light. They understand once one submerges and leaves the normal world behind, time is precious and control is critical.

My work may appear dangerous, but all risks are calculated and controlled and I am often wholly reliant on the tech I carry with me – whether operating in sea, air or land – to stay alive and explore beyond the darkness. 

SM: And where’s your end point – where and when will you retire?

AT: Don’t do it. Retire from work if you like, but don’t retire from life. Find another job, passion, reason that you have to get up and get out. Train, work, travel, write but don’t stop. I’ve seen it up close and personal.

Your body, mind and life is like a muscle, use it or lose it. I think I have 15 years of serious adventures left in me then I may have to change direction into something slightly less physical. The physical effort of caving carrying a very heavy dive kit is only sustainable for so long.

However, things like freediving can still be accomplished into old age so I can see a transition from technical diving to snorkelling, perhaps travelling down a coast by horse. When I’m no longer physically capable of big adventures I shall write. I have many, many book ideas and no time. Whatever I do, stopping won’t be among the options. 

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