Former Gladiator Wolf on why he won’t be in 2023 show & how he got his name in Brum
Michael Van Wijk – who was known as ‘Wolf’ – is excited for the return of Gladiators in 2023
Former Gladiator Wolf – Michael Van Wijk
He was one of the original stars in the hit TV event which was filmed at the NEC in Birmingham attracting over 14 million viewers at its peak between 1992 and 2008.
Former Gladiator Michael Van Wijk, 70 – who was known as ‘Wolf’ – has said he is excited for the return of Gladiators in 2023. And he’d love to return to the hit show as he’s fitter than ever at 70 – but says his son might pip him to the post.
He has said he would love to join the revamped show – but in a presenting capacity this time and suggested his son, Dean, 34, could be the next ‘Wolf’ Gladiator.
The bodybuilder was part of the original cast of the show, playing the part of Wolf between 1992 to 2000 when it was axed. The show was presented by Ulrika Jonsson throughout its original run, alongside John Fashanu (1992–96, 1999–2000) and Jeremy Guscott (1997–98), with John Sachs providing commentary on each event, and John Anderson refereeing the contests
Michael, who now lives in Auckland, New Zealand, was a fan of the Gladiators US show and would stay up late to watch it before he auditioned to join the cast of Gladiators UK.
Michael said: “I don’t know anything about the 2023 show, all I know is that it is going to be in Sheffield. I would to be a presenter on the programme this time. My son looks exactly like me, he is 6ft tall, he looks exactly like me, he has applied to be a gladiator.
“He hasn’t said he is my son, but he has sent his details off. He is super fit, muscular, an amazing athlete – he wants to be the new Wolf. His enthusiasm is the same as mine and his sense of humour is the same as mine, I think he would go down really well.
“I would love to go back and do the show, I am fit enough to do it, fitness isn’t the problem, but I don’t think they would take me on at 70.”
How did Michael get to be called Wolf and what is the Birmingham connection?
Michael was a fan of the Gladiators US show, and he would stay up late to watch it. One of his gym members told him how the show was coming over to the UK and suggested he apply for it.
Michael thought he should but forgot all about it. Later on, he then gave London Weekend Television (LWT) a call and said he would love to apply – but was told he was too late and said he could apply to be a contender – the ‘ordinary’ people who would go up against the gladiators.
Michael then sent a picture of himself and details to the production team and received a phone call the next day inviting him to interview to be a Gladiator – like he originally wanted.
He said: “They said, ‘we loved your picture, do you want to come interview to be a Gladiator?’ and I went ‘well I thought they were closed’ and they said, ‘no no no we like your look, can you come in’.
“I went in and had an interview and they said ‘look, we have shortlisted it to 800 and we are going to send you to Woolwich Arm Barracks, put you through fitness trials all day long and choose the Gladiators.’
“I went through the fitness trials, coasted them, coasted them all day long, if you couldn’t do one event, you would be automatically eliminated, and they lost something like 300 to 400 in the first event.
“At the end of the day, you had to do an army assault course and I was about to start that. I noticed that the producers were walking around all day with clipboards looking at everybody and they came up to me as I was about to do the army assault course and said ‘just cruise this as we can’t afford to get you hurt’.
“I got a phone call the next morning and they said ‘look, we want you to be one of the Gladiators and we want you to be called ‘Wolf’.’”
When Michael got to the Gladiator stadium – a studio based in the National Indoor Arena, Birmingham – he realised he was the oldest one there.
He was in his forties and the other Gladiators were in their 20s because of this, Michael knew he would have to do something to stand out.
He said: “I was confident in front of the camera from the get-go, so I thought the name they have given me is Wolf and the first thing people are going to say is ‘big bad’.
“I went up to the producers and I was like ‘can I be bad’ and they said no, and I explained how I would do it for one show and if they don’t like it he won’t ask again.
“I became bad, and it just took off, people loved it. When a couple of the other Gladiators started being bad, the producers would ask them what they were doing and they were like ‘I am being bad’ and the producers were like ‘no, he is bad and you’re good’ and they didn’t think that was fair.”
What was life like as a Gladiator?
Michael revealed he once bumped into Robbie Williams who asked him for a picture and revealed he was a big fan. He also says women would give him their number – even if he was out with his wife.
He said: “I was doing pantomime and I was staying in a hotel with my wife, Paula, 54, and we made friends with the manager of the hotel. One day we came back from an evening meal, and they called us over and were laughing.
“They said how two girls came up in short mini skirts all dressed up and they said, ‘Wolf has asked for us to be let in his room and wait for him’.
“The manager replied with ‘funny that because he is here with his fiancé and they have just gone out for a meal’ and then the girls ran away.
“My wife would call them hoverers – they would be hovering all dressed up waiting to get an autograph and then they would sneakily give me their phone number and ask me to give them a ring.”