Alexander Shannon has led a remarkable life. To quote the man sitting next to him on the Peppers Theatre stage this evening, journalist David Leslie: “For Shannon to have emerged from a life of poverty and crime like this, is a remarkable achievement.”
So what is Shannon’s story?
Hailing from the east end of Glasgow, he spent years in care homes struggling to survive. He married his childhood sweetheart on his 19th birthday and soon after signed up for the British Army, finding himself on tour in several locations notably the Falklands, Northern Ireland and Bosnia, where he became an expert at covert operations. “I felt safer in South Armagh in 1988 than I do in Glasgow today,” he said with some seriousness. “At least we knew who the enemy was back then not like the young teens you get walking around with blades that’ll do anything for their next bag of heroin.”
On his return to Glasgow as a civilian, he wound up becoming heavily involved in the criminal underworld, using the skills he’d amassed in the British Forces to work for drugs barons and assassins. It wasn’t until his wife gave him an ultimatum that either things change by him rejoining the army or he would lose her.
Shannon chose the army, where despite being questioned over brutal killings and accused of a triple murder attempt, his dedication to succeed and break out from his mould as a criminal brought him high accolades and a series of promotions.
In his book, The Underworld Captain, Shannon pieces together his story, claimed by David Leslie the journalist who helped him publish it as: “The best piece of pro-army PR you will ever read.”
Shannon’s book was censored in its entirety by the Ministry of Defence when they first saw it and it’s little wonder with the content it contained, but over time Leslie managed to convince them that Shannon had a story worth telling, seeing it as an inspirational piece of work that “if it could persuade just one youngster from a similar background that there is hope, that if you want to succeed and break away, you can—because I’ve proved it—then it will be worth it.”
Leslie, who has spent a career writing about Glasgow’s gangster culture, said: “The Glasgow underworld is a very active place—very dangerous too.” And he explained that criminal minds tended to flow through families: “In Glasgow in the 80s, if your father was a criminal then you became a criminal. It’s like a family career path.”
Now training to be a psychologist, Shannon hopes to be able to apply his new skills in aiding soldiers and footballers. “They’re one in the same,” he said. “None of them have ever grown up mentally.”
But if there’s one thing that Alexander Shannon is certain about it’s this: “The army saved my life.”