LET’S put it into context. More British people have won Olympic gold medals than the George Cross.

Only 21 holders of Britain’s highest civilian award for bravery are still alive – which makes living recipients almost as rare as England World Cup winners.

That’s how special Chris Finney is.

At 25, the Bournemouth ex-soldier is one of the very youngest to have received the honour.

He was only 18 when he plunged into that exploding tank to rescue a wounded comrade. And so, then, there is only one question to ask: what’s it like to have done something as incredible as that?

“Being there and going through that kind of thing didn’t really feel like something special,” he insists. “It’s not me being modest. I suppose I was just lucky enough that someone saw it and I was rewarded for it because hundreds of other people did all sorts of things and got nothing for it.”

Was he afraid?


How afraid?

“I don’t think you can print stuff like that!” he laughs.

“Being in Iraq for the war, of course I was scared. Anyone who says they weren’t is just lying.”

Then he grows more thoughtful.

“I say that but actually, when the incident happened, I was probably not afraid at all, the training just came in. There was so much adrenaline; there wasn’t a second to pause, to even realise what was happening, you were just doing it.”

And afterwards?

“I wouldn’t say I had flashbacks, I didn’t wake up in a cold sweat but don’t get me wrong, I think about it pretty much every day purely because of what happened to a lot of people.”

It was on October 31 2003 that the full significance of his courage became apparent.

“I got called into the commanding officer first thing and told to get ready because I was going to London for a press conference to announce I’d got a George Cross.

“I knew it was a very high award and all that, but again, the magnitude was totally lost on me at the time.”

It was only after he’d stood through the press call, ‘with flashbulbs going off for 15 minutes’ that he had an inkling of what was coming, including the investiture.

“I can barely remember a word of what the Queen said,” he admits.

“Purely because when you go in you get told; ‘10 paces forward, stop, go forward another three, turn to your left, bow, all that and when she shakes your hand it’s your cue to go’.

“All I was thinking was; ‘Don’t fall over’ and ‘My dad’s over there’ so I hardly heard anything. But the Queen did say she was glad to present a GC because she hadn’t done it for a very long time.”

He also received a Special Award from the rugby player Jason Leonard at the 2004 Pride of Britain but found the GC did complicate Army life.

“I don’t think it was people being necessarily malicious or anything like that; some wanted to keep me grounded, others seemed to think I was The Terminator and everything just changed slightly.”

By this he means that some tasks; “Became almost trivial in a ‘why-am- I- doing it’ way”. Other people, he says; “Purposefully made things ten times more difficult because they expected too much of me.”

After a stint in Army recruitment he got a job in a Dorset call centre which became the subject of a national newspaper story. He has no complaints but is concerned his comments may have been misunderstood.

“I can see how that would have looked, like I was just this spoilt little brat,” he says.

“My point was that it’s almost frustrating that people are quite happy to just turn up, do the job and go home, which there’s nothing wrong with but it’s so different to the Army.”

In the Army, he says: “You are sleeping next to a bloke who you are going to work next to and fight next to. You are like brothers.”

Plenty of those who read his words wondered if this country could find more appropriate work for a real hero and one of them was the champion boxer and Strictly Come Dancing star, Joe Calzaghe.

He decided Chris would be the perfect corporate ambassador for his Undefeated testimonial dinner in London next March, which aims to raise £500,000 for Help for Heroes.

Chris has nothing but praise for his new boss, describing Calzaghe as: “A fantastic bloke, so relaxed. Working for him is brilliant and an added bonus, but I am doing a job that gets me out and about. It’s interesting and raising money for my old friends and colleagues, so I can’t think of a better situation to be in.”

His enthusiasm bubbles like champagne.

“My job is to get out there, meet the people who need to be met, draw in sponsorship,” he says, explaining how, on Wednesday, he accompanied some Help for Heroes servicemen to Top Gear for a recording “It’s brilliant up there, a good place for a young bloke and off screen, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are just the same as on it.”

He was invited to join Clarkson and May for a pint with the recovering soldiers.

“Him and James May had a good chat with us all for quite a while and they are exactly as you think they’re going to be.”

He’d love Clarkson to attend the gala which already sounds like a celebrity-spotter’s dream. “Obviously Joe will be there, the Stereophonics almost definitely and we are talking to Katherine Jenkins and Tom Jones.”

The Professional Footballer’s Association has already bagged a table but everyone is welcome. “With the entertainment and the setting at the Grosvenor House, with the food and the auction prizes, I think it’s actually a bit of a bargain.”

It’s a huge contrast to his former life and while he is deeply mindful of what happened to put him in this position, he also wants to enjoy the good times.

“It’s great that I can be with Prince Charles one day and the next, just go into a pub and no one knows who I am.”

His mum keeps him grounded: “She’s got my GC; obviously I can’t be trusted with things like that!” he jokes, and there is his fiancée, Liz Scorse.

“It’s great to have that stability at home. If I come back and say ‘I was with Jeremy Clarkson’ and start going on, she’ll just tell me to do the washing up. You could get carried away but you mustn’t. You might have a GC and everything that’s come with it but you still have to put the bin out!”

* To book tickets of a table for the Undefeated gala click on to joecalzaghe.com * Trooper Chris Finney's George Cross citation...

On 28 March 2003, D Squadron Household Cavalry Regiment were probing forward along the Shatt Al Arab waterway, north of Basrah, some thirty kilometres ahead of the main force of 16 Air Assault Brigade.

In exposed desert, their mission was to find and interdict the numerically vastly superior, and better equipped, Iraqi 6th Armoured Division.

Trooper Finney, a young armoured vehicle driver with less than a year’s service, was driving the leading Scimitar vehicle of his troop, which had been at the forefront of action against enemy armour for several hours. In the early afternoon, the two leading vehicles paused beside a levee to allow the troop leader to assess fully the situation in front.

Without warning, they were engaged by a pair of Coalition Forces ground attack aircraft. Both vehicles were hit and caught fire, and ammunition began exploding inside the turrets.

Trooper Finney managed to get out of his driving position and was on the way towards cover when he noticed that his vehicle's gunner was trapped in the turret.

He then climbed onto the fiercely burning vehicle, at the same time placing himself at risk from enemy fire, as well as fire from the aircraft should they return.

Despite the smoke and flames and exploding ammunition, he managed to haul out the injured gunner, get him off the vehicle, and move him to a safer position not far away, where he bandaged his wounds.

The troop officer, in the other Scimitar, had been wounded and there were no senior ranks to take control. Despite his relative inexperience, the shock of the attack and the all-too-obvious risk to himself, Trooper Finney recognised the need to inform his headquarters of the situation.

He therefore broke cover, returned to his vehicle which was still burning, and calmly and concisely sent a lucid situation report by radio.

He then returned to the injured gunner and began helping him towards a Spartan vehicle of the Royal Engineers which had moved forward to assist.

At this point, Trooper Finney noticed that both the aircraft were lining up for a second attack. Notwithstanding the impending danger, he continued to help his injured comrade towards the safety of the Spartan vehicle. Both aircraft fired their cannon and Trooper Finney was wounded in the buttocks and legs, and the gunner in the head.

Despite his wounds, Trooper Finney succeeded in getting the gunner to the waiting Spartan.

Then, seeing that the driver of the second Scimitar was still in the burning vehicle, Trooper Finney determined to rescue him as well.

Despite his wounds and the continuing danger from exploding ammunition, he valiantly attempted to climb up onto the vehicle, but was beaten back by the combination of heat, smoke and exploding ammunition.

He collapsed exhausted a short distance from the vehicle, and was recovered by the crew of the Royal Engineers' Spartan.

During these attacks and their horrifying aftermath, Trooper Finney displayed clear-headed courage and devotion to his comrades which was out of all proportion to his age and experience.

Acting with complete disregard for his own safety even when wounded, his bravery was of the highest order throughout.