Mike Tindall knows a thing or two about life-threatening rugby injuries.
In a 2008 Six Nations match against Wales the England international was rushed to hospital after a tackle left him with a misplaced rib that punctured a lung then ruptured his liver, which began to bleed profusely.
He spent three nights in intensive care at London’s Hammersmith Hospital – with his then girlfriend Zara Phillips keeping a bedside vigil while doctors monitored his condition.
Now, the 33-year-old former Gloucester centre and England captain is proud to be named a sporting ambassador for the charity that is often the first to leap into action and help save lives on the pitch – The Air Ambulance Service (TAAS).
"I am delighted and honoured to have been asked to become an ambassador and to help raise awareness for such a truly worthy cause," he told HELLO!.
The charitable organisation, which receives no government or National Lottery funding but depends solely on public donations, is particularly dear to Mike’s heart because of its crucial links to his favourite sport.
Serious head, neck and spinal injuries account for the highest number of its callouts and require the fastest medical attention.
Step forward the TAAS paramedics – and its pair of state-of-the-art Agusta civilian helicopters, which can be airborne in just 45 seconds and fly at 200mph, getting paramedics to the injury scene in a matter of life-saving minutes.
The rugby star last week paid a flying visit to the service’s base at Coventry Airport, where he tackled pilot and TAAS’s head of aviation Dan Martin and paramedics Phillipa Gibbs and Jenny Mealey (pictured with Mike above).
He told HELLO! this had been the perfect chance to see the service’s operations for himself.
"It’s been a great opportunity to meet the pilots, paramedics and clinical staff, witnessing first-hand how this incredible service saves lives nationwide," he said.
"They are the angels of the sky; their dedication and commitment to saving countless lives is truly heroic and humbling to witness in action."
The busiest air ambulance service in the country, the service deals with around 150 missions a month and serves more than four million people across four counties.
It is also planning to launch a dedicated children’s air ambulance servicing the UK.
"It’s reassuring to know that if you ever see The Air Ambulance Service helicopters in the skies, you’ll be in safe hands."
• For more information, and to make a donation, visit theairambulanceservice.org.uk.
Watch: Prince William takes George to meet his sister
It's a little princess!