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Dame Kelly Holmes is ‘finally free’ after coming out

The Olympic athlete, 52, admitted there had been "dark times" in an interview with the Sunday Mirror over the weekend.

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Instagram/@damekellyholmes and Wiki Commons

The British Olympic champion, Dame Kelly Holmes, has come out aged 52.

In an interview with The Sunday Mirror Holmes, who won gold medals in the 800 and 1500-metre races at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said she was “finally free”.

She told the red top paper that: “I needed to do this now, for me. It was my decision. I’m nervous about saying it. I feel like I’m going to explode with excitement. Sometimes I cry with relief.”

She also explains her fear of retrospective action for breaching Army rules. She joined the Army at 18 where she became an HGV driver for the Women’s Royal Army Corps before eventually turning back to athletics. 

“I was convinced throughout my whole life that if I admitted to being gay in the Army I’d still be in trouble,” she says.

Holmes describes being left terrified after one incident where her barracks were searched in what she believes was an effort to discover closeted members.

“They pulled everything out of your cupboard, turned out the beds and drawers, read letters – everything – trying to catch us out, so we could be arrested, court martialled, and potentially go to jail.

“It’s humiliating, it’s degrading – it feels disrespectful when you’re serving your country and you’re doing a good job. You feel violated, treated like you’re some massive villain.”

Prior to 2000, LGBTQ people in the military faced prison if their sexuality or gender identity was discovered.

But despite this she reveals she had relationships with women whilst in the army. She tells the Mirror that everyone knew who was gay”. She also says that her friends and family have known for years. 

The runner also shares how she struggled with her mental health upon her return to athletics and in the early noughties because few athletes were speaking openly about being LGBTQ.

“How do I suddenly say I’m gay? I can’t because I’m admitting that I broke the law in the Army.” THis frustration led to her cutting herself as “a release” at the 2003 World Championships finals in France.

Asking to see a counsellor had its own risks as well says Kelly. 

“I couldn’t go to a counsellor because if I tell them I’m gay they might tell someone. It was lonely. I felt stuck in this world where I can’t talk to someone. As a mental health advocate I say you have to talk – yet I wasn’t doing it myself.”

In an Instagram post on Sunday (19 June) Kelly thanked people for their support since the news broke. “I actually don’t think I can take it all in and process it right now!” she wrote.

She also revealed that she will be sharing her experiences in a new ITV documentary, Be Me on Saturday 26 June.

In another post, she added: “This journey has been the hardest part of life. Living with any kind of fear is debilitating. You and here everyday but not fully living every day .

I have lived in fear for 34 years and I am exhausted and don’t want to anymore. I hope those that read my story will help me through this next scary phase but also be there for others.”

Many celebrated the news on social media. Stonewall wrote: “Kelly’s story shows that overcoming stigma to live proudly and authentically can take decades, and at huge personal cost. We need to fight prejudice at every corner so that all LGBTQ+ people are free to be.”

The Attitude July/August issue is out now.