Published: 07:04, 19 June 2022
| Updated: 09:13, 19 June 2022
Olympics legend Dame Kelly Holmes says she "finally feels free" after coming out as gay.
The Kent star, who lives in Hildenborough, near Tonbridge, has spoken publicly about her sexuality for the first time, revealing she has been living a "secret life" for decades.
She says she was 17-year-old soldier when she first realised she was gay after sharing a kiss with a female comrade.
Keeping her secret over the next 35 years has seen her experience "dark times" and even left her suicidal, with episodes of self-harm.
But now, aged, 52, she has broken her silence to tell the world: "I'm gay."
“Sometimes I cry with relief. The moment this comes out, I’m essentially getting rid of that fear," she told the Sunday Mirror.
“There have been lots of dark times where I wished I could scream that I am gay – but I couldn’t.”
Kelly, who won 800m and 1,500m gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, says family and friends have known for years she is gay.
Her sexuality was something she had not even considered until she joined the Women’s Royal Army Corps in 1988, at a time when being gay was banned in the Forces.
A fellow soldier kissed her in the bathroom block.
“I realised I must be gay then, because it felt good," she recalled.
"It felt more natural, I felt comfortable.”
Kelly wrote to her stepdad - who she has always thought of as her father - to explain what had happened.
“I said I met a girl and I don’t know what to do," she said.
“I was confused and a bit scared of what it meant and nervous to tell him. But he accepted it straight away.”
When she was 23, Kelly’s quarters were searched by Royal Military Police in a check which she believed was to root out secret lesbians.
She was left terrified, recalling: “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.
“Those moments stuck with me because I didn’t want to lose my job, I loved it. But I felt the law was wrong."
Kelly says the rest of her family were supportive when she came out to them in person in 1997.
It coincided with her leaving the Army to pursue international athletics full-time.
Kelly told the Sunday Mirror: "I was in bits about telling them. But they said they knew anyway.
"No one’s ever had a problem. They don’t know me any different.”
Kelly, who still lives in Kent, dated a woman between the ages of 27 and 32, but ended the reationship in 2002 so she could focus on the Athens Olympics.
But by 2003, aged 33, she was plagued with injuries and her mental health plummeted. “When I got injured or ill I would cry all the time because all I needed to do was get back running, because if I didn’t get back running my brain was just going mad,” she says.
She recalls: “I was in a holding camp bathroom and literally wanted to scream so loud, I put the tap on to dull my tears. I did not want to be here any more.
“I cut myself on the arms and legs because I felt I had no control over myself. It was a release.
“Yet at the same time I had this pull to succeed, thinking, if I win gold it will all be OK.”
She feared being pulled from Team GB if she asked about taking antidepressants.
She says: “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.”
Kelly was made a Dame in 2005. In 2018 she became Honorary Colonel of the Royal Armoured Corps Training Regiment – which she saw as “another barrier” to speaking out.
There was a turning point after Covid and a mental breakdown in 2020, when Kelly contacted a military LGBTQ+ leader to ask if she could still face sanctions for her Army relationships.
When she was assured she would not, a weight was lifted.
“I felt like I could breathe again,” Kelly said. “One little call could have saved 28 years of heartache.”
It helped Kelly take steps to open up publicly. In January this year she started making Being Me, a documentary about her experiences.