Dame Kelly Holmes has revealed how she lived in fear for more than three decades before coming out as gay in 2022.
Appearing on Good Morning Britain today to promote her memoire Unique, the 53-year-old athlete revealed how she hid her sexuality as a young soldier at a time when being gay in the military was illegal
‘I went through a really difficult decision in lockdown where it was a choice to live or not. It got that bad,’ she revealed.
‘I decided that I’m gonna live. I have more to live. I’m a successful strong woman but I’m being suppressed in my thoughts and I didn’t want to do that,’ Dame Kelly told Susanna Reid.
The presenter described an ‘absolutely shocking experience’ from the book.
‘The Royal Military Police raid your room in search of evidence that you were gay, I mean I have no idea what they expected to find, shouting “admit you’re a lesbian” at you.
‘I am not surprised that left you shaking,’ Susanna said.
Kelly explained: ‘The military was what affected my life and left me in fear for 32 years.
‘It leaves you so petrified you don’t know what to do. I was scared of losing my job. I loved my career in the military.
‘Some military personnel were jailed, stripped of long service medals, bullied, sexually abused. So that has left a trauma for so many.’
However, she showed appreciation for the recent apology from the Prime Minister and acknowledged a significant change in the military.
‘Since 2000, it’s one of the best industries to be yourself and be accepted. Diverse inclusion is huge in the military,’ Kelly explained.
‘Does it feel like you’ve now got a weight off your shoulders?,’ Susanna asked.
‘Hugely. I think it’s really important to establish why that has made a change to me,’ Kelly replied.
She continued: ‘A lot of people go, “Oh why do we need to talk about this anymore…” about coming out.
‘But the association with the era that I grew up and the generation I grew up was very taboo, a lot of bullying and judgmental bigotry. It does take time for people my age to actually do it.
‘Because I served in the military when there was a ban where it was illegal to be gay and it only got lifted in 2000.
‘By 2000, I was an international world-class athlete as well and I didn’t have any role models. I was scared about what would happen to me during that period of time – whether I could be done for being gay because I served in the military as a gay woman.
‘People say to me: “You knew it was illegal to be gay”. I didn’t know I was gay when I joined the army so there’s a lot of complexities about my journey.
‘The reason for coming out last year was to free me as an individual to feel that I could live my life authentically.’
Ed Balls recalled going into politics at a young age, saying it wasn’t acceptable to talk about being gay and many people denied their sexuality.
‘The world has changed for the better. In one way there’s a lot of things that need to happen to allow people to really feel free,’ Kelly said.
‘But for me it was the whole trauma that it caused me.
‘Anyone living in fear, no matter what that was, it’s debilitating because you worry about the outcome after whatever you do in life.
‘I had this fear that literally caused me so many mental health problems that I had to make a decision to come out.’
Ed asked how easy it was for Kelly to block everything out and focus on her career.
‘To be an international world class athlete you have to have a die-hard strength inside you, that extra resilience to be who you want to be and nothing else matters,’ she said.
‘I only ever wanted to be in the army and to be an Olympic champion because it gave me a sense of identity and courage and purpose in life.
‘But that inner turmoil, that inner trauma, of just worried and looking over your back all the time.
‘I was the first woman athlete to win two gold medals so I was celebrated.
‘Everybody loved Kelly Holmes and put me on a pedestal and yet I had already had a breakdown during my international athletics career – which I didn’t talk about until my first autobiography in 2005 – when no one talked about mental health awareness.
‘There’s always been gay people, bisexual, transgender, there’s always been people from the community in the world forever.
‘There’s always been people with mental health problems forever.
‘We’re just now getting to the point where it can be more acceptable to talk about.
‘Being more open and honest is really important for change. To normalise conversation.
‘I went through a really difficult decision in lockdown where it was a choice to live or not. It got that bad. I decided that I’m gonna live. I have more to live. I’m a successful strong woman but I’m being suppressed in my thoughts and I didn’t want to do that.
‘We always judge people by what they look like or what they sound like or what they’re meant to be.
‘But get to know people because we all deserve to live side by side and just be us’.