Olympian Dame Kelly Holmes has come out as gay at the age of 52 after having lived a 'secret life' for decades.
The retired athlete, who won gold medals for the 800 metres and 1,500 metres events at the 2004 Olympics, announced she is gay during Pride Month after keeping the secret for 34 years.
Holmes has previously had to deal with rumours about her sexuality, and admitted there were 'lots of dark times' when she wished she could 'scream that I am gay', but said she 'couldn't'.
Now she has opened up in an interview with the Sunday Mirror, saying she needed to share the news for herself.
"It was my decision. I’m nervous about saying it. I feel like I’m going to explode with excitement," she said. "Sometimes I cry with relief. The moment this comes out, I’m essentially getting rid of that fear.”
Prior to becoming a professional athlete, Holmes joined the British Army. She described her fear of retrospective action for breaching Force rules by coming out, saying she was 'convinced throughout [her] whole life' that admitting to being gay in the Army would get her in trouble.
Friends and family have known for years that Holmes is gay, and she also has a partner. Though she declined to share details about her relationship, she commented: "It’s the first time I’ve had someone who I don’t introduce as a PA or friend.”
When it comes to her previous relationships, Holmes told the publication that they have 'only been a small part of [her] life'. “They haven’t been in this fearful world with me for 34 years," she added.
Holmes dated boys as a teenager growing up in the 1980s, at a time when 'the stigma of homosexuality was really bad because of the AIDS epidemic'.
"I didn’t have any role models in anything like that. And back then, school sex education was nothing to do with being gay," Holmes said.
After Holmes joined the Women’s Royal Army Corps, a fellow soldier kissed her at the bathroom block and the athlete realised she must be gay 'because it felt good' and 'more natural'. She wrote to her stepdad to tell him she had met a girl, and thankfully he 'accepted it straight away'.
The runner continued to date in secret during 10 years in the Army, though when she was 23 her quarters were searched by Royal Military Police in a check Holmes believes was done to find secret lesbians.
She recalled: “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," she added.
Holmes came out to the rest of her family in 1997, but as she moved forward with her athletic career she continued to think, "No one talks about it in the sport, how do I suddenly say I’m gay? I can’t because I’m admitting that I broke the law in the Army."
As she struggled with her mental health, Holmes cut herself with scissors before the 2003 World Championships finals in France, but feared being taken off Team GB if she asked about taking antidepressants. In 2005 she was made a Dame, and she found 'another barrier' to speaking out in 2018, when she was made Honorary Colonel of the Royal Armoured Corps Training Regiment.
The athlete, now 52, suffered a mental breakdown in 2020, at which point she contacted a military LGBTQ+ leader to ask if she could still face sanctions for her Army relationships, and learned she would not.
Following the discovery, Holmes said she could 'breathe again' and is now excited to share the news on her own terms.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock/Instagram/damekellyholmes