The sports star first realised she was gay when she was 17 (Picture: Getty)
Olympic legend Dame Kelly Holmes has come out as gay at the age of 52.
The sporting icon said she realised she was gay when she was a soldier in the Women’s Royal Army Corps in 1988 at the age of 17, and kissed a female comrade.
She kept that part of herself hidden, however, out of fear of being prosecuted, since same-sex relationships were banned from the forces.
But, Dame Kelly said the global pandemic showed her that it was time to be her ‘real self’ and express who she is, after remaining closeted led her to breakdowns and suicidal thoughts.
Now, she feels ‘free’ after coming out on her own terms, telling the Sunday Mirror: ‘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. The moment this comes out, I’m essentially getting rid of that fear.’
Dame Kelly hid her sexuality for over 30 years, since same-sex relationships were banned in the forces (Picture: Getty)
She also got candid about the years of pain she endured prior to coming out, particularly with speculation about her sexuality rife.
‘I was convinced throughout my whole life that if I admitted to being gay in the Army I’d still be in trouble,’ she said, adding that close friends and relatives have known she is gay for years.
Dame Kelly is in a romantic relationship and, while she doesn’t want to share the ins and outs, she speaks fondly of her partner, saying: ‘It’s the first time I’ve had someone who I don’t introduce as a PA or friend.’
She added that, while she means ‘no disrespect’ to previous partners, those relationships have only been ‘a small part’ of her life.
‘They haven’t been in this fearful world with me for 34 years.’
The Olympian battled with her mental health and suffered breakdowns as a result of being in the closet (Picture: PA)
The retired distance athlete went on to speak about life in the spotlight, admitting it became harder to come out as she grew more famous.
She also wishes she had ‘role models’ to look up to when she was younger, since ‘school sex education was nothing to do with being gay’ when she was growing up, which she says was an era where ‘the stigma of homosexuality was really bad because of the AIDS epidemic.’
On the moment she realised that she liked girls, Dame Kelly said it felt ‘more natural’ and ‘comfortable’ to kiss a female comrade in the forces, a month before she turned 18.
She recalls writing a letter to her step dad at the time to tell him what had happened, admitting to being ‘nervous’ and ‘scared’ about telling him, but he was immediately accepting.
The pandemic has inspired the retired distance athlete to set herself free (Picture: Getty)
The Olympian continued to date other female soldiers throughout her 10 years in the army, risking court martial if they were found out, despite ‘everyone knowing who was gay’, since it was ‘never talked about.’
‘There was this pub that had a back dance floor and a pool table and everyone we knew was gay used to go to this place. You could be yourself, then come back to your barracks,’ she admitted, proceeding to share that her quarters were searched by Royal Military Police when she was 23.
She believed this was a technique of finding out who was a lesbian, which Dame Kelly remembers as ‘terrifying’ as she could’ve been thrown into 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.
While she doesn’t want to disclose details, Dame Kelly confirmed she is in a relationship currently (Picture: PA)
‘Those moments stuck with me because I didn’t want to lose my job, I loved it. But I felt the law was wrong.’
Thankfully, Dame Kelly is now in a much healthier and happier place, despite lengthy battles with depression and ‘not wanting to be here anymore.’
After having a mental breakdown in 2020, Dame Kelly reached out to a military LGBTQ+ leader to ask if she could still face sanctions for her Army relationships. She was assured that this would not happen.
She sighed: ‘I felt like I could breathe again. One little call could have saved 28 years of heartache.’
Dame Kelly has since been working on a documentary exploring the lives of other LGBTQ+ soldiers, saying she is ‘gobsmacked’ at how the military has changed to become more progressive and accepting.
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