After 34 years, double Olympic champion Kelly Holmes has publicly announced for the first time that she is gay. Now, a powerful new ITV documentary explores her long journey to living her authentic life.
In an interview with the Sunday Mirror, the two-time gold medal-winning Olympic champion revealed the struggles she had endured from keeping her sexuality hidden and explained why now was the right time to live her authentic truth.
“I needed to do this now, for me,” she told the newspaper. “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.”
In an Instagram post shared in the wake of her announcement, Holmes explained that her decision to come out is “part of a journey I have been on over the past four months” as she has been filming a documentary about “my authentic life and how hard it has been to not be me”.
The new ITV documentary, entitled Kelly Holmes: Being Me, sees the former middle-distance runner, who became a national hero after winning a rare 800m and 1500m double gold at Athens 2004, open up about the long journey to coming out.
Through meetings with loved ones, the deeply personal film explores the emotional journey she’s been on over the last 30 years and the serious impact that keeping her sexuality hidden has had on her mental health.
“The documentary taught me so much about generational and social advancements when it comes to the LGBTQ+ world,” Holmes wrote on Instagram.
“I have been pretty oblivious and ignorant about it all, but I hope one day to be an authoritative voice and also that my doc it helps many people on all levels.”
After the documentary aired on Sunday night, viewers applauded Holmes for her bravery in discussing her struggles with sexuality, grief and mental health, personal topics that she has never publicly spoken about before.
The documentary begins with an emotional Dame Kelly explaining her reasons for coming out.
“I think there comes a time in life when you need to live your life and be who you want to be,” she says tearfully. “Mine’s now. I want people to know, directly from me, that I’m a gay woman but I’ve been unable to live my life authentically.
“I feel like I’ve been trapped. It just weighs down on you every day. It puts a barrier up. It puts this block, a wall, and then people don’t get to know the real you and I don’t want to live my life like that anymore. I’m just trying to free myself.”
Speaking to Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on This Morning in her first live interview since announcing the news, Holmes also explained that one of the reasons she decided to come out was to help other people who have been living in fear.
“I needed to talk about this for myself and my own wellbeing and my own mental health,” she began. “The documentary was a way of me articulating the fear I’ve had for so many years and to enable me to have a platform that hopefully educates and informs people of the complexities of maybe being gay as well.”
“I’ve never said that – ever – that I’m a gay woman, publicly on TV, and people don’t realise how hard it is to say that word.”
Holmes explained that the documentary explores the fear she carried for nearly a decade when she served as a soldier in the army. Until 2000, it was illegal for gay, lesbian and bisexual people to serve in the armed forces, and during her time she personally experienced raids and interrogations that she describes as “scary, humiliating and embarrassing”.
Sadly, there were LGBTQ+ people who were court-martialled and discharged in disgrace, and Holmes speaks to some of them in the documentary.
“What you have to remember is that it’s a career; people fight for their country and put their lives on the line,” she continued.
Despite this shadow over her military career, Holmes explained in the interview that the military’s attitudes toward homosexuality has seen a significant culture change in recent years.
“I’m also an honorary colonel with the Royal Army Core Training Regiment, and I never was never able to tell them,” she continued.
“It was almost another barrier for me not being able to be me, because I was so scared that if anybody found that I could still be in trouble. I just didn’t know.”
It was only when Holmes had a breakdown in December 2020 from the fear she would be sanctioned for breaking army rules that she knew she had to start living differently.
“I talk very openly about my mental health, but I’ve always been able to relate it to sport – being disappointed, having injuries. But I became a self-harmer; I didn’t want to be here, frankly, at some point in my life.
“I can honestly say that I don’t feel that I’ve ever been happy.”
The decision to come out now, though, was made after Holmes became ill with Covid during the pandemic and imagined her friends and family at her funeral lamenting the fact that she could never be open about her sexuality.
After making a call to a brigadier in 2020, however, Holmes discovered that her fears of facing repercussions for breaking the law during her time in the forces were unfounded and that nothing would happen if she came out.
“That one call changed everything for me.”
Holmes added that while she now looks forward to future happiness, she hopes that she can become an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and make a positive difference.
“I hope that I have an authoritative voice to change things, to make things better, that people don’t live in fear, that people can just live their life because we all have a right to do it,” she continued.
“Nothing stopped me being an Olympic champion. I’m still the same person today as I was when anyone watched me cross that line and I hope people still see that as true. Don’t treat me any different, don’t look at me any different, other than hopefully even more of a role model, because I will have my voice heard and I will try and make a difference for people.”
Kelly Holmes: Being Me is available to watch on ITV Hub now.
Christobel Hastings is Stylist's Entertainment Editor whose specialist interests include pop culture, LGBTQ+ identity and lore.