Olympic champion Kelly Holmes comes out as gay: ‘I can finally breathe’

Dame Kelly Holmes wears a black top and black jacket as she smiles at the camera and stands in front of a blue background

British Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes has said she can “finally breathe” after she comes out publicly as gay. 

The Olympic gold medallist told the Sunday Mirror that she first realised she was gay at the age of 17 after a fellow female soldier kissed her. But she said a fear of being prosecuted at a time when LGBTQ+ soldiers were banned from the pre-2000 military ban forced her to stay silent. 

However, Holmes said a terrifying brush with COVID-19 made her realise that she wanted to show the world her “real self”. 

“I needed to do this now, for me,” Holmes said. “It was my decision. I’m nervous about saying it. I feel like I’m going to explode with excitement.”

She continued: “Sometimes I cry with relief. The moment this comes out, I’m essentially getting rid of that fear.”

Holmes shared that she had secret relationships with other soldiers during her 10 years in the British Army, risking being “court-martialled” and being jailed if they were caught. She described an incident when the Royal Military Police searched her accommodation in what she believed was a check to root out LGBTQ+ soldiers. 

“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,” Holmes said.

She continued: “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.”

Dame Kelly Holmes wears a white red and blue Olympic outfit as she holds up two Olympic gold medals and clutches a Union Jack flag in her hand

Dame Kelly Holmes is one of Britain’s top athletes and won a double gold medal at the 2004 Olympic games in Athens. (Getty/Graeme Robertson)

Until 2000, it was illegal for people serving in the British military to be openly part of the LGBTQ+ community. Several LGBTQ+ veterans who served under the military ban have shared they were discharged from the forces, stripped of their medals or convicted under the vile laws

Kelly Holmes revealed she struggled with her mental health because of having to hide her sexuality in public and was terrified that she would still face repercussions for breaking the anti-LGBTQ+ military ban during her time in the forces. 

Holmes said she was “convinced throughout [her] whole life” that she might face retrospective action for breaking the military ban if she “admitted to being gay in the Army”. She added there “have been lots of dark times” where she wished that she could “scream” that she is gay, but she just couldn’t. 

“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 said.

“I’d 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’.”

Dame Kelly Holmes wears a black top, black blazer and matching tie as she speaks to people off camera

Dame Kelly Holmes says there have been “dark times” where she wished that she could “scream” that she’s gay. (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty)

Kelly Holmes has won seven gold, eight silver and four Bronze Olympic, Commonwealth and European medals throughout her storied athletic career

In 2004, she made history as the third woman in history and the first Brit in over 84 years to win the 800m and 1500m Olympic double at the 2004 Olympics games in Athens, Greece. 

She founded a charity in 2008 to support retired athletes as they transition out of the world of sport. The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust also has mentoring programmes to inspire young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to participate in sports. 

Holmes is also working on a documentary about her experiences and that of other LGBTQ+ soldiers titled Being Me. She described being “gobsmacked” about how much the military has changed since she served. 

Holmes shared in a post on Instagram that her coming out journey has been the “hardest part” of her life” because she “lived in fear for 34 years”. She wrote that she was “exhausted” having to hide for so long and was happy to finally be able to share her true self with the world. 

“I can finally breathe,” she said. “Yes I have been petrified of putting this out – you have no idea.”