While standing in her mother’s garden 10 years ago, the enormity of what Dame Kelly Holmes had achieved finally hit home. After years of a career bedevilled by injuries, Holmes had become the first Briton in 84 years to achieve the Olympic middle-distance double, a mere 100‑ 1 shot to do so in the lead-up to the Athens Games.
A decade on from the double gold, she recalls: “I remember standing in my mum’s garden, literally pinching myself and thinking I was in a deep sleep and that I was going to wake up on the start line and realise none of it had actually happened. I just couldn’t believe that I’d done it.”
Even ahead of the anniversary today, there is still an element of disbelief in her voice as she relives those days in the Greek capital. “I believed I would be Olympic champion from the age of 14,” she says. “I didn’t want to live with my regrets, so I never gave up that belief. But the thing is, that belief was only in the 1,500m, that was my event.”
Hence the shock, the wild-eyed, disbelieving stare as Holmes crossed the line victorious in the 800m before returning a few days later to complete the double in the 1,500m. Without one gold, she says she may never have got the other.
“I think if I’d not won the first, I might have worried more, felt more pressure, got my tactics wrong in the 1,500m,” she admits. “But I was so determined to win that second medal in my event. I felt so relaxed, I felt like I was being lifted up, like I was flying. It was a very weird situation.”
The end result was the same, and that double gold has permeated her life ever since. Her latest initiative is the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, which she set up in 2008 to help young people get their lives on track with the help of world-class athletes.
The premise was to help athletes, such as Holmes, who struggled in the wake of their sporting careers, while also helping young people. A recent survey by the trust of 350 young people not in employment, education or training (Neet) found 18 per cent are not expecting to get a full-time job, 7 per cent are resigned to collecting benefits for the next 10 to 20 years, and half of the 16- to 18-year-olds asked worried about their future.
“I was lucky I had a big goal in my life. A lot of young people don’t have that or the opportunities and can’t get out of their particular situation,” she says. Thanks to the mentoring the young people receive from athletes, they gain confidence, and get a sense of self-worth. “With the #DoubleGold campaign, this is bigger than ever before. We’re asking people to aim for the highest they can imagine. That might be getting a particular job or going back into education. It’s about doing the impossible, that’s the goal, to have a start point and then go even further.”
Holmes is also setting her sights on an ambitious project in Hildenborough opening Cafe 1809, named for her athlete number at the 2004 Olympics. She admits it has been more stressful than anything else in her lifetime.
But it’s the work with the trust that has given her the greatest satisfaction as she personally struggled with her own life in the wake of her Olympic glory. “The trust gave me a purpose,” she said. “Being in the army [which she was] and being an athlete are both very regimented lives. People struggle to get back to normal life after both. After being spoilt by success, I suddenly six months on felt really low, I was like ‘who am I?’ as this thing I’d been striving for since I was 14 was now gone. It was a really hard transition.”
Holmes had done charity work throughout her career, but only launched the trust six years ago. “Through the support of athlete mentors, the young people on my charity’s programmes identify their own ‘double gold’ giving them something to strive for. I believe we all have double gold within us, it’s just a matter of finding it.”
Her life off the track has been arguably more fulfilling than her first life on it. “I’m at peace now although it’s taken a long time to be comfortable and happy with who I am,” she says. The aim is to help Britain’s young people do the same.