Kelly Holmes: 'There’s a lot of people struggling mentally… I want to lift their spirits'

The 2004 double Olympic champion has turned her attention to the home-fitness market... when she’s not videoing her alpacas

Dame Kelly Holmes is well qualified – perhaps overly so – to lead online exercise classes. For one thing, she has the energy, as she puts it, of “a Duracell bunny, jumping around like a madwoman”. For another, she is one of Britain’s greatest Olympians, having won gold in the 800m and 1500m at the 2004 Athens games. Holmes, now 50, started offering free sessions on Instagram last year, but has just launched Lunch Date With Kelly on YouTube, 20-minute live workouts at 12.30pm on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday each week. She lives in Kent, where she has a small herd of alpacas.

What can we expect from Lunch Date With Kelly?
The biggest thing is I just want to energise people in the middle of their day. Lift their spirits: get them moving and feeling good about themselves. And I want people to feel that there are people there for them. There’s a lot of people struggling mentally, because of the environment they’re stuck in, the risk to a job or financial worries or home schooling. There’s so much going on that people can feel bad about. So for me this 20 minutes is: “OK, for just 20 minutes in a day, out of 24 hours, feel good for yourself.”

Why did you want to enter the home-workout market?
When the first lockdown started, I was taking live workouts every morning Monday to Friday on my Instagram. I didn’t shout about everything I was doing. I wish I had now because I was doing it live and free, Monday to Friday, for seven months. Then I had an operation on my heel bone; it only took me out for three days and I was back on it doing my workout with my plaster cast on. My background’s always been in sports since I was 12. But I was a physical training instructor in the army; I’m a qualified PT [personal trainer]. It’s all the things I love anyway.

How has the past year been for you personally?
Well, I got Covid at the end of October, which was crap. That stuck in my body for about eight to 10 weeks. I was not [at] the same energy levels; I was just sleeping all the time, so lethargic. Then you get quite emotional because for somebody like myself that’s always active, always has been, it was quite scary.

There’s much more discussion now about the mental benefits of exercise. Is that something, as an athlete, you’ve always known?
I’ve been talking about my mental health problems, depression and the breakdown I had before my Olympic win, since 2005. But I’d honestly say that I have seen the link between physical and mental health so much more in the last five years and especially since my mother passed away three years ago. As an athlete, I was only thinking about winning a gold medal! It was never about being happy. That sounds weird, but I always believed I would be Olympic champion. When you think like that, you are wired slightly differently.

Do you think the Olympics will take place this year?
Oh gosh, I don’t know. One thing I will say: they need to make a decision quickly. They can’t leave it, especially for athletes who are preparing. You will get up every day thinking about that end goal and everything you do within that day is towards that end goal. I’ve heard that athletes might get the vaccine before other people, but you can’t have a vaccine early because you’re a sports person. That’s not life. Sorry, life comes first; sport in this world at the moment is very secondary.

If the Olympics does happen, who are you excited about watching?
There are two girls who actually run 1500m, both Scottish, both train together, both have the same coach. Laura Muir and Jemma Reekie: they are awesome. They have surpassed my [personal best] times, but times are there to be broken, I suppose.

You say you are “39 plus 11”. Was turning 50 a dark time for you?
Aarggh! Don’t even go there! I mean 39 plus one was bad enough; 39 plus 11, hell, at least I had it in lockdown, so it doesn’t count. There’s something about age, I just don’t like it. I still want to be in my mid-30s, I still want to learn everything that’s new, anything technical, anything that’s just come in. The only benefit of being the age I’m at is I’ve learned a lot about lots of things and I can hopefully pass on that learning.

On your Twitter bio you describe yourself as “Mad. Funnyish”. Why is that?
People can take you really seriously because of things I’ve done. I’m a dame and a colonel with the Royal Armoured Corps, they’re grown-up things. And I take those roles seriously. But I like to have fun and I can crack a few funnies. And anyone that knows me, really knows me, knows I’m a bit mad as well.

Do alpacas make good pets?
Yeah, I’ve had them for 11 years now. I got them to cut the grass and they’re brilliant mowers. Then lockdown came and so many people were so stressed and I was videoing the alpacas because they’re just strange animals really and I thought: “If this is making people smile, brilliant.”

Your alpacas have names such as Liquorice, Toffee, Polo. Do you have a sweet tooth?
I’m a self-confessed chocoholic. If you give me chocolate it’s going! I don’t like anything with liqueurs or with strawberry and all of that lot. So if I’m sharing a box of chocolates, as long as you like all of the ones that aren’t toffee and fudge then we’re good.

What culturally has got you through lockdown?
Saturday nights are my be-all and end-all night. It’s my “me time”: I slob out on the sofa, have an Indian, chocolate, gin, watch The Masked Singer, Britain’s Got Talent, The Voice, anything like that. I live for Saturday nights at the moment.


Tim Lewis

The GuardianTramp

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