An astonishing fact given that she made such a splash in the sporting world by becoming a double Olympic champion.
The enigmatic 47-year-old is quite simply, a running legend – one of the most successful British middle distance runners ever.
She actually received her MBE for services to the British Army – she used her leave from the military to go racing.
Dame Kelly spoke candidly about her spectacular career and how she rose to the top of her sport to a delighted audience at a Q&A session at Basingstoke Sports Centre. The event was held to celebrate a £400,000 refurbishment, which now boasts state-of-the-art Pulse Fitness equipment, including an interactive CardioWall.
I wanted to join the Army, and to be an Olympic champion. I’ve managed both
Sports fans and children who use the centre were eager to ask her all about her remarkable achievements.
It was a welcome return to Hampshire for the supreme athlete, who was stationed at Aldershot and Southampton during her former Army career.
She served as a Sergeant in the Army before devoting herself to athletics full-time in 1997. In 2004, she won gold medals for the 800-metre and 1,500m races at the Olympic Games in Athens, and was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Speaking exclusively to Hampshire Style, she said: ‘I have fond memories of my time in the military in Hampshire.
‘My ﬁrst ever posting was in Southampton. I’ve also done two stints in Aldershot, so I was there for quite a while in my career – four or ﬁve years.’
She revealed her greatest achievement was winning the 1,500 metres at the Olympics.
‘Only because I wanted to do that since I was 14. I wanted to join the Army, and to be an Olympic champion. I’ve managed both.
‘I got into running at my secondary school in Kent as my PE teacher told me I needed to focus on something and she could see that I was good at running.
‘I watched the Olympics and knew I wanted to do that. I feel proud that I kept going to do that.’
She had plenty of top tips for youngsters who wanted to follow in her footsteps.
‘My advice to anyone starting out on the journey is that you’ve got to enjoy what you do. It has got to be fun too, so you have to want to go out training. You have to want to go and compete.
‘You’ve got to set yourself a goal with what you want to achieve tomorrow. In your race, you’ve got to think, what would be the best outcome for you – a realistic one.
‘Not one that would take another year. Something that you know ‘If I do this tomorrow, I’ll be very happy’. You have to set yourself little goals and targets and if it doesn’t go well, you say ‘What can I do better next time?’. Don’t give up. Too many people give up. The ones that don’t give up are the ones who become champions.’
She started her athletics career as a promising athlete when a junior and won the 1,500m at the English Schools Championships, but chose to give up her early athletics career in favour of a career in the Army. She signed up a few months before her 18th birthday and over the next nine and a half years worked her way quickly up the ranks until she was a Sergeant.
When she was made a Dame, she picked her mum, dad and grandad up in a limo from their council estate and took them to Buckingham Palace, to go and see The Queen.
Her journey to the Palace began when she was aged 12 and started training for athletics, joining Tonbridge Athletics Club, where she was coached by David Arnold.
Her hero was British middle distance runner Steve Ovett, and she was inspired by his success at the 1980 Summer Olympics.
Since retiring in 2005, as well as becoming an author, presenter and motivational speaker, she has also set up a charitable trust.
The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust is a registered charity which supports athletes in their transition from sport and helps to transform the lives of disadvantaged young people through mentoring programmes.
As part of her pledge to the charity, she participated in the Powerman UK duathlon in 2014, one of several fundraising events she has taken part in.
In 2009 Dame Kelly was named as the new President of Commonwealth Games England, succeeding Sir Chris Chataway, who had held the post since 1994.
Sir Andrew Foster, Commonwealth Games England chairman, said: ‘Dame Kelly has been an outstanding athlete both for Team England and Great Britain. She is a truly inspirational and respected ﬁgure in the sporting world and will be a wonderful ambassador for Commonwealth Games England.’
Dame Kelly will also be returning to Hampshire this month when she hosts a new health and ﬁtness festival called Refresh, at Wellington Country Park, between Reading and Basingstoke.
She said: ‘I’m really looking forward to that. It is slightly diﬀerent as its all to do with wellness and health. It has got everything for all diﬀerent ages.’
The two-day event, organised by Basingstoke-based business H-Productions aims to motivate people into a healthier lifestyle.
Stars who are set to appear at the festival on September 2 to 3 include the world’s fourth strongest woman, Basingstoke’s own Farah Fonseca, singing dentist Dr Milad Shadrooh, Alice Liveing, best-selling author of Clean Eating Alice, inﬂuential blogger Danielle Vanier and CBeebies’ Mr Bloom.
Dame Kelly will be running a children’s sports day at the festival and the show arena will host various activities and demonstrations such as karate and free runners to motivate festival goers.
Still keeping extremely ﬁt, she hasn’t given up completely on running. Last year she even completed the London Marathon.
Known as much for her committed and determined approach to her athletics as well as her medals, Dame Kelly overcome injury and illness to become one of the fastest athletes the world has ever seen. ■