“I was living very privately for about two years. I withdrew from the world, came off of Facebook and Twitter and closed down all my websites related to Frank Maloney." Kellie Maloney's transition was played out in the public eye, we find out how she made the UK forget about Frank.
I’ve called Kellie Maloney at an important time. She’s just preparing to jet off to Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand on her first post-transition solo holiday, a bridge she tells me she needs to cross to give herself more confidence.
Since coming out as transgender in 2014, Kellie has become something of a media darling and is never far from familiar daytime television shows such as The One Show, Loraine or more recently, Loose Women. Which is surprising considering Kellie never originally wanted the world to know about her transition.
Kellie and her beloved dogs photographed in Portugal
“I was living very privately for about two years. I withdrew from the world, came off of Facebook and Twitter and closed down all my websites related to Frank Maloney. I retired from boxing [as Frank she notoriously managed heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis] and I took myself away. I told everyone I was travelling and living in my house in Portugal when I was actually living in a small house in Maidstone as Kellie.”
The only time that Frank would reappear, now with long hair, was when Kellie went to visit her younger daughters. During one such outing, she was unknowingly tailed by a journalist and a photographer.
“February 2014, I’ll never forget it. I’d just got in at about 5 o’clock at night and there was a knock on the door. It was two journalists and they asked if I was Frank Maloney.” The reporters had followed her home and planned to release Kellie’s story to the world using the photographs they’d obtained.
“My whole world just collapsed. I told my daughter who came round to my house, telling me there had been a journalist at her door as well.” It wasn’t only Kellie’s eldest daughter who received unwanted press attention, the journalists had also placed calls to her ex-partner, former brother in law and her middle daughter. Kellie was forced to tell the rest of her family, and seek help from her solicitor.
“I knew I was being followed by the press, so I had to put Kellie away again and only go out as Frank. It was very traumatic and stressful.”
"It’s going to cost you a lot
to keep this out of the papers"
After a great deal of legal intervention, the paper agreed not to publish the piece, but that was far from the end of Kellie’s troubles with the press. Soon after, another journalist got wind of the story and it became clear that suppressing the truth from the media forever was impossible.
“This time, we brought in a PR company who said, ‘to be honest with you, you’re going to run out of money. It’s going to cost you a lot to keep this out of the papers and eventually it will come out anyway because too many people know about it. There are two ways we can try to deal with it. We can hope it’s going to go away, which it won’t, or we can try to control the situation.’ I spoke to my family and we decided we would try to control the situation.”
Kellie chose The Mirror, who gave her editorial and picture rights, meaning they wouldn’t use the photos that were already doing the rounds on the market. From the moment the story appeared in August 2014, Kellie’s life changed irreversibly.
“It just went AWOL. Next thing I knew I was offered a place on Big Brother. Being on the show meant that two million households saw my struggle on their television for an hour every day. When I look back, though, I wasn’t ready for it. I went into the show still caught between Kellie and Frank. Every day I got stronger and stronger, though, and when I eventually came out of the house I think I’d finally found myself. I went in as two people but I came out as one.”
Kellie in one of many press shots for Celebrity Big Brother, which she entered in 2014. Image via Channel 5
Kellie retired from boxing in 2013, before her transition, but decided to return to her career in 2015. Has the journey to becoming Kellie made her a better manager?
“Frank was very driven. He had to be number one, had to be out there all the time, had to make outrageous statements to keep himself relevant. As Kellie, I’m more focused on looking after my fighter. I think I’m a much better manager now because I’m a more understanding person and I’m not as aggressive as I used to be.”
"I was keeping my female self locked away, but I was
also destroying the people around me"
Kellie is such a prominent public figure, it’s hard to imagine how she managed to conceal her true self from the world for so long, and she describes feelings of “torment and agony” during that time.
“Hiding caused me a lot of stress. There are people in my life that I regret losing over transitioning. I was keeping my female self locked away, but I was also destroying the people around me. I had no choice in the matter in the end. I felt like if I didn’t open up and come to terms with everything I probably would have ended up killing myself, and I did attempt suicide a couple of times.”
One reason Kellie concealed her gender identity for so long was her deep respect for her father. “He had me on a pedestal because of what I had achieved. Maybe if he was still alive today I would have fought it harder, I don’t know. The day before my father died was one of the most emotional of my life. He pulled all his three boys together and I wanted to tell him then but I just froze and couldn’t. I wanted him to go with the memory of me that he knew.”
Kellie and her three daughters in 2015
Kellie’s transition means she’s now closer to her own children. She tells me that she’s happy and “at peace” now that her children know her true self. “My life with my children is fantastic. I thought I was going to lose them but I actually think I’m closer to them now than was before. I know they still struggle and it’s hard for them but they are great kids and they really helped with their love and support. I wouldn’t have got this far without them.”
“I’ll always remember the day my daughter said, ‘it’s either our dad in a dress or our dad in a wooden box.’”
Today Kellie combines her boxing work with public speaking, talking to charities and schools. She sees her role as an educational one, for those who don’t yet understand what it is to be transgender.
Despite this, ‘trans’ a term she isn’t fully comfortable with. “I don’t use the word. I will say the world or society sees me as a trans person, but as far as I’m concerned I’m a woman and I’m a human being.”
“I will argue that case with anybody, whether Germaine Greer, Jeremy Clarkson… anyone who wants to argue because it’s about how I feel, how I see myself, no matter what society labels me as. I am a human being first and last.”
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Images courtesy of Kellie Maloney and Channel 5