Kellie Maloney: 'Now I'm a complete person'

Kellie Maloney
Kellie Maloney attends a fight in Glasgow last year

In death, Muhammad Ali's words have been given new life, his old interviews playing out on a loop this past week and serving as reminders of the great man's wit and wisdom.

That saying amid the maelstrom of his refusal to go to war in Vietnam - "I don't have to be what you want me to be, I'm free to be what I want" - will have resonated with all who have faced their internal battles in life, Kellie Maloney among them.

In her past, of course, she was Frank Maloney, a Millwall fan from the age of three when young Francis was brought along to The Den by his working class Irish dad and his docker mates. There were spells as a jockey, a chef and a boxer until he found his calling - promoting and managing fighters, the best of them the world champion heavyweight Lennox Lewis.

Frank had opinions on everything and half of them careered over the edge of what was acceptable. "I remember the words of my teacher when I walked out of school - 'You'll never make nothing'. I remember them words. As Frank, I'd say outrageous things. I didn't care who I upset. I used to make remarks just so that people would know that Frank Maloney was about."

Frank Maloney and Lennox Lewis
Frank Maloney and Lennox Lewis in 1999

In the opening episode of the new series of Sport Talk on BBC Radio Scotland - in the first season we spoke to Ken Buchanan, Sir Jackie Stewart, Henrik Larsson, Brian Laudrup and more - Kellie Maloney talks about her transition to a new life as a woman; the private torment, the thoughts of suicide and the support of family now that that the gender reassignment surgery is complete and the journey is at an end.

In the room in her new house on the Kent coast, Maloney has her two Airedale terriers by her side, Louis here and Winnie there. "I've had them since they were eight weeks old," she smiles. "They must be more confused than anybody else."

She tells a story about the dogs and how they saved her life in the midst of the darkness on the road from Frank to Kellie. She was driving down the motorway, her thoughts scrambled, her mind full of guilt about having to tell her three daughters - the eldest in her late 30s, the youngest in her mid-teens - about her secret life.

"They were with me in the car and I thought about accelerating and driving into something and I looked at them and I thought, 'They don't deserve to die, they've done nothing wrong'. That's why they're very special to me. They saved my life - more than once."

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Kellie Maloney thanks boxing grassroots support

It's been almost two years since Kellie went public, a revelation that lifted a deadweight off her shoulders. Some of the chat about her awakening is intense and deeply moving. At other times, it's hilarious. Black comedy is never far from the conversation.

There was a time when she took her youngest daughter to New York as part of a bonding exercise amid some seriously difficult months. She was Kellie then. On their way out of New York there was confusion at passport control. 'You're travelling with a minor," said the bewildered official. 'Could you tell me what relation you are to this child?'

Quick as a flash, 14-year-old Libby, called out: "He's me dad!" The look on the guy's face cracked them up, almost as much as the time his grand-daughter picked up an item on a shopping trip to Next and called across the shop: 'Hey, grand-dad, this'll look nice!'

From the age of four, Kellie knew there was something different about her. "My brothers used to dream about being a footballer, a rock star or a spaceman. I used to dream that I was a girl. I could never understand it.

"My dad used to say, 'You know, sometimes dreams can come true. What do you dream about, Francis?' And I went, 'I don't dream'. How could I tell him? I went through life telling my parents that I never dreamt. I used to cry myself to sleep at night sometimes. 'Why can't I have the same dreams as my brothers?' It was scary."

Kellie Maloney
Maloney says her family have become "stronger as a unit"

On the wall beside us are pictures of the Maloney family; children, grandchildren and one of Frank given to him by his daughters and probably the last shot he has from his former life.

"If my daughters want to call me Kellie, call me dad, call me Frank, call me an idiot, they can. We try to keep it light-hearted. I know my daughters have been attacked by some people in the transgender community for calling me dad in public, but I'll always be their dad.

"What I've done is correct a mistake that was made at my birth. I've used medical science to correct it. And now I'm a complete person. It's as if I've taken the blinkers off and I see the real world instead of the world Frank Maloney saw.

"I've had friends who have gone through this journey and some have not completed it because they've taken their own lives. They weren't able to deal with the rejection and the remarks. Some others have lost their family along the way. I've managed to hold my family together. If anything, we're stronger as a unit."

There was something that his eldest girl, Emma, said to her after Emma heard the full horror of her father's confusion and despair in having to live such a confused life.

"Emma was the first member of the family to meet Kellie. She heard about how unhappy I had been for so long and how I tried to take my life and she said, 'I'd rather have my dad in a dress than in a box'. She just accepted it. I'll never forget that."

Today, Kellie is more or less out of boxing, save for promoting one junior fighter. Her life is quiet and content. She has views on the game and the people who run it, but that's not her life anymore.

As Ali said, and as she has proven, she's now free to be who she wants to be.

Listen to Sport Talk with Kellie Maloney, first aired on Saturday, 11 June.

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