We talk to Kelly Sotherton MBE, Olympic medallist and inspirational athletics speaker.

29th Sep 2023

Kelly Sotherton MBE, Olympic medallist and athletics speaker chats with Jane Farnham, Director of Great British Speakers.

We talk to Olympic medallist and athletics speaker Kelly Sotherton MBE to hear all about her journey from growing up on a council estate to Olympic glory.

Kelly Sotherton MBE, a distinguished figure in the world of athletics, has left an indelible mark with her exceptional achievements. Her illustrious career boasts three bronze Olympic medals, earned across two separate Olympic Games, underscoring her prowess on the global stage. Notably, she clinched the coveted Commonwealth Gold in 2006 and even outpaced Jessica Ennis-Hill to secure a World Championship Bronze in 2007, a testament to her remarkable talent.

In addition to her Olympic and World Championship accolades, Kelly’s collection of medals includes a silver from the World Indoor Championships, three silver medals from the European Indoor Championships, and a remarkable tally of eight gold, one silver, and two bronze medals from the Island Games.

Beyond her athletic endeavors, Kelly Sotherton has emerged as a compelling athletics speaker. Her voice resonates with authenticity and passion, making her a sought-after presence on renowned platforms like TalkSport, Five Live, and Channel 4. As an athletics speaker, she imparts valuable insights, shares her journey of triumphs and challenges, and inspires audiences with her remarkable story of dedication and achievement.

Contact Great British Speakers today to book Olympic medallist and athletics speaker Kelly Sotherton MBE for your next event.

Here’s the full transcript of Olympic medallist and athletics speaker Kelly Sotherton MBE‘s chat with Jane Farnham of Great British Speakers:

00:00:08:31 – 00:00:19:28

Jane Farnham

Hi, I’m Jane Farnham from Great British Speakers, and I’m here today chatting to the fabulous motivational and inspirational Team GB heptathlete, Kelly Sotherton. Hi, Kelly. Thanks for joining us today.

00:00:19:51 – 00:00:21:18

Kelly Sotherton

Yeah, nice to be with you, Jane.

00:00:21:48 – 00:00:37:01

Jane Farnham

It’s lovely to see you. So, first of all, let’s just, tell us, tell us a little bit about your early life, how you got involved with what is generally regarded as one of the most challenging sporting competitions. How did it start? Did it start with one sport or did you decide this is what you were going to do from the beginning?

00:00:38:13 – 00:01:28:44

Kelly Sotherton

I was probably one of those kids that everybody was annoyed at and hated at school because I did everything, every after school club, every after school sport possible. I just did it because I just loved being part of a team and my friends did the same. And then after a certain age, probably at age about ten or 11, I started to really focus on netball, hockey and athletics. And I just loved doing everything, I loved running, jumping and throwing. Wasn’t so good at throwing, but I still enjoyed doing it. So that’s where my love of doing multi-sport, multi-events came from. Just wanting to do everything. And it was in that time where, you was able to do and access everything. So I, I think I felt very fortunate that I was able to do all of those events. And I had great PE teachers that obviously pushed and supported me to do that.

00:01:29:36 – 00:01:39:23

Jane Farnham

So I guess it started at county level, as it does with most athletes. And then how do you move from there into the, you know, the main competitive arena and global arena?

00:01:40:04 – 00:02:32:30

Kelly Sotherton

So I come from the Isle of Wight, so I had to go to Portsmouth to get all my competition and training because they were the only place that had an athletics track that was near me. So I had to get a train and a boat to go training and compete every week. And so going to county schools representing your, the Isle of Wight and then Hampshire at English schools competition, doing well there. And then getting recognized by national coaches, being invited to national camps and then eventually get invited to represent England AND Great Britain at age group level. So it’s, it is a process and you start low and you just build up and every year you just move up a level to the level where you do your first major championships, which to me was Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002. And then from there that sets the seed and the motivation to go to the, to go the Olympics.

00:02:33:03 – 00:02:35:04

Jane Farnham

Wow. So what sort of age were you then?

00:02:36:12 – 00:03:34:48

Kelly Sotherton

So I got my first international when I was 15 years old for England, and that was in Glasgow 1991, a long time ago. What’s really interesting, out of the whole team that went to that school championships representing England, I was the only one that went to a Olympic Games. So it was a team of about 60. So it just shows you how tough it is. Even if you are an international and, as a young athlete, what the, what the success rate is going and making it to the Olympic Games is really, really small and really, really hard. And then I didn’t get my first GB International until I was 18 and that was in, in Russia of all places in Moscow. Very interesting place to have your first International. But then it took at least seven years before I made my senior debut and that was at the Commonwealth Games in 2002 for England and I was at the age of 25. So I took quite a long time from being a junior athlete to then transition into a senior athlete.

00:03:35:40 – 00:03:44:52

Jane Farnham

And what would you say is your biggest achievement to date in terms of awards and medals? And what’s your, the one that you hold closest to your heart?

00:03:45:28 – 00:04:48:05

Kelly Sotherton

Well, you know, you always think that the one medal that would be special would be your Olympic medal or medals. And they are. But most recently, I got my MBE. And so I think [congratulations], thank you very much. And being recognized for that is basically the medal of all medals because it’s recognising everything that you’ve done. You know, going to Windsor Castle with Prince Charles, the future king, to be given that MBE, it’s a major honour. So I’ve only had that in my grasp for the last week or so. So I think that’s special because that, that combines everything and it represents everything that I’ve done and achieved not just as medals but what I’ve done for my sport and will continue to be doing for my sport. So I’d like to upgrade it one day. Obviously I’m ambitious. It is like it’s one medal, what can I get the next one. So I’m very ambitious of moving up that scale. But I’d say my MBE because I’ve never smiled so much receiving that.

00:04:48:30 – 00:05:00:46

Jane Farnham

Well, congratulations, well-deserved. And obviously it wasn’t all easy along the way. What would you say your biggest challenges or toughest moments along the way throughout your journey.

00:05:01:13 – 00:07:39:05

Kelly Sotherton

So in 2008, I went to the Olympics, Beijing, probably favorite to win, but I had a lot of injury problems there that would have scuppered those chances. But I had an opportunity to win a medal and I was there for two events and I came away coming fifth in both. And that’s the Heptathlon and the four by four relay. But during those Olympic Games I also got upgraded from fifth to fourth in the Heptathlon. So okay, so that’s great, but it still doesn’t give me a medal, so I felt very unsatisfied. And then it was about seven, eight years later that I found out that our four by four team were going to get upgraded to a bronze because two members of the relay team that finished above us failed doping tests so that we got upgraded and then six months later, in the middle of 2017, I found out that the girl, the Russian athlete, who had finished above me in third had also had a sample. Re-tested for Beijing and it failed. So then I was in line for another bronze and I just don’t think anybody else is being given two bronze medals ten years later, for the Olympics. So after that process was done in, I had to wait another year, year and a half before I got hold of those medals, or I was allowed to be given them, and I was really fortunate to get them in two special places, one at the Olympic Stadium in London with my teammates, with the 4×4 and at the Team GB ball, that was celebrating Pyeongchang 2018 Olympians in a really small, intimate service getting that medal and a standing ovation for four minutes. You know, people cry, but they understood why, like I was getting that medal so, so late. But then I felt that my career was ended and I actually felt, the bitterness that I had just disappeared and dissipated. And I felt that now, my career, I fell like I’ve had a great career, because I knew in my heart of hearts they were my medals. I just couldn’t prove it, I had had to wait for something to happen if it ever happened. So I kind of feel vindicated now. I feel more at ease and at peace, if that makes sense. So yeah, when you say I’m a three time Olympic medalist, not many people can say that, if hardly any. So I feel a massive great sense of achievement and then being topped off three years later with an MBE to confirm what I had achieved again probably ten years late because I probably would have got the MBE ten years ago too. So everything comes late to me. But I think these things are worth waiting for, right? So yeah, so it’s not bittersweet, but also, you know, it’s unreal about the situation

00:07:39:05 – 00:07:58:30

Jane Farnham

That must have been really, really tough and frustrating for you to miss out on those medals first time round and they’d be giving them to you at a later date that it just must have been infuriating. What you draw upon. I mean, where did you get your strength from and your resilience? Because I know that’s what you tend to talk a lot about that, don’t you, when you go out and speak to people?

00:07:58:44 – 00:09:35:00

Kelly Sotherton

Yeah. I think, you know, naturally when you’re an elite performer, you have a high natural level of resilience anyway, not to slam on the drum about my upbringing, but I come from a single parent family, I’m an only child, I grew up on a council estate, didn’t have very little, but everything I did have, I really, like, hold and feel humble about and a sense of achievement without the bragging. I don’t like bragging, I might brag a little bit sometimes in the company that I know, and make people curtsy and stuff, that’s the ongoing joke currently, and it’s quite funny. But I think it’s just just the strength of character and being real. And I do not want to be one of these people from any sector or any walk of life where you just carry bitterness. I just didn’t want to be that person in ten, 15 years time when I’m sitting in the chair, when, I’m old, complaining about what I should have and what I could have got. So I tell people what I achieved without, without being bitter about it. So I just think I’m naturally resilient and very much a pragmatist, really honest, and my integrity is real. I just, I don’t know, I, I think it’s so natural. It’s just there. So I’m very fortunate to have that ability. It doesn’t mean I can’t be upset and cry and be vulnerable, because I can be. And I show that, I’ll let people know I’m very vulnerable and I think that’s important. However, I can allow that to happen, and grieve. I’ll move forward and feel very humble about what I’ve achieved.

00:09:36:01 – 00:09:44:40

Jane Farnham

And do you think then, going back to the doping, because do you think any lessons have actually been learned along the way? Because obviously this is a big thing and not just in athletics.

00:09:45:46 – 00:11:07:53

Kelly Sotherton

I think so. I think in any walks of life, wherever there’s an opportunity to cheat, people will cheat, however small or big, and it’s just ensuring that you eradicate as much as possible, it’s never going to completely go away, but you just ensure that the measures are in place to help athletes who are clean, to ensure that every performance in whatever sport or whatever sector is done right and all the processes and frameworks are in place. So if someone is caught, that it doesn’t go on for ten years, but also for anybody who has cheated in a sport , that actually just because you haven’t been caught that year, it could be six, seven, eight, nine years, you can still be caught. It’s not over. So that statute of limitation of ten years in sport, probably might extend soon. I heard it might go to 12 or 14. So if somebody’s cheating now, could get caught in 2032, 2035. You know, it’s not over till it’s over. And that’s a good thing. However, now it’s just ensuring that we, it’s the public and it’s the fans, ensuring that they believe what they see is real and it isn’t cheating because there is now, everybody doesn’t always believe a good performance is real. They feel it’s enhanced by drugs and it’s now turning, turning that around. And how can we do that? Because that’s quite important that the fans believe what they is real.

00:11:08:33 – 00:11:15:57

Jane Farnham

Absolutely. So then tell us a little bit about your post athletics life, your media work. And of course, your path into speaking.

00:11:16:46 – 00:13:08:44

Kelly Sotherton

Yes. So as my events as a heptathlete, fingers in pies, I love doing lots of varied things, coaching in and out of athletics, so I’ve worked at Wasps Rugby, I’m currently working at Warwickshire Cricket, their men’s first team, I’m the team leader of the Commonwealth Games next year in Birmingham 2022. Which is a challenge in itself, but very exciting. I like talking about how, you know, how physical performance, not just in sport but outside sport can help you, so sleep, resilience, nutrition, looking after yourself, mental health. I’ve been open about my experiences, about how things have affected me. As I’ve explained to you Jane, I’ve recently had a number of deaths in the last year, how do you overcome them? You know, I’ve had some sort of depressive times. I’ve been on antidepressants, I’ve come off them, I’ve dealt with that, and I’m just open about it. So it’s like encompassing all that and sharing what I do and how I do it. What’s right for me, hoping that I potentially could help one person. So when I do speak to people about sport and  life, it’s hoping that I can help somebody or, you know, switch, flip a switch and in someone’s brain, and they say. Oh, that sounds really good. And hopefully maybe change their lives forever. So I did put something on my Instagram not too long ago, I had a fortune cookie from a Chinese, and it said, today’s a day, your life will change. And actually from that Instagram story, my life did change. I’m not going to go into details, but it was like, just doing those nice little sliding door moments are really exciting because it’s like, shall I do this or shall I not do this? And they do affect the rest of your life on what direction you go and I kind of find that exciting. So because I like the unexpected and spontaneity and stuff like that.

00:13:09:16 – 00:13:27:01

Jane Farnham

I love doing new things and I always teach like, I always teach my kids that, you know, say yes, because that’s how you, you get opportunities in life, say yes to everything, and don’t shy away from it and step out of your comfort zone. It’s all these things. They all sound a bit of a cliche, but it’s so true because you don’t get to experience life in its full otherwise.

00:13:27:59 – 00:14:12:05

Kelly Sotherton

Absolutely. And actually and when I do a talk, I always say, when you’re doing something, you might not like it, but say yes to everything because you don’t know what you like or don’t like until you experience it. And it’s always better to say, no I don’t like that because I’ve given it a go. So for instance, you know, when you do networking events, you have to go into a big room full of people you don’t know, but you know, and it’s just making friends. It’s going, Oh, hi, I’m Kelly, I’m doing, okay, everyone feels the same because no one likes doing those events by themselves. It’s awkward, but once you get used to doing that, you feel good about it. So I do say, say yes to as many things as possible to find out what you like and where, maybe a new passion could grow. I just think that’s really important.

00:14:12:34 – 00:14:37:17

Jane Farnham

Me too. I’m absolutely with you there, So recently you went to see one of our clients, at your old University, to do a talk around mental health, which obviously is a massive subject, particularly since lockdown. We always get consistently asked about mental health speakers and resilient speakers at the moment. And now they obviously gave us rave reviews about your talk. How were you able to relate your experiences to their series of activities around colleagues’ mental health within the business?

00:14:38:24 – 00:17:14:45

Kelly Sotherton

I think as a sports person, you also, you are also a person. So you also go through the trials and tribulations of life like everybody else does. Then I think I’m quite fortunate. I’ve actually been in the work place, I used to work for a bank for four or five years before I became a professional athlete. So I have the understanding of a 9 to 5 drill and understanding of the pressures of life, finances, family. So it’s just that, what I do as a person that helped me to be the best version of me. And I think that’s quite critical and crucial. It’s like, I was able to be the best person as an athlete because I followed these, these ideas, the rules or a framework, and I just try to relate that to everyday life. So, for instance, you know, the number one key thing to mental health is just getting rest and recovery and sleep. And how do you sleep? What are the, what key tips can you give? And it’s just those simple things. It’s just like anything, like a diet, like, well, just cut something out. Don’t, don’t go drastic. Just be, just do things slowly in your own time because it’s easier to make those transitions when you do short shocks. It’s okay. But also not everybody can do that. So it’s giving a number of solutions to help as many people as possible. And that’s what it is because there’s not, there’s so many ways to skin a cat. Basically, I shouldn’t say that as my cat’s outside the window, but like there are so many ways that you can do it. And people are different learners, different receivers of communication. And I think as a coach anyway, it’s like you coach, you talk to the people in front of you and everybody responds and reacts differently to what you do and so when I do talk in any setting, especially when we talk about mental health, just trying to give as much information as possible, how I’ve done it, and you just hope somebody relates to it. And some of the information I give out sticks on somebody and as I said, flicking the switch on somebody, it can just be a word or a saying or a piece of body language. And obviously through COVID, we’ve done lots of talks on Zoom. They’re great, but in person, they’re even better, aren’t they? Because you can have more emotive talks. I think you can hit the point a little bit more when you are in person. And I’ve done that a couple of times where people have been generally upset about my life in terms of not getting my medals. Somebody cried before. They were genuinely upset. And she goes, that’s amazing, I’ve never seen someone cry. But then it felt, if she feels like that, you know, like that makes me feel emotive and humbled. So yeah, it’s just trying to give out as much information and as many solutions as possible to help as many people as possible.

00:17:15:19 – 00:17:40:30

Jane Farnham

I think sometimes people see a journey from A to B as this huge, you know, it has to all be done at once. It’s the baby steps, isn’t it, to help you get there and see, you know, telling people that it’s, it’s okay to not just do it in one because that just seems very scary. So it’s giving people tools to understand that we’re all human and we have to listen to our bodies and mental health and be kind to one another.

00:17:40:57 – 00:18:43:13

Kelly Sotherton

Yes, one day at a time, isn’t it? And some people do one day at a time. It could be just get through to 5:00 at the end of the day. And then brilliant, once you’ve done it once, it is easy the next time and it’s at least 21 days to form a habit. So if you can get through three weeks of doing something, it will start becoming more natural and you’ll be able to do it. And then it becomes something that’s part of your life and you start forming good habits, equally, it takes just as long to get rid of a bad habit. So, and it’s just showing the way of how it’s done. And even as an elite athlete, I have short term goals on my fridge, so I see things, I write things down, I have lists. I know that works for me so, doesn’t for everybody, but if you write things down, then I fell that you’re accountable for them and then you have to do them, and then you can tick them off. And it feels so much better when you can see you’ve achieved something. So yeah, those short term goals leading up to long term goals is probably what most people are more successful at doing. So yeah, if you want a glass of red wine have it, just have a small one, don’t have a big one, that’s, that you’re already making progress.

00:18:44:54 – 00:18:59:54

Jane Farnham

Absolutely and well yeah I love a checklist list as well. I love lists. Gives me so much pleasure ticking off a list of things that I’ve had, what I want to do. And finally, Kelly, what gives you the biggest buzz about speaking when you talk.

00:19:00:52 – 00:20:13:15

Kelly Sotherton

I think is when, when afterwards where, somebody might be sitting there, said nothing, and maybe feel not so interested, but all of a sudden they’ve obviously taken in what you said and then they ask that poignant question related to something you’ve asked, and then you go, oh, okay, so you realize you’ve actually got to somebody what you said. And I just think it’s, it’s somebody who then even on social media said, like recently I had somebody said, what you said in your talk really inspired me and I’ve gone off to do this and now I’ve inspired my child. So you’re not just inspiring one person. That ripple effect goes on and on. And then whatever that child does, might you know, inspire somebody else and or give somebody more aspiration. So it’s just giving somebody the opportunity of an aspiration that they may never had or inspire someone tp want to go and do something they’ve never done. Like we’ve talked about the yes thing, and it’s nice that even in the couple of weeks after you’ve had a talk and somebody has gone and done something crazy, which they never would have done if they hadn’t listened to you. So I’ve had quite a lot, quite a lot of them. I think they’ve all ended positively so don’t want to be sued. A police officer told me to go do this.

00:20:13:24 – 00:20:15:21

Jane Farnham

Did you make them all sign a disclaimer before? 

00:20:16:26 – 00:20:44:18

Kelly Sotherton

Yeah I should do. I suppose it’s just encouraging people to be braver and what have you got to lose at the end of the day, you can only enhance your life and make it more fun. And it has to be fun. Ultimately. My strap line is, laugh in the face of adversity because, you know, if you don’t laugh, you’re going to cry, and sometimes crying is good. But laughing at us, there’s always sunshine after rain. I just think that’s always a critical thing to remember. So I always end my little talks with something similar like that.

00:20:45:25 – 00:20:51:16

Jane Farnham

Well, Kelly, it’s been so inspiring chatting to you today. Thank you so much for joining us and taking the time out to chat.

00:20:51:55 – 00:20:52:37

Kelly Sotherton

Thank you, Jane.

00:20:53:29 – 00:21:02:47

Jane Farnham

Now, if you’d like to book Kelly, simply contact myself or Steve at Great British Speakers on 01753439289 or you can email bookings at bookings@greatbritishtalent.com.


You can also catch the Great British Speakers Podcast series on your favourite podcast platform:


Call +44 1753 439 289 or email Great British Speakers now to book Olympic medallist and athletics speaker Kelly Sotherton MBE.
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