After finally winning the biggest battle of her personal life, the remarkable Kellie Maloney is fighting once again - to establish herself back in the world she loves.
Wearing make-up, a figure-hugging dress and heels, she’s punching the air with a perfectly manicured hand as she sits ringside watching the boxer - her client - slug his way to victory. It’s a bout which marks Maloney’s surprise return to her hugely successful 30-year career as a promoter.
She retired two years ago following her decision - which eventually shocked the sporting world and her family - to become a woman.
That process completed, she’s found it impossible to resist being drawn back into the tough testosterone-fuelled business, but reveals her one lingering fear.
“I hope I’m wrong, but I’m frightened that this may bring back Frank,” confides the 62-year-old disconcertingly as if she’s talking about a rival in the fight game instead of her banished male identity.
Two months ago, a sex-change operation, giving her female genitalia and breasts, finally ended her former life as Frank Maloney, renowned for taking the legendary Lennox Lewis to glory as Britain’s first undisputed heavyweight champion of the world in nearly a century.
Millions watched as Frank celebrated in the ring with the boxer after his 1992 triumph, and became a household name.
Nowadays, the fast-talking, swaggering Cockney, known for his flamboyant Union Jack suits and razor-sharp repartee has given way to the more softly-spoken, charming Kellie, who’s been further feminised by hormone therapy, hundreds of hours of hair removal by electrolysis, voice coaching and specialist counselling.
It’s a process which has not been without its perils - after suffering a suspected reaction to anaesthetic, she nearly died during radical facial surgery.
“I’ve got Frank’s gritty, gutsy determination to thank for helping me survive the torment of feeling trapped in the wrong body, and getting me through the agonising process of becoming a woman, but I don’t want him dominating me again like he did,” vows Maloney, who’s been married twice and has three daughters, Emma, 37, Sophie, 20 and Libby, 14, and two grandchildren.
Warm and witty, Maloney’s talking openly about her “new life” in his flat in Bromley, Kent, where on display are family photographs of both Kellie and Frank. In the wardrobe hang rows of dresses instead of the 150 men’s designer suits she once owned.
“The torment he was going through made Frank angry, aggressive and selfish. So far I’ve kept him submerged and at bay and I hope the challenges of stepping back into his world - boxing - don’t bring him out again. I’m only taking the risk to prove to myself I can succeed as a woman in the sport I love. It’s the final piece in my complicated jigsaw.”
It’s a step her daughters remain wary about. “They have told me plainly, ‘We’ll make you walk away from boxing if Frank returns’. I’ve sworn to them that if he does, I’ll hang up my gloves and walk away. They say I’m a better dad now I’m Kellie because she’s calmer, more caring and with an empathy and understanding of people and they want to hang on to her.
‘‘As Frank, I was lying and hiding the truth from them but now we’re so close which is such a relief because I feared they’d reject me when I came out as a woman.”
The turning point in their relationship was achieved last year when after going public about her gender change, she appeared on Celebrity Big Brother and her soul-searching with fellow housemates touched her daughters’ hearts. “When I came out, they were there and told me ‘we’re really proud of you’,” she says holding back tears.
“It allowed me to be their father again which was wonderful. They sometimes call me ‘Dad in a dress’ or ‘Kel’.
‘‘I love shopping with them and they advise me on my hair, make-up and clothes and will go ‘Dad, you can’t wear that!’ if I get it wrong. Their support and my ex-wife Tracie’s - we have an unbreakable bond - has set the seal on my new life and helped make me totally at peace with myself for the first time. I love being a woman.”
A documentary, Kellie Maloney: No Going Back, on Channel Five (June 4) will reveal how the family coped with her dramatic transformation and the public spotlight, as last August she became the highest-profile figure ever from the world of sport to disclose having gender reassignment therapy.
She has since been followed by former Olympic athlete, American Bruce Jenner who revealed, on reality TV, his plans to go through gender reassignment.
“I feel very sorry for Bruce because I recognise only too well the pain in his eyes and understand what he’s going through. I hope he, like me, is talking publicly to help increase acceptance and help other people in our situation. That’s what drives me on,” says Maloney.
:: Kellie Maloney: No Going Back is on Channel Five on June 4
:: Kellie Maloney’s autobiography Frankly Kellie (Blink Publishing) is published in August