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Sunday 4 December 2016

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.

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 that marks Maloney's surprise return to her hugely successful 30-year career as a promoter.

She retired two years ago following her decision, which 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 heavyweight champion of the world.

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 repartee, has given way to the more softly-spoken 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 that 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 is talking openly about her "new life" in her flat in Bromley, Kent, where on display are family photographs of both Kellie and Frank. In the wardrobe hang dresses instead of the 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," she says.

"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 Maloney's daughters remain wary about.

empathy

"They've 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," she says.

"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.

"It allowed me to be their father again, which was wonderful," she says. "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."

Kellie's journey 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 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.

"For me, every day for years I used to put on this suit called Frank Maloney and face the world, but inside I was a ticking-time bomb.

"I used to dread the nights because I'd be haunted by Kellie. It was like having the devil on one side and an angel, constantly looking over my shoulder. They were battling with each other to win and it felt like being attacked.

"On the night of my ultimate success, when Lennox Lewis won, I went back to my hotel room and sobbed because even that couldn't make up for the emptiness at the heart of my life."

Overall, Maloney's had a positive response to her return to boxing and looks forward to enjoying banter with old friends.

"It will be different, though, because when in the past and out with the blokes it would be all about looking at women and them going, 'She's fit, what do you think about her?' and I'd go, 'Yeah', but I wasn't thinking about sex, I was thinking, 'Wish I could look like her, love that dress'," she says wryly.

"Although now I can have a full sexual relationship, I doubt I will have another partner. Sex was never my priority anyway.

"If I did find someone that made a light go on in my head, then maybe, although I don't know whether a natural partner for me would be a man or woman.

"The real problem for me is trust as I would worry they were only sleeping with me so they could sell the story.

"Now I receive so many texts and emails from people who say I've really helped them accept themselves and be accepted that I think maybe God gave me a special mission in life and it was meant to be.

"This is a new beginning and that's something I'm looking forward to."

Kellie Maloney's autobiography Frankly Kellie is published in August

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