My Woman of Substance for August is Olympic gold-winning heptathlete and mother of two, Denise Lewis OBE. Denise will be one of BBC Television’s pundits at the Rio Olympics this month. A former English track and field athlete, who specialised in the heptathlon (hurdles, high jump, shot, 200m, long jump, javelin, 800m), Denise wowed TV audiences with her dance moves during the second series of Strictly Come Dancing.
Born to a 17-year-old single mother, she grew up in Wolverhampton, where her teachers initially suspected her force of will would make her the country's first female prime minister. In the Atlanta Olympics of 1996 she took home bronze – at the 2000 Sydney Olympics Denise won the gold medal in the heptathlon.
She was honoured as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2000 New Year Honours.
We met for lunch in Gerrard’s Cross after a shopping spree at our Winser London boutique.
Kim Winser: Denise, what or who inspired you to become one of Britain’s greatest athletes? And why did you chose the heptathlon, it must be so challenging to be able to master so many different sports?
As a child I loved watching the Olympics. Seb Coe, Daley Thompson, etc were all my icons and inspiration. I was a sporty child and I wanted to be part of it. The Heptathlon – good question! I liked the camaraderie between the athletes and the idea of mastering each event – being the best. It’s a really fun atmosphere, where you get a mutual respect from your fellow competitors. It’s a great feeling.
What is your most memorable competition and do share with us why?
Hmmm…Sydney 2000! This was where I won the Gold medal. Memorable for this and much more. I was injured in the weeks leading up to it and it was a close call. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I just had to trust that my plan and my training would see me through. Thankfully they did.
Nothing compares to standing on that podium and having your dreams realised. The affection and support from the crowd was overwhelming, I’ll never forget it.
You said that it was your mind that got you through the final 800m race to take home gold in 2000. Please do talk us through the race and how you used your mental focus to win?
I was lucky that I had a bit of a buffer from the javelin. I was injured and had to pray that my Achilles would hold up. My coach had talked me through the strategy, it was focus that got me through. I could hear my name being screamed in the 80,000 person arena, but I had to ignore it and commit myself fully.
I'm very keen to know who are your Top 5 to watch in Rio?
Adam Peaty, Max Whitlock, Laura Trott, Jessica Ennis…and lots of potentials!
Britain has at least two gold-medal contenders for Rio; Jessica Ennis and Katarina Johnson-Thompson. You were a childhood inspiration to these girls – that must feel amazing. Do you feel proud that others have followed in your footsteps?
Yes of course and I’m proud that both Jess and Kat will already be inspiring girls themselves. Jess is still the world leader in the heptathlon. Let’s hope we continue to hold that!
Wellness is an important factor in your life - you’ve been called “fastidious about your physique” - and have written a book, ‘The Flat Tummy’. How was your interest in wellbeing ignited and what do you practice now to keep yourself healthy?
It was ignited by competing in high level sports. I had to find moments of stillness and calm to focus. Now I try to do what I can in between being a busy mum! I practice yoga once a week and exercise whenever possible as I find it keeps my energy levels up. Classes work best for me as I need something to get up and go to!
I know you are a real fan of Winser, thank you – which are your favourite pieces and might you be flying the Winser London flag in Rio?
Yes, I will definitely be flying the flag! I don’t want a fight when I put my clothes on - that’s one of the reasons I enjoy Winser clothes so much. They’re effortless and I know my size will fit me. The pieces are designed for real women’s bodies and the quality is great. I wore the amazing Stripe Wrap Dress in the royal box at Wimbledon in July – I felt so good in it. My favourite piece is the V-Neck Silk Top I wore on The One Show not long ago. It’s so easy to wear and I always feel confident in it.