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A Life Less Ordinary – Kate Richardson-Walsh

“The Olympics was a bit like Groundhog Day: you play, you don’t, play, don’t. Then it’s, “Oh God, we won. Now what do we do?”’

Kate Richardson-Walsh captained the Great Britain women’s hockey team to the gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Since making her international debut in 1999, she has won 375 caps.

Where do you go to think?
I think the most when I am alone, and the time I’m most alone is in the car. Driving to and from training, or the physio, I have my music on and that’s when I analyse what’s happened in the day and how I’m feeling. Hip-hop and R&B are my go-tos, but I could be listening to Adele, Arctic Monkeys or Nina Simone.

What are the everyday pleasures that you can’t live without?
Yoga. I try and do it three times a week. It gives me time to switch my brain off, because it’s non-stop in there. With yoga, you have to concentrate on the movement, your breath and being mindful. I have a yoga app on my phone, so I can get my mat out and do it anywhere, really.

To whom do you look for advice most often?
Probably my wife, Helen [Richardson-Walsh, fellow GB hockey gold medalist]. She’s in the team, and obviously gets what I am going through because she is going through it herself. She’s honest with me, which I really appreciate.

When we won Olympic Gold, it was just surreal. It still feels like it happened to someone else

What’s the best thing you’ve done for someone else?
Hard one to answer. I’m not good at blowing my own trumpet. But, I’ll say when Helen had double back surgery and went through a really difficult time. Just being there for each other in that moment was quite special. It was also really difficult, because every day was hard. Looking back it was probably the making of us, actually.

What’s the best thing anyone’s done for you?
When I had my darkest moment, two years ago, I took myself around the world because I felt like I needed to be in my own headspace. Helen really understood that and gave me the space to do that. She really appreciated that I needed to do it at the time and it would be the best thing for me.

Where’s the best place you’ve ever been?
I went to Japan on my world trip and I’m going to take Helen there. Over there, all your senses… boom. The food, the people, the noise, the temples. I saw Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto. This time we’re going down to Okinawa and the islands too. The first night in Tokyo, I hired a bike and cycled from my ryodan [traditional inn] to Senso-ji temple. One of my best moments ever.

What’s the best thing you can cook?
Roast dinner. We have them most Sundays. It’s how I like to relax. All the hockey girls live in the same area and we get some of them over, with partners. There has to be sprouts, roast potatoes and good gravy. I’m Northern. Northern birds love gravy.

How do you make yourself happy?
By understanding myself, accepting myself and listening to myself. I’ve had therapy in the last two years. Everybody can be hard on themselves, critical and judgemental. I am a really emotive person and I used to really hate myself for it. But actually, it’s just… you. Be accepting of that, if you’re emotive, maybe question those emotions and let them speak to you, rather than try and shut them down.

Name the art or culture that most inspires you or enriches your leisure time?
Fashion. I went to see the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A. I found it stunning, and it really gripped me. His whole heart and soul is in the clothes; you can really see that. Couture is expensive and not for everyone – it’s a little bit ridiculous – but I think it’s art. There are artists sewing thousands of beads or sequins or crystals to make beautiful pieces of art.

Can you name something you’ve bought that you would never give away?
My wedding ring. In the grand scheme of things it’s not an expensive item, but it holds a lot of value. I only take it off to play hockey. I find myself checking if it’s there, and if it’s not, I think, “Oh, no!” even though I know exactly where it is.

When was the last time you were pleasantly surprised?
I think that would have to be winning an Olympic gold medal. When the moment actually happened, it was just surreal. It still feels like it happened to someone else. We were in such a routine, almost institutionalised. The tournament was a bit like Groundhog Day: you play, you don’t, play, don’t. Then it’s, “Oh God, we won. Now what do we do?” We had a meeting two weeks after the Olympic final, called ‘gold medal strategy’ where the CEO of England Hockey, Sally Munday, talked us through things. Our psychologist also spoke to us, because there is a real low on the cards and she talked about the support we can get. Other than that, it’s literally been an overload.

When was the last time you made or created something?
Probably Easter. I can make an origami box and the lid. Helen’s nieces and nephews were all there, and I was teaching them to make the box and lid, so that they can put little things in.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
That would have to be winning an Olympic gold medal, too. Because it’s taken so long: some of these bloody girls, they’ve come straight in and won gold! It’s taken me 17 years! Seriously, though, it has been epic. I look back and think what we’ve been through…

What do you consider humankind’s greatest achievement?
It’s not very eco-friendly, but being able to fly around the world. I love to travel. I just love seeing other cultures and how other people interact with one another. Everything about another place, I love. I love the whole thing: airports, being on the plane. People think I’m weird, but I get sat in, with a magazine, and I’m just looking forward to everything.

Who best demonstrates, or has demonstrated, the courage of their convictions?
The Queen. She has obviously come from a privileged background and she is up there to be shot down and criticised, but she really stays true to who she is and what she represents – she represents the country around the world, and has done for so many years. She is an old lady now and still doing it. When we stand up and sing the national anthem, we’re doing it for her. And she’s a woman, in that strong position as a woman, and that is amazing.

What song could you sing most completely right now?
The national anthem! No, hang on: I don’t know all the verses. If you played me a song I could have a better chance of singing it. Any Adele song. It would be awful, and no one would want to hear it. We have SingStar on PlayStation at home I have been known to go on that when I’m in on my own.

What’s the best journey you’ve ever been on?
My relationship with Helen, which was my first relationship with a woman. First, the whole, “Oh my God, what is happening? What is everyone going to think of me?” Then dealing with it, and continuing to still answer questions about it and talk to people about it. Now, it’s in a great place but there was a time when it was really hard.

If you could do one thing to change the status quo, what would it be?
I’ve seen, in South America, South Africa and in this country, the gap between rich and poor, which is huge. It’s the same in many other places in the world, too. So I would shorten that gap.

You have one trip in a time machine: where and when would you go?
The hockey team did a photoshoot for a paper and we wore 1920s flapper dresses. That would be an interesting time. Women were starting to become a bit more liberated. Out of the corsets for the first time. Plus the music was so good. That whole Great Gatsby feel.

If money were no object, what would you buy and why?
When I was 16, I thought when I was 36, certain things would have happened, and owning a house is one of those. So I’d buy bricks and mortar. I would really like to have roots somewhere. I do surf Rightmove quite regularly, but more just for house porn. And Airbnb. I love that. I just love looking in other people’s houses.