Kirsty Gallacher on surviving divorce, fresh starts and why it's OK to make mistakes

IT'S been a challenging few years for Kirsty Gallacher, but she’s finally found herself again after taking some bold decisions to turn her life around.

This time last year, Kirsty Gallacher sold the family home she’d lived in for 15 years and made a bolt for the Berkshire countryside.

It was an escape, a chance for a clean break after an incredibly tough few years, and today her life is calmer and brighter for it. She doesn’t miss the fraught hustle and bustle of the one she left behind one bit.

“I was trying to be everything to everyone and I didn’t have the time to really take stock and think about things,” she says.

“I just wasn’t very happy a lot of the time, I was just going through the
motions, which isn’t a very healthy way to live and it certainly wasn’t good for me.

“So this has been a fresh start and that feels really good. It feels like a forever home. We have the beautiful countryside, the peace and quiet and it’s all pretty blissful. The kids love it because they have loads of freedom, and they know I’m happy.

“Our walks are incredible, it’s like having our very own Winter, Spring and Autumnwatch all year round. I feel at peace… more peaceful than I ever have.”

Her boys, Oscar, 13, and 10-year-old Jude, are “happy as Larry” with their new life in the sticks (Oscar even rescued a baby deer the other day), and for Kirsty, 44, it feels like finally coming up for air.

The change of pace was desperately needed after a combination of professional exhaustion and personal trauma saw her reach a state of despair. A harrowing divorce from former rugby star husband Paul Sampson in 2015 left Kirsty deeply unhappy and she says now that she never allowed herself the time and space to recover.

After years of going “full pelt”, something had to give, which meant making a series of life-changing decisions. The first was to leave the familiarity and financial security of the job she’d been in for the best part of 20 years.

Quitting Sky Sports was a leap into the unknown – one that proved to be the first step towards putting herself back together and rediscovering the spark she’d lost.

“It was my gut that told me it was time,” she says. “I’m trying to learn to follow my gut more because it’s almost always right.

“I loved my time at Sky, but I needed a fresh challenge. It was too comfortable; I was sat there reading the autocue, I was a single mum and I wasn’t seeing my children enough and I had to move on. My schedule was manic. I would drive up to London and back every day, I didn’t have a nanny – my parents were amazing but the divorce was complex and life was hectic.

“It was a big emotional decision, but my gut was right and everything is coming together in the way I hoped it would.”

The first big post-Sky project she’s been able to get her teeth into is her new podcast Stripped Back Sport, which launched this month and sees her getting under the skin of various sports stars with in-depth interviews.

In turn, the more manageable schedule has enabled Kirsty to confront her demons and emerge with a very different outlook on life.

“I was caught in this whirlwind and whenever I found myself on my own I became fidgety, like: ‘Oh I must go out, I must be with people’. I hated being on my own because I didn’t want to face the stuff I hadn’t dealt with.”

She says now that taking on Strictly Come Dancing in 2015 was a step too far, too soon. She was on edge, too fragile and the pressure of the show only served to compound the stress she was already buckling under.

“I was exhausted, delicate and skinny and running on empty. It was a tough time – I was working on Sky every day with no time off, going through a divorce and Brendan Cole [her Strictly pro] literally kept me upright in every way.

“Unfortunately, I’ve never wanted to admit that I’m struggling. When you’ve been in this industry a long time, you learn to be quite stoic because you have to deal with a lot, whether that’s criticism or the media or the nerve-racking nature of live TV.

I know some people might have assumed I was some sort of superhuman, but I’m a normal human being and everyone goes through difficult times in their life.

“But I think it’s very sad when people aren’t allowed to make mistakes.”

She’s alluding to her 2017 arrest for drink driving, which came when she was unwittingly still over the limit the morning after a night out with friends. She was banned from the road for 18 months and has described the whole experience as “horrific” and “very un-Kirsty”– the publicity and
attention that inevitably came with it made it even harder to bear.

“I know some people might have assumed I was some sort of superhuman, but I’m a normal human being and everyone goes through difficult times in their life – it just so happens that people in the public eye are in the line of fire.

“I put myself in that place by doing this job and I have to take that… but life isn’t always smooth running and there are times when we all make mistakes. As long as you learn from them and you get stronger from it, that’s what I’ve done.”

She adds: “I’m such a different person now. That doesn’t mean I was a bad person then – I’m a completely normal person like everyone else out there. I’ve just learned to give myself a break.”

When asked what advice she would give to herself if she could go back to that torrid time, Kirsty becomes visibly emotional. She apologises, needlessly, for the tears that are prompted by a mixture of grief for what she went through and relief that it’s behind her now.

“I’m crying because I feel sadness for that person. I just wanted to know I’d be all right. And I am now, I know I’m all right now.”

She pauses, takes a deep breath and composes herself.

“If I’m honest, that person is unrecognisable to me and that makes me sad because I think of the pain I was going through. It was a really sad, painful time, but I’m in a place now where I’m loving my life, I’m happy, doing everything I want to do, which is brilliant.”

Brother-in-law Russell Brand, who is married to Kirsty’s younger sister Laura, has been an especially good support, and she clearly holds him in very high esteem.

“He’s a great sounding board and I’m very lucky to have him in my life.”

Fitness, too, has played a key role in getting Kirsty back on her feet – she trains with ex-rugby player turned PT, Mel Deane, three times a week, completed the London Marathon last year (“It was very special, emotional and lovely to be part of, but I don’t feel the need to do another!”), and now has her sights set on a triathlon for 2021.

“Mel is one of my pillars in life,” she says. "He is a great confidante, he’s kept me going and changed my life. It’s helped me become so much stronger in every way and I feel I can cope with anything.”

Creating a “passion project” with the podcast has also given Kirsty a renewed sense of focus. Guests include Dame Kelly Holmes, England Women’s captain Steph Houghton, Lee Westwood and Jermaine Jenas, and she talks about it with real personal pride.

“The podcast is something I was thinking about even before I left Sky. I really wanted to do more interviewing and to use my skills as a trained journalist, so to see it now coming to fruition is fantastic.

“And lockdown turned out to be the perfect time to sit down at home and record, and all my guests have just given it their all. I love speaking to people; I’m a people person and I am obsessed with talking about sport.”

Sport is in Kirsty’s blood – her father Bernard Gallacher, 71, is a former Ryder Cup captain, and she once had dreams of being a professional tennis player.

“But whether you like sport or not,” she adds, “I hope people will love these stories of overcoming adversity and the journeys these incredible, inspiring sportsmen and women have been on.”

She hopes it will “translate to TV” and mentions that there are other television and radio projects also in the pipeline – Kirsty has always successfully straddled the worlds of sport and light entertainment, although she remains mindful of keeping the healthy balance that she’s managed to strike in the last couple of years.

“It’s all about moving away from that kind of very frenetic life and work schedule to a much more selective world and life of freelance work,” she says.

Lockdown provided an unexpected opportunity to reset and refocus in between the home-schooling, which, Kirsty says, had mixed results.

“What a weird year. The home-schooling was interesting! I learned that long division is not my bag. We had to phone my mum, who’s a brilliant mathematician, a lot.

“Oscar was amazing and he actually came into his own a bit, and probably worked better at home than he does at school. Jude is a bit too laid-back and he took the Mickey a little bit, but then he is only 10.

“I was really passionate about getting our children back to school. My kids are lucky, but there are some children who don’t have a lovely home life, who don’t get enough food at home, and for them, school is a lifeline. Kids need structure, and they need to see people and have that interaction.”

So many people who thought they were fine are now possibly in a lot of trouble and I felt the anxiety very much.

As a freelancer, Kirsty felt the financial pinch and saw a lot of work she’d lined up cancelled overnight.

“It’s been scary for everyone. So many people who thought they were fine are now possibly in a lot of trouble and I felt the anxiety very much.

“I work a lot in the corporate and event industries, especially in the spring and summer for all the sports that goes on. That was all wiped out. I’ve done it for years and I love it, but of course it’s work and money, and I’m no different to anyone else in being hit.

“But having said that, there have been massive pluses about being in this suspended state, and for me it’s allowed me to get to grips with what I really wanted to do.”

The enforced time on her own when the boys were with Paul – they split the custody 50/50 – has also been beneficial. Now, she no longer fears being alone – in fact, she’s found she can even enjoy it.

“Lockdown really helped me learn to be happy on my own and not need to be with people all the time, doing things.

“It’s very hard on women – and men – who have been divorced and have children and they are suddenly seeing them less, it’s horrible and I dealt with that very badly.

“But I’ve found that I can be quite happy chilling out, taking the dogs for a walk. I’m actually enjoying my own company and I wouldn’t have found that very easy a few years ago.

“I’m not scared any more. I feel content and strong, and it’s the first time in a very long time that I’ve felt as good as this.”

She admitted last year that she’d rushed back into dating too quickly after the split from Paul – again, it was brother-in-law Russell who advised her to take some time out on her own. Today she’s tight-lipped on whether or not she’s single, although hints that there may be someone in her life making her happy.

“I’m very private,” she says. “I laugh at the people I’m linked to – sometimes I’ve never even met them. I’ve been on a few dates and I’m very happy at the moment, that’s all I can say. Read into that what you will!”

In the beauty chair with Kirsty

What is your skincare routine?

I don’t like too much fuss and I don’t have much time! I love Ark Skincare, which is a lovely ethical British brand.

Make-up bag essentials?

Max Factor mascara, Mac bronzer, YSL’s Touche Éclat, Charlotte Tilbury black kohl pencil, Magic Organic Apothecary lip balm and a Bobbi Brown lipstick in nude.

Which item do you never leave home without?

A mini bottle of Ark Skincare Hydrating Beauty Mist. It’s especially good to use after training!

Bargain beauty buy?

I’ve been known to make my own facial mist spray. Grab yourself bottled or filtered water in a spray bottle – great for dry or tired skin.

Most worth-it beauty splurge?

I am an ambassador for Ultherapy, which offers non-invasive facial treatments. They are amazing for improving the appearance of lines and wrinkles.

She smiles knowingly, and it’s genuinely heartening to see her looking so revitalised and untroubled.

“Things are good,” she says. “Really good.

“It’s like a completely different life, hence my emotion earlier. I’m still keeping all those plates spinning, but just a little bit more sensibly than I used to.”

  • Listen to Kirsty Gallacher’s brand-new podcast Stripped Back Sport on Global Player and all other podcast providers.

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