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1 September 2021updated 06 Sep 2021 5:53pm

Tanni Grey-Thompson Q&A: “My life in sport led me to politics“

The former Paralympic athlete on Line of Duty, meeting Michelle Obama, and the importance of step-free access.

By New Statesman

Tanni Grey-Thompson was born in Cardiff in 1969. She is one of the UK’s most successful disabled athletes, having won 16 Paralympic medals in wheelchair racing. In 2010 she was made a life peer.

What’s your earliest memory?

Watching Wales play New Zealand in the rugby on the TV when I was about three. My mum made myself and my sister wear a Welsh bobble hat and scarf, and we had to dislike Grant Batty because he was from New Zealand and he was very good.

Who are your heroes?

The former rugby player Gareth Edwards was a huge hero. The first time I met him I could barely speak. He was so kind to me.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

I have done Mastermind. I came second to Stephen Fry. My specialist subject was Star Wars (the original three films). I did really well in the first round and then was a bit rubbish in the general knowledge.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

In 2070 – that is when all trains are meant to be accessible for disabled people. It was meant to be 1 January 2020 but that was missed because every government allowed derogations.

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What TV show could you not live without?

It changes all the time. I am very late to watching Line of Duty, but it has kept me on the edge of my seat.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Michelle Obama. I met her at a dinner at No 10 Downing Street for the G20. She was smart, funny and it was incredible to spend just a little bit of time with her. Ruth Jones was there too, and I tried to explain Gavin and Stacey to the wife of the Japanese prime minister.

Who would paint your portrait?

I would like Lord Snowdon to have taken my picture.

What’s your theme tune?

My favourite song is “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell but I’m not sure that is a good one for a theme tune. So probably the London Marathon music. Every time I hear it I feel a buzz of excitement. I loved competing in it (mostly) and it brings back so many memories, from the first time I watched it as a 12-year-old to working on it now.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

There are two bits. From my parents: “Don’t define your life by your sport”, and from David Moorcroft: “You are a long time retired.” I have followed them. I started planning my transition at the age of 21 and retired at 36, so I had a good idea what I wanted to do, and what I didn’t.

What’s currently bugging you?

How intolerant social media can be. Someone posts a picture of a cat and everyone dives in. It is not the place for a meaningful discussion about anything.

What single thing would make your life better?

Step-free access to trains.

When were you happiest?

Now. I am really happy with my career. It is busy and challenging, but I think my life in sport led me to politics.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

Barrister. The plan was to finish my career in sport and then do a law conversion, but I never quite got around to it.

Are we all doomed?

Never – we just have to work harder. 

“Game On: The Unstoppable Rise of Women’s Sport” by Sue Anstiss, with a foreword by Tanni Grey-Thompson, is published by Unbound

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This article appears in the 10 Sep 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Labour's lost future