Dame Kellys Angel of North Tonbridge

The iconic image of double Olympic gold medal winner Dame Kelly Holmes holding the flag, “an image one never forgets” as the artist behind the new statue at the bottom of Quarry Hill declares, welcomes people into her home town of Tonbridge with the golden abstract statue erected on a plinth decorated with local children’s artwork, unveiled on Tuesday 10th October.

The 80kg statue has been a nine year dream for local artist, and 2008 Dragon’s Den winner, Guy Portelli. Whilst it has been a slow process from dream to unveiling, Guy was all smiles as he said “to be here on a day like this and have Dame Kelly embrace it the way she has done, to me, makes it all worthwhile”.

I spoke to the artist, to get some insight into his inspiration. Guy Portelli, who has lived in Tonbridge for many years, said that not only did he want to evoke the pride Tonbridge feels in Hildenborough-born Kelly Holmes, but also to promote a “community essence”. He wants people to be able to stand behind the sculpture and be photographed, and become Dame Kelly Holmes in that moment and aspire to a dream: something that Dame Kelly spoke about herself as she stood on the steps to cut the ribbon. As both Dame Kelly Holmes and Guy Portelli said on Tuesday, it’s important for the next generation to aspire to a dream, and to persevere and to be reminded that hard work can and will pay off, and that they have to believe in themselves.

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The statue not only symbolises the pride in Dame Kelly Holmes that Tonbridge feels, but also the pride she is so willing to show in being from Tonbridge: the flag draped across the statue’s shoulders is one side the Union Flag, and the other side the colours of the Tonbridge flag. It’s interesting to note that part of Guy’s vision with this statue is to have the people of Tonbridge literally standing behind the statue to be a part of it, when Dame Kelly spoke with emotion about how Tonbridge has stood behind her all these years and is a part of her success.

As the Olympic garden, and the black, white and gold trees, blossom, bloom and flourish at the base of the statue, there is a hope that so too do the dreams of the next generation of Tonbridge’s children.

Written by: Kim Richardson