Who are you and what is your professional background?

I’m a writer, speaker, actor, broadcaster and photographer. LGBT & mental health campaigner. Hon Doctor of Letters. RAF veteran. Self-harm and suicide survivor. Thirteenth most influential figure in Brighton, apparently… oh, and I’m transgender.

I became the first transgender woman to work in football’s Premier League as club photographer for AFC Bournemouth following my transition in the summer of 2015. I was Europe’s first trans TV newscaster and hosted my own TV and radio chat shows. In the 2017 General Election I contested the East Worthing & Shoreham seat, increasing the Labour vote by 114% and narrowly missing out on becoming the UK’s first trans MP, to date the closest that any trans candidate has ever come to being elected.

I’ve spent the past seven years talking to tens of thousands of people about diversity and mental health and I’m currently writing my second book.

In 2015 after your transition you became the first transgender woman to work in the Premier League as a club photographer for AFC Bournemouth. Did you find any challenges working in what is conceived – whether rightly or wrongly – as a very “masculine” environment?

When I transitioned I had friends that thought it would be too dangerous for me to return to the game but over the past seven years it has led to so many amazing opportunities including visiting Moscow to work with Russian LGBTQ activists during the World Cup in 2018. Football has come a long way since I transitioned and, for me, the greatest achievement is that LGBTQ fans feel comfortable attending games, openly and with rainbow flags. This would have been unheard of in 2015 and it is down to so much amazing work by a number of activists working within the game, setting up supporters groups and spreading the message that football is for all.

What advice would you give to a young – or indeed older – person who is considering transitioning?

I cannot advise anyone to do anything in that position, the decision is so personal and has such an all encompassing effect on your life it must be something that is done without outside influence. For me, I had a choice, I had reached the point where I either ended my life or changed it. I have experienced highs beyond my wildest dreams, I have found a stillness and peace within myself that I could never have achieved without transitioning, but it came at a huge cost and the loss of relationships. My only advice would be to be strong, listen to your heart and do what is right for you. You are not alone, whatever happens, you are valid and your life is so important.

Trans issues and awareness have become increasingly high profile in recent years, and it can be argued that trans people are gaining more acceptance. Do you agree with that – and what more needs to be done?

On the streets transgender people have never had more support and good will, people are becoming aware of trans identities in a way that never happened before. Unfortunately there are those who will stop at nothing to fuel hate and attack trans rights. To listen to some in the media, politics and online transgender people, all 1% or so of the population of us, now represent the greatest existential threat to Western civilisation in generations. These words of hate have consequences and add to the difficulties that are already faced by one of the most marginalised minorities in our society. These words will add to the numbers of trans youth that think about taking their own lives: already 84% consider suicide and 48% attempt it. Unfortunately looking at the direction of travel in UK politics, the press and the way in which trans sports bans are being weaponised in the fight against all trans rights, I fear that things will get a lot worse before they get better. But hope is not lost, when I visit schools it is heartening to see so many young people that embrace their sexuality and gender identity and the way in which their peer groups look at older generations and ask why prejudice is even a thing.

You have said that you once lived your life “in fear”. What was that “fear” and how did you overcome it?

The fear was that if I couldn’t be true to myself then I was truly lost. The darkness would engulf me and I would see a world where I did not belong.

You have also worked in the field of mental; health, and indeed received a Doctor of Letters from Bournemouth University. Are there any mental issues which specifically affect the LGBTQ+ community, and how do we go about challenging those issues?

LGBTQ people are disproportionately affected by mental health issues, not because we’re LGBTQ but because of the discrimination and stigma that a prejudiced society attached to our identities. The isolation, othering and ultimately the internalisation of these negative ideas would play a major role in decreasing self-worth, and when accompanied by guilt and shame they would lead to mental health issues and sometimes very damaging coping systems.

You are also Speak Out Champion at the Crown Prosecution Service. What does that role involve?

This is an internal role in which I help staff to feel that they have a voice. I’m an independent avenue for them to talk about anything that is affecting their lives, their mental health, or workplace environment. I’m there to listen, signpost, and ultimately to help them feel heard and valued.

On either a personal or professional level which do you consider to have been the achievement of which you have been proudest?

I don’t really do pride, I feel honoured and humbled by so many of the experiences that I have had over this lifetime. For me the greatest achievement is every time that I can help someone and the many messages that I receive from people saying that reading my books or hearing me speak has been transformative in their lives then that is a good reason to still be alive. They give my life meaning and show me that I have a purpose and that I was right to turn away from suicide.

Describe a typical day in the life of Sophie Cook.

There is no typical day in my life. This has its own problems in that I sometimes feel insecurity and an absence of belonging in any one place, but it also means that every day is a new adventure just waiting to be lived. On my wall I have two mantras for my day: “Take the risk, or lose the chance”, and “Be the kind of woman who, when your feet hit the floor each morning, the devil says “Oh, crap! She’s up.”