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RAF officer running London Marathon for Samaritans says ‘life is worth living’

Squadron Leader Tamsin Wakeham will run the TCS London Marathon on April 21 for Samaritans (Handout/PA)
Squadron Leader Tamsin Wakeham will run the TCS London Marathon on April 21 for Samaritans (Handout/PA)

A Royal Air Force officer who experienced suicidal thoughts in the past said “life is worth living” as she prepares to run the TCS London Marathon for Samaritans.

Squadron Leader Tamsin Wakeham volunteers for the charity which provides round the clock support for people who are having a difficult time.

“I have been in that position. You think there is no hope but I have done some great things since. Life is worth living,” she told the PA news agency.

Tamsin even went on to train the Duke of Sussex when he underwent tough Survive, Evade, Resist, Extract Training in 2012, the year he went to serve in Afghanistan for a second time.

“He was very easy going and a pleasure to train,” she said.

Tamsin in front of College Hall Officers’ Mess at RAF Cranwell in July 2018 after she was commissioned to become an RAF officer (Handout/Samaritans/PA)

When Tamsin, 53, first joined the military in 1989, there was a ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual people serving in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force which was not repealed until January 12 2000.

She said: “Two questions you were asked – have you taken drugs? It had to be no. And are you gay?”

“It was a weird question, you are equating the two?”

“I could say no because I hadn’t acted on anything. I was still figuring it out myself.”

Although she was unsure about her sexuality when she signed up, Tamsin later started a relationship with another woman which she was forced to keep secret to avoid losing her job.

Squadron Leader Tamsin Wakeham running her Samaritans T-shirt
The London Marathon on April 21 will be Tamsin’s fourth marathon (Handout/PA)

When someone told the military police they had suspicions the couple were in a relationship, Tamsin’s room was searched and it was even suggested that having a picture of Marilyn Monroe on her wall was a sign she was gay.

“That has an effect that you can’t trust any friends,” she told PA.

“Then the rumour mill starts. I remember walking into the mess and the place would go quiet. I’m 19 at the time. If I sat at a table, people would get up.”

Tamsin was banned from seeing her girlfriend and found her mental health deteriorated.

“I did turn to alcohol quite heavily,” she said.

“I was being told all gays are weird. I’m being told it’s wrong and I nearly lost my job.

“I just kept saying ‘no, I’m not’.”

Tamsin, who grew up on the Wirral, Merseyside, said the pressure of having to live a lie took its toll.

“I didn’t want to talk to people. I wouldn’t ask people about themselves as I didn’t want them to ask me about myself,” she said.

“I was then stationed in Germany. I ended up having boyfriends I didn’t want.

“The rumours were still there. I lied the whole time. I was out there 18 months, pretending I had a boyfriend back in the UK. It’s exhausting.”

She eventually decided to leave her job in 1994 and moved to the US where she worked in surveillance at a casino: “I thought I can’t cope with being in the military any more.”

She started a relationship with a woman which ended with a “terrible break-up” and she struggled to cope, especially with family and friends so far away in the UK.

“I got to the point where I didn’t know what to do. You get so in your own head, you don’t see a way out,” she said.

The turning point came when her best friend contacted Tamsin’s father after reading a notebook in which she had written down her thoughts: “She realised it was almost a goodbye that I was writing.”

Tamsin said she now feels able to “turn it around really quickly” if she is having a difficult time and knows “life will get better”.

“I have spent the last 20 years trying to get myself back into a good place,” she said.

“People can expect to be up all the time but nobody’s happy all the time.

“I’m never at the point of feeling I’m going into those depths of despair.”

She rejoined the military in 2000, after the ban was lifted, and is now based at RAF High Wycombe, in Buckinghamshire.

“I’m out but not out to everybody,” she said.

“I can’t lose my job. If people don’t accept it, I can handle that.”

London will be Tamsin’s fourth marathon. She first ran the Loch Ness Marathon in 2019 and has since run Loch Ness again and the Yorkshire Marathon although long distance running was not something she had previously aimed to achieve.

“For me running always was a chore. It was something I had to do to keep fit for the military. Three miles was the maximum I’d do,” she said.

“You were normally running in boots and with a pack on your back. It was tedious.”

In 2018, she met partner Liz, a keen runner, who encouraged her to run more slowly to increase her distance.

“I put in for a 10k and got my first medal and that was exciting.”

She said marathon running is “quite addictive” because you “forget the pain” and “want to beat your time”.

Two years ago, Tamsin started volunteering with Samaritans which is the charity of the year for this year’s TCS London Marathon on April 21 and is using the slogan Believe in Tomorrow.

“I’m in a good place physically and mentally so it seems a good time to give back.”

She said funding is needed to ensure a trained listening volunteer is available for everyone who asks for help: “They are people in crisis. You can see how many calls are waiting.

“They are not all thinking of ending their life. Samaritans isn’t just about that.

“There are lots of people phoning who are just so unhappy.

“You can talk to a stranger and turn your life around.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We deeply regret the treatment of LGBT serving personnel between 1967 and 2000, which was wholly unacceptable and does not reflect today’s armed forces, and thank those that have come forward to share their stories.

“We have already implemented over half of the recommendations of the LGBT veterans review and are working at pace to deliver those that remain.

“We will be providing more information as soon as we can and encourage LGBT veterans to apply for restorative measures online.”

To sponsor Tamsin, visit:

Anyone can contact Samaritans, free, 24/7, on 116 123, email or visit