A rugby league player has spoken of the relief he felt when he finally opened up about being gay.
Since he was a teenager and for the next 14 years Keegan Hirst, 31, would surpress his true self for fear of how people would react.
After all he was a six feet, three rugby player who grew up on a council estate in Batley - it was the last thing he was going to confront.
He banished the idea and even got married and had children. His rugby career was flourishing after playing at school, as an amateur then turning professional - but he was unhappy.
Hirst, a prop for Wakefield Trinity, says he would go out drinking all weekend and his marriage became untenable.
Speaking at the launch of the Super League Wellbeing Round - a group of matches which will raise funds for three charities working to improve the mental and physical health of players - he recalls how his life started to spiral.
He said: “I think I was gay when I was about 13 or 14. But I grew up on a council estate in Batley, playing rugby and Elton John and George Michael were the only people you knew that were gay and they were not role models for me. I did not think I wanted to be it and it was something I did not even try to understand for a long, long time.
“I was just in denial. I went to work, I would stay out, go to rugby and spend very little time at home. I would go out drinking at any opportunity and any time feelings came up, I would do whatever I could to stop it and not deal with it.”
In 2015, after the breakdown of his marriage, Hirst confessed to his wife the real reason for their split and his behaviour, and it was a few weeks later while on a night out with his rugby team-mates that he admitted he was gay after they asked him about rumours they had heard.
He recalls: “It felt like an eternity thinking should I tell them, and I went for it. The rest is history. They said it didn’t matter. There was relief and my life changed overnight. I went from being a straight rugby player to a champion for gay people and Elton John rang me.”
His message, as part of the rugby league mental and physical health campaign “Tackle the Tough Stuff”, is to share problems.
Hirst, who says he now has a far better relationship with his ex-wife and his children, added: “Part of me does think if I had accepted it myself and come out it wouldn’t have been that big a deal. As is the same with a lot of mental health, when you bottle it up, things seem a lot worse and you catastrophise them and think the worst will happen.
“Speak to some-one and share it and it is never as bad.”