A STATUE of Dame Kelly Holmes was unveiled at one of the main entrances into town yesterday (October 10) to honour ‘the Golden Girl of Tonbridge’.

The ceremony was attended by the former distance runner, who is from Hildenborough, and pupils from Slade Primary School.

The 14ft high aluminium structure, depicting the double Olympic gold medallist in her moment of triumph at Athens in 2004, stands outside St Stephen’s Church next to the roundabout at the bottom of Quarry Hill.

‘It’s all about giving people promise. I’m just a local girl who happened to have a talent, then a dream, and fulfilled it and brought a bit of sparkle to the area’

Dame Kelly said: “It’s all about giving people promise. I’m just a local girl that happened to have a talent, then a dream, and fulfilled it and brought a bit of sparkle to the area.

“The community got behind that, and hopefully if it inspires anybody that will be brilliant.”

The work is coated, fittingly, in gold leaf and stands on a plinth decorated with artwork from more than 100 local schoolchildren.

TOWER OF POWER Dame Kelly with Chloe French, aged 9

The statue was created by Tunbridge Wells sculptor Guy Portelli, who said: “It’s very much in the tradition of a Greek Olympic statue.

“We got local schoolkids involved with their thoughts and ideas to put on the plinth. We wanted them to create art inspired by Tonbridge – how they identify with the town.

Mr Portelli added that it was important to reach out to the younger generation. “If you engage them at an early age, they grow up interested in art and what it can do.

“It’s part of the entertainment industry, but a lot of art these days tries to be too clever, it lacks passion and accessibility.

“I love the innocence of children’s art, and the passion they put into it.”

The artist gave Dame Kelly a sneak preview, and she insisted on one crucial amendment.

“She was very excited,” he said. “I only put one gold medal on but she insisted on two. She’s the Golden Girl of Tonbridge, and that’s going to be the statue’s nickname.”

REACHING OUT Dame Kelly with pupils from Slade Primary School

The piece had been standing in Mr Portelli’s garden for five years. He says: “For London 2012 schools were given budgets to come up with ideas around the Olympics. It became obsolete afterwards and sat in my garden.

He adds: “Kelly told me she had strong memories of going round the roundabout on her open-top bus [after she won the medals].

“And it’s the entrance into the town so I wanted something uplifting.”

Mr Portelli is a fan of his subject. “What’s impressed me is her determination and to come through twice against all the odds.