SOPHIE Cook narrowly missed out on becoming the UK’s first transgender MP earlier this year after she contested the Shoreham and East Worthing seat at the General Election for Labour. Formerly an RAF pilot named Steve, Sophie transitioned in 2015. She has also worked as a news anchor for Latest TV and Premier League football photographer. Ahead of a talk in Shoreham, she tells EDWIN GILSON about struggling with suicidal thoughts, overcoming fear and embracing her true self

Why did you want to tell your story now?

It was only two years ago that I came out. It’s been quite a momentous time and I’ve got new perspectives on a lot of things. I’ve been reading old poetry I wrote, including the time I had post-traumatic stress after saving a colleague’s life in the RAF. Every morning now I get up at 4.30am and walk down to the sea and I quite often write poetry then, too. It’s just a way of getting ideas out of my head. Now feels like the right time.

Is it strange to look back on the various stages of your life?

Even before my transition my life was divided into segments. I feel like I’ve had about four different lives. There was no connection between leaving school and joining the air force, for example. Later I became a photographer and that was a brand new life. Not many people draw a line under their old life and start a new one. If you never feel fear and leave your comfort zone, you never grow.

How did you overcome fear and act on your instinct?

Well, I’ve known I was trans since seven years old. Being transgender, you question your identity every single day. You have this awareness that most people wouldn’t even think is possible. I’ve learned stuff about how to overcome pain and fear. I was scared I would never work again and that I would lose everything. And I have lost a lot – the majority of my family. I had to move here and start again. I’ve learnt that being open about being vulnerable can make you invincible.

How did you finally embrace your true self as a woman?

It was a long process. When I finally came out I said to myself I wouldn’t do certain emotions any more. So I don’t do regret any more. I don’t regret anything. I don’t do guilt, because if you’ve never set out to hurt anyone then what have you got to feel guilt about? If you’re true to yourself you’ve got nothing to feel shame about. Those were the key concepts that allowed me to become proud of who I was. So many people feel regret, guilt and shame over change, but everything changes. Even mountains rise and fall.

What mental mechanisms do you use to stop yourself feeling those emotions now?

I still struggle with my mental health and I’ve realised I always will. The first time I attempted to take my own life I was 12. At the age of 18 I was suicidal and self harming in the air force. I’ve fought against that my entire life. All the time I tried to fight against those feelings they’ve fought back harder. Suicide fought back harder.

Last year I came up with a philosophy for myself designed for keeping me safe. That philosophy was “I know that one day I’ll kill myself. But it won’t be today. And in the meantime I will do my best to enjoy every single day”. I’ve acknowledged that it’s a part of me but I won’t engage with it. I know it’s there but I can forget about it. That was truly liberating. Suicide doesn’t exist in isolation. If I was to do it, all I’d be doing is taking my pain and giving it to someone else – my children. I could never do that.

It must be highly distressing to talk about these things, especially in front of an audience.

Certain things hit me at different times. I did a show in Brighton recently which involved me reading poems I wrote when I was 18. For the first time ever in public I just wanted to die. I was thinking back to that person and how scared they were. Steve carried that with him for 30 years. He wanted to kill himself every single day for those 30 years. Looking back, I have a love and respect for Steve that he never had for himself. I now think that he was incredibly strong in the face of terrible adversity. When I came out people said to me, ‘you’re so brave’. As far as I’m concerned, Steve was the brave one. I’m the one who gets to live this amazing life.

You talk as though Steve is another person. Is that the way you think about your former self now?

When I came out I realised that I had to acknowledge my back story. The further I get from being Steve the more disconnected I get from being him. He seems a very long way away now.

Looking back to the election earlier this year, were you surprised at how close you came to becoming an MP? [Cook was just 5000 votes away from her Conservative counterpart].

No. Everyone else was but I don’t go into something with the plan to fail. I was disappointed that we didn’t get over the finish line. We had a very small team but we did the best we could. There are people in that area now that believe Labour can win an election in the future.

Why do you think you appealed to voters?

I just went out there and refused to sink to name calling or tell lies. I went in with honesty and integrity. I think it was a combination of a connection to the electorate there and the public excitement around Jeremy Corbyn. I’ll be involved in politics for a long time to come.

As a trans person who used to be in the air force, you must have been hurt by Donald Trump’s recent ban on trans people in the US military.

The thing is, the American military already has a number of trans people in it. He’s disrespecting people who have been decorated for their bravery. The thing that I liked is that in the days following that, senior figures from the British military said ‘we’re not doing that’. For me that shows how far the British military has come. I went to meet all the guys from the RAF last year, and they were so supportive of my transition.

Sophie Cook: Not Today – How I Chose Life
Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham, Tuesday, September 5, 8pm. For more information and tickets visit