SPORTS photographer Sophie Cook thought she would lose everything she dreamed of when she came out as transgender.

When she was faced with a team of Premier League footballers for the final time last season, the twice married father-of-three was known by all as Steve.

The 49-year-old from Hove feared a backlash starting a new football season this year as Sophie.

But she said she has been "totally accepted" by players and fans as the first transgender woman to work for a Premier League club after decades of feeling trapped in the wrong body.

“Stood on the pitch at Charlton shooting my childhood team, AFC Bournemouth, crowned as Football League Champions, was a dream come true. I was terrified it was to be my last ever match in football. I’d already decided that I was going to come out as transgender during the summer and I thought that I’d lose everything.”

Steve, a freelance sports photographer for 20 years and the club's photographer, had a lifelong struggle with gender dysphoria and depression. He felt suicidal and began to self harm, battling post traumatic stress after saving a colleague's life in the RAF.

Aged seven she insisted friends she made on a family holiday called her Jenny.

"I had no idea why. It went on the whole week.

"That was my earliest memory of realising there was something different about me. Later I realised there was just something inside me which drew me to the feminine. Not like a typical young boy - I didn't fancy them. Like when I watched Grease, I identified with Olivia Newton-John, I admired her.

"I thought 'this isn't normal'. I don't know where it came from, I wasn't effeminate or gay. There was no internet in those days, I had no knowledge of what transgender was, I think in a way things are clearer now as there are more examples. I just thought there was something wrong with me."

Steve first began to transition into Sophie 15 years ago, but when his son was born disabled he stopped to focus on caring for him.

He was in "mental agony", hated everything about himself and the feelings began to chip away at him - until last year when he realised his life could change for the better if he came out.

He said:"My wife knew I was transgender when I met her but when our son was born disabled and we nearly lost him, I realised we already had enough to deal with and I couldn't put my family through it.

"I took Sophie, put her in a box and buried her for 15 years of hell. I didn't realise burying her had been killing me.

"Every day I thought about suicide. It was a horrible, lonely, painful place to be."

The couple were married for ten years before they separated last year but remain good friends.

Last summer Steve bravely told his family he was transgender. He welcomed Sophie back into his life by taking female hormones, lost five stone in four months, and got hair extensions.

Originally 23st, Sophie now weighs 17st after embarking on a low carbohydrate diet full of healthy meals and detoxifying Aloe Vera. She said she could barely walk last year but now runs half marathons for fun, with a favourite route being along the seafront from Hove to Rottingdean and back.

Sophie said: "I carried on until the end of the season and then I told my family, the club and eventually the world. When I told my wife that I was finally going to transition she said she always knew it would come back. She's a wonderful woman and though we are no longer man and wife, we are best friends.

"Now, when I look at old photos of me with the family as Steve, I just look dead, I look like a zombie. My children are brilliant. My daughter told me 'You're my hero. Steve was great but Sophie is better.

"I don't know where the name came from, I just identified with it.

"No-one else had the faintest idea and they were surprised. But it's been great the way they have totally accepted Sophie. They see me as a real person.

"In particularly the way in which women have welcomed me has been amazing - friendship between women is so nurturing and helpful their friendship has been really important."

Sophie's experiences have fuelled a mission to help others overcome their own fears and live life to the full by becoming a motivational speaker.

The former motorbike racer and magazine and newspaper editor is hosting dates across the country, with an event in Brighton next month.

“Despite all of my success I lived my life in fear - of loss, failure, success, of being sad, of being happy, of myself, of being outed, of being loved," Sophie said.

"Because of these fears, no matter how hard I pushed myself to succeed, subconsciously I would self sabotage and stop myself from reaching my full potential.

"The shame and torment was something I piled on myself. The internal dialogue of our self image can be really damaging. My talk will identify with anyone - everyone has fears.

"My life before was like being Dorothy in Kansas in The Wizard of Oz, it was all black and white, and I was totally disconnected and now I’m in Oz and it’s all Technicolour. The most amazing thing is that I’m so happy, I never realised it was possible to be this happy. I don’t have to hide anymore.

“I didn’t choose to be transgender but I did choose not to be a victim.

"We are our own worst enemies. We need to show ourselves the same compassion we would show to other people.

"I know some transgender people do suffer and I know I have been lucky. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to do the talks and tell my story. I want there to be positive examples of being transgender. It can be the best thing that happens to someone.

“Now I talk about these fears and how I overcame them to finally, start loving myself.

“People are held back in life by their fear, in their personal life, relationships, business or professionally. In my talks I discuss the fear of change and how we can use our experience to enable us to reach our potential - lessons I learnt on the painful road through loss to my ultimate redemption."

Doors open for Grab Life By the Balls at 7.30pm on Thursday, February 4 at the Malborough Theatre, Prince's Street, Brighton. Sophie is on stage from 8pm. Tickets cost £10 and are available at