In a previous blog we featured some of the most famous women to have come from Portsmouth – to illustrate those who made a difference to their respective worlds of science, literature and music. Of course, those highlighted in the blog were just a tiny handful of the many great women who have achieved huge success, and who have a connection to the Great Waterfront City.

So, to mark International Women’s Day 2021, let’s look at some more of the most notable former ‘Pomponians’.

Katy Sexton

The first British swimmer ever to win a World Championship title was our very own Katy Sexton MBE. Born and raised in Portsmouth, Sexton attended Springfield School in Drayton, where she first developed the swimming skills that would earn her a host of titles.

Over her illustrious career, Sexton won two gold medals (one at the 2003 World Championships in Barcelona, the other at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur), as well as a further two silvers and three bronze medals.

In fact, so prodigious were Sexton’s talents that she was competing in the senior World Championships whilst still eligible for the juniors. Sexton wasn’t just winning titles but breaking records, too. In both the junior and senior competitions, Sexton broke a huge number of British swimming records, as well as shattering a Commonwealth record during a trial event in 2003.

Since her retirement from competition, Sexton has sought to give back to the local community that helped during her formative years. She founded the Katy Sexton Swim Academy in Havant, whilst also becoming a patron of youth counselling charity Off The Record.

Emma Barton

She may be best known as a resident of Albert Square, starring for years as Honey Mitchell in Eastenders, but actress Emma Barton was actually born in Portsmouth.

Barton studied at Horndean Community School, before going on to the Guildford School of Acting. This was to provide the launchpad for her career in the arts, with many credits already to her name for stage and screen.

As well as her long-running Eastenders role, Barton appeared in BBC’s Spooks, and has also established herself as a star of the stage as well – with roles in Grease, Chicago, Thoroughly Modern Millie and plenty more besides.

More recently, Barton lit up the screens in Strictly Come Dancing, being partnered with fan favourite Anton Du Beke. It was a fruitful partnership, with Barton helping Du Beke achieve his first 10s in all 17 series. The couple received a total of fifteen 10s during the competition, eventually finishing joint runners-up.

Today, Barton is patron of the Kings Theatre and involved in numerous charity projects around the UK.

Lauren Steadman

From one Strictly star to another! Lauren Steadman featured in the 2018 series of Strictly Come Dancing – making it to the semi-final with partner AJ Pritchard.

Dancing is just one string to Steadman’s bow, though, with the athlete having won numerous medals across swimming and paratriathlon competitions.

Having originally been a swimmer at the 2012 Paralympics, Steadman made the move to paratriathlon shortly afterwards – on the guidance of her uncle, also a triathlete. The switch was a huge success, with Steadman finishing in second place in her first competitive event. She would go on to become a double world champion, six-time European champion and Paralympic silver medallist.

Despite all this success there’s potentially much more still to come, with Steadman – who was born missing her lower right arm – currently working towards bringing home gold from the Tokyo Paralympics.

Though not actually born here in Portsmouth, Steadman has lived in the city for some time and obtained her degree from the University of Portsmouth. She can sometimes be seen racking up the miles around the city in training – and does her adopted home very proud indeed.

Amanda Holden

Star of stage and screen, Amanda Holden was born in Portsmouth and grew up in Bishop’s Waltham. It was here that the budding actress well and truly found her calling, joining Bishop’s Waltham Little Theatre Company for classes before being granted her very first role – as a fairy.

Since then it’s only been onward and upward for the TV favourite, who has a vast array of West End credits to her name. As well as appearing as Princess Fiona in the stage adaptation of Shrek, Holden was nominated for a Laurence Olivier award for her performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie, and more recently got to number 4 in the album charts with a collection of musical cover versions.

Of course, most people will recognise Holden as one of the longest-serving judges on ITV’s flagship show, Britain’s Got Talent – where she has been behind the famous red buzzer since 2007.

Jill Ellis

Today she may be a naturalised American citizen, but one of the greatest coaches of women’s football of all time was born right here and grew up in nearby Cowplain.

Jill Ellis was an athletic youngster, playing hockey and netball, as well as various track and field events. Though football was her main love, there weren’t as many opportunities available at the time – apart from occasional games with her brother when his team found itself down a player.

Many more opportunities opened up when the Ellis family moved to Northern Virginia in the USA, where John Ellis – Jill’s father – opened a football academy.

After deciding to leave her job as a technical writer to become a football coach, Ellis went from strength to strength. She won an Atlantic Coast Conference title with NC State, then won eight NCAA Women’s College Cups with UCLA – of which seven were in a row. With the team she also won six Pacific-10 Conference titles on the bounce.

Ellis’ biggest appointment came in 2014 when she was selected as head coach of the USA, following two spells as interim. By the following year she had guided ‘The Stars and Stripes’ to World Cup glory – then did so again in 2019. This achievement made Ellis the first women’s football coach ever to win back-to-back titles, and only the second coach in history to achieve the feat – with Italy’s Vittorio Pozzo the only other to have done so, way back in 1934 and ‘38.

Following the World Cup success, Ellis stepped down as head coach, but continues to work with the USA team in an ambassadorial role.

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