Ellie Soutter: snowboarder's mother speaks out about the "massive void" left by her daughter's tragic death on her 18th birthday

Lorraine Denman with young Ellie (EllieSoutter foundation instagram)
9:56am, Thu 10 Oct 2019
CBAD8A00-D2B9-4E0E-ADDF-D0366C357A34 Created with sketchtool. E9A4AA46-7DC3-48B8-9CE2-D75274FB8967 Created with sketchtool. 65CCAE04-4748-4D0F-8696-A91D8EB3E7DC Created with sketchtool.

Ellie Soutter had everything going for her - a budding young snowboard star tipped for Olympic success - but Ellie was suffering in silence, so much so that she took her own life on her 18th birthday last year.

Speaking in her first television interview since her daughter's death on July 25 2018, Lorraine Denman described her life as "completely empty".

"I have a massive void in my life," she said. "It's like having the battery taken out of me. There's nothing there and I'm just running on empty."

On the surface, Ellie looked anything but a worrier; something Lorraine says needs to be recognised.

"She looked like she had everything," she told BBC Breakfast's Sally Nugent.

"As parents, we have to take that as a responsibility as well, because it was easy for us to turn around and say 'Ellie, you've got nothing to worry about, everything is going to be fine, you've got so much to look forward to, you've got this coming up, you've got that', but actually, I think people have to listen and read between the lines."

After winning bronze at the 2017 Youth Winter Olympics, Ellie carried the flag at the closing ceremony and made a name for herself on the snowboarding scene. But below the surface, she was plagued by funding worries and the pressure of "letting people down" was weighing heavily on her mind.

Her mother vows to continue her legacy and make sure that her death was not "in vain".

"I am a voice for Ellie now," she said. "I have to move forward and make other people aware that she couldn't say how she felt for whatever reason."

Lorraine is using her own loss as a means to help others and prevent further tragedies, saying: "I can now encourage people to speak up, to share or to talk to their parents or their friends if they are having any problems, and I think that is what is pushing me on.

"You can't wrap your children in cotton wool, they are people and they've got minds of their own, but you can have time to sit and listen to them, or just take on board if they have said something to you, don't just disregard it."

The veterinary nurse in Hove recalls the events of the darkest day of her life, saying alarm bells had started to ring when Ellie was uncontactable on her birthday while training in Les Gets. Neither Ellie's father with whom she lived, nor any of her friends, could get hold of her and search parties were deployed.

"As a mum, I knew something wasn't right," Lorraine says. Later that night, she called Ellie's father again. "He didn't answer and then he called me back," she says.

"I just said to him 'have you seen Ellie? Have you heard from her?' And he said 'we've found her'.

"For a split second, I thought she was alive. And then he said: 'she's dead'. He said: 'Lorraine, she's dead'.

"I got out of bed and I just fell to the floor. Someone might as well have just taken my heart out."

Reflecting on how she has coped since that day in July last year, she said: "Have I wanted to give up? Quite frankly, yes. What is the point in living without her anymore? But equally, she is me and I am her.

"If I'm going to represent her, I'm going to do it in the right way."

Ellie's parents have since established the Ellie Soutter Foundation, which supports young winter athletes "achieve their potential and dreams" and to help end the "vicious cycle" around young athletes' funding. They have since sponsored two young British boarders, Maisie Hill and Mia Brookes.