A former burly police officer has embarked on a new life – as a woman.
Four years ago Richard Wood, 42, was a 15-and-a-half stone specialist riot control officer with the Metropolitan Police in London.
The gym-loving muscleman even battled with rioters during unrest in the capital in 2011 following the fatal shooting of suspected gunman Mark Duggan.
Shortly after she left the force to pursue her life-long dream of being a woman which left her being shunned by some former ‘macho’ colleagues.
Last year she finally embarked on a course of female hormone oestrogen as well as drugs to block the male hormone testosterone.
Dad-of-three Richard is now living as a petite, size 10 woman called Sam Wood.
She plans on having an operation to make her physically female on the NHS within the next three years.
Looking back over the past year, Sam said: “I realised I am comfortable and this is who I am.
“I was on Facebook this week and saw a picture I posted a year ago when I started dressing as a woman full time and it felt absolutely fantastic.
“I made the decision because I couldn’t lie to myself any more.
“I needed to start living. I started speaking to a lot of people and managed to get help.
“I used to walk around town with my head down and be nervous but now I couldn’t be happier.
“I’ve had amazing support from people too. When I moved into a new block of flats I wrote everyone living there a letter explaining that I was going to be dressing as a woman.
“I was worried about their response but they came with flowers, cards and chocolates to my door.”
Sam’s current life is a far cry from the Sam of 2011 who was a police officer holding back yobs in the London riots.
She said: “I joined the police in 2006. Its masculine atmosphere appealed to me.
“I always used to go the gym and wear t-shirts that showed off my arms so the girls would look at me.
“I used to train four times a week and at home. I weighed 15 and a half stone at my heaviest.
“Even when I was with massive six foot six guys in riots gear I’d stick my chest out and try and look big.
“It was a great job and I loved every minute of it but at times it was scary. During the London riots I was petrified and the student riots were pretty scary too.”
Despite loving her job Sam struggled to live as a man and had a nervous breakdown and went off sick in late 2012.
She handed in her warrant card the following July and has had a mixed reaction from colleagues since coming out.
She said: “None of my colleagues knew about it until I came out. I used to keep myself to myself.
“The only thing we would talk about would be cars and films. I am still friendly with a lot of my colleagues.
“Some of the super macho ones have stopped talking to me but lots of my female colleagues have said that’s why they must have felt so comfortable around me.”
Sam was born Richard, the only child born to cab driver Bernard and stay at home mum Suzanne Wood in Barking, London on October 25, 1973.
Her parents got divorced when she was eight his father remarried Christine in 1981.
She then grew up with two her step-siblings David and Martha in Romford, Essex, and had what she described as an ordinary upbringing.
She said: “I suppose my parents’ divorce affected me as it does with a lot of kids but I wouldn’t say there was anything out of place.
“But I always knew I wanted to be a woman though, even at a very young age. I experimented with cross dressing when I was a teenager.
“My father caught me dressing up when I was around 17 and went ballistic. It just didn’t make sense to him.
“I used to think it was a dirty sexual fantasy and what I was doing was wrong. But with time I realised I was happier like this.
“All of the women I’ve been with have known I’ve done it even if I tried to hide it.
“I always tried to cover it up. I used to go the gym and make myself look big.
“I was trying to cover up and run away from what I really was. I’m not trying to be anyone but myself now and I’ve never felt better.”
Before joining the police Sam worked as a labourer on building sites and then as a DJ.
Known as DJ Culture she specialised in house music and toured around the UK and even played in Slovakia and Poland.
In 2002 she married long-term girlfriend Zoe but the couple separated after only 11 weeks when she discovered that Zoe was having an affair.
They had a daughter called Kellie, 19, who Sam speaks to every day and called Sam her MAD – mum and dad.
Sam carried on DJing into her mid 30s when she started losing her hearing and decided to go for a career in the police.
She then met her next partner Joanne who she has two children with: Lily, three, and James, five.
Sam said: “I moved to Stevenage in 2010 because my partner was originally from there and she didn’t like Dagenham.
“I ended up having to commute four hours a day and it took its toll on me. This was when our relationship started to break down and it became apparent that I wanted to be a woman.
“She used to encourage me to cross dress at the weekends because she saw it as a way of letting of steam but one day she sat me down and asked me ‘do you want to be a woman?’
“I replied ‘yes’ and it was clear our relationship was over from then.”
She then moved into a flat by herself and didn’t know where to turn.
She lacked the confidence to dress as a woman full time and would switch between dressing as a woman one week to a man the following the week.
Then in March 2015 she finally built up the courage to become a woman.
She said: “I felt so much relief when I was finally a woman.
“It was like a massive weight was lifted off my shoulders. I’ve never felt happier and more myself.
“I would say to anyone who knows they’re in the wrong body to come out and start living.
“Why live a lie when you can be free to enjoy life.
“I’ve experienced so much negativity with ex-partners but I’ve also had a lot of support and feel amazing. It was the best decision I ever made.”
Sam has rebuilt good relationships with her two ex-parters and her three children.
Sam is currently single and is attracted to women although as her hormone therapy progresses she reveals she is becoming more attracted to men.