A lot has changed since an 18-year-old Tom Daley stepped up to the 10m platform to claim the Olympic bronze medal at London 2012. Fours years later, the young star heads into Rio as not only a serious gold medal contender, but one of the most prominent and successful openly gay athletes the world has ever seen, with an Oscar-winning fiancé
Daley has never been far from the headlines in the four years since that memorable Olympic celebration at the London Aquatics Centre, but now a revealing new show is telling the real story about the star's life both in and out of the pool. Tomorrow night's ITV special, Tom Daley: Diving for Gold
, could just be your run-of-the-mill archive footage-filled documentary, but instead camera crews have tailed Tom since London 2012, capturing a series of incredibly personal junctures, from the tense moment he comes out to younger brother Ben in the family kitchen, to his heartwarming engagement party at the Stratford flat he now shares with his husband-to-be, Dustin Lance Black.
As well as his journey from closeted teen to Diving for Gold
also follows Tom's professional struggles, from his post-London Olympic slump to the "demon" twister dive, an Achilles heel which left him with crippling anxiety until his new coach decided his only chance to win at Rio was to create a brand new dive the world has never seen before, the so-called 'Firework'. As Tom lets the camera into his life, we caught up with the former Attitude cover star close to his London home in to talk sport, sexuality, and going for gold in Rio...
Why did you decide to make this film? What was the driving force behind it?
Well since I was about 9 years-old I've done something along the lines of this - I think the first one was Horizons: Olympic Dreams
. I think [when] lots of people see athletes, they see the glamour of winning medals and travelling to all these exotic places, but they don't see the struggles of what it takes to be at the top of your sport. For me, after 2012 [it] was a massive struggle to get back on the horse and get back to it, because I had such little time off. It was in that time off that I got to experience what it was like to be an 18-year-old; going out for the first time, drinking for the first time... It was tough to get back into the pool, especially with the situation that I had with twisting [dive'] anxiety, where it ruled my life in a way that was insane: I couldn't walk over three drains, I couldn't eat the right things...
So was it became a superstition kind of thing?
Yeah, I became so superstitious about it; terrified standing on the edge of the board and struggling with injury. It was so mentally and physically draining that it really took me a while to get back into diving - to the point I wanted to quit. But meeting Lance actually was actually a real turning point for me, because he's so successful in what he does that it kind of inspired me to get back on the horse and be back up to his level, where he was doing really well. That was when I knew that I had to change things up.
At the age of 18 or 19 is when most people go off to university or go do a year of travelling and that was when I decided to do six weeks of travelling around the world with my best friend Sophie. But then it gave me time to think about what I wanted and how I saw my future being. and that was when I made the decision to move to London, to be able to train in the best facility in the world.
A key part of the programme is that you decided to have camera with you when you were choosing to reveal your sexuality. What was your thinking about that?
Like I said before, I've have documentary cameras following me around since I was 9, and since then its just been so normal to have them around that I didn’t even think about it. There were documentaries that in 2010, 2011, 2012, and now one coming out this year; it's something that I didn't even think about, if I'm honest.
So it wasn't about 'managing' the story?
No, it was just normal. It was the same crew that have been following me since I was this big [gestures to his waist]. They become like your family and you don't think about it. The thing that completely blew me away was the fact that I was incredibly lucky that my mum, friend and family were so kind and supportive of me. Even when [in the documentary] my brother Ben is concerned about what’s going to happen to him at school, he was actually pleasantly surprised that people were coming up to him and saying 'Tom's video helped my brother say something to me', and that kind of stuff. I didn't do it to make it this big thing, because its a non-issue, but the fact that I get message saying it's helped so many people... I went to the airport after the video came out, and an old lady in a wheelchair came over to me, she must have been about 80 years-old, and she just said to me: 'I want to thank you because my son today was able to tell me that he was gay'. It was overwhelming, the public reception and support - and now there are so many more LGBT athletes going to Rio.
Do you think it's important to have transgender athletes on the British team too?
Well I don't know if there are any transgender athletes on the British team, but I think that its great for LGBT people to be represented at Olympic games. The beauty of sport is that no matter what your sexuality, when you're on the starting block for the 100m sprint, the fastest person wins. You're not judged on who you love, you're judge on how you perform in that moment. I think that’s really special, and yeah there are still lots of steps that need to be taken within sport, but we are definitely going in the right direction pretty quickly I feel.
How much of a difference do you think it makes heading into Rio being able to be yourself in public, having a supportive fiancé by your side? Do you think that's something that will make a difference?
Definitely. Going into this Olympics I'm the happiest I've ever been, both in and out the diving pool, and I think being happy generally, will make you perform better, no matter what you're happy about. If you're happy it enables you to be more carefree and enjoy the moment and what is happening right in front of you right now.
For me, having something outside of diving is what makes my diving better. When diving is the only thing I think about it can rule your life, which is why I do Spanish lessons, I did cooking lessons, I did a YouTube channel and I film and edit all my own stuff, because I like to be busy outside of the pool, which is a nice escape. Most people have diving at the forefront of their minds and its just so draining and you can't see beyond it. Doing stuff outside of it has really helped me get to a place with my diving where I feel the best physically and mentally.
Can you explain how close you were to quitting the sport after London 2012, and why?
I mean, I got close enough to quitting like in saying that I had to take a break. I never 'I'm done, I'm quitting', but it got to the point where I had to take a week and think about it before I made any decisions. It just got to a point where the injury struggles, the twister struggles... all those things got too much in my head that I didn't know what to do. I know other people experience it, when you have so much going on in your head that your head is so busy all the time it just needed to switch off. It got to a point where I said 'I just can't handle all the stuff that's going on inside my head right now', so I had to take a back seat and chill.
That’s when I started making decisions about what I can do to get the love back and passion back for my sport. The move to London was one key factor, but that twister was still a demon dive for me. That's when Jane [Figueiredo, coach] said that she thought I definitely should learn a new dive. I had nothing to lose, and the biggest risk is to learn a new dive but that’s very much Jane's mentality - she would rather risk it all and get the top prize, than play it safe and come fourth. Her mentality is to do everything you can to win, and I think that’s what going into this Olympic is different. I'm going in it to win and with the mentality that I'm ready to fight. I'm ready to challenge the rest of the world for that Olympic gold.
Do you think by making the programme you're actually increasing the public pressure on you to win?
For me, when you get into a diving competition, public pressure becomes irrelevant. If you've dealt with public pressure from such a young age I go into compeition and handle it pretty well. Some divers can't look at the scoreboard or don't want to know what everyone else is doing, whereas I like to look at the score board and say 'Oh yeah? He got a 9? I need 9.5'.
You've emphasised going for gold so much - will you be shattered if you don't win?
You know, you ask anyone going to the Olympics - if you don't win, it's gutting, because you get one shot every four years. Six dives, and if you mess one of them up, you're out. At the end of the day I will be over the moon and completely chuffed with any colour medal. But you have to go in there wanting gold. You have to go in there fighting for that gold medal. My mentality is go into that competition thinking 'they have to beat me' not 'I have to beat them'.
Someone in the film describes you as old for diving - at just 22, is that really true?
Basically, people can dive until they're 28 or 30 if they really want to, so it might be that I try springboard or something else slightly different - but if I went on until in 30 it'll be 2024, and I would have done five Olympics. But I went up on the 10 metre when I was 10 years-old: most divers don't go up until they're 15 or 16. SSo I've been up on the 10 metre for 12 years now already, whereas most people my age would have been up for seven years. But as a 22 year-old diver going into the Olympics, I have the experience of a 27 or 28-year-old, so I feel like I'm in the best shape going into this one.
You have talked about retirement - is that something you've thought about or do you not want to discuss at the moment?
No, I'm more than happy to discuss it! I'll keep going until my body gives out on me basically - and so far, it's all been fine!
In the film you talk a lot about your father [who passed away from a brain tumour in 2011]. Is there an element that you want to do this for your family?
Of course. It was always mine and my dad's dream. That’s the thing; my parents and my family have been so supportive of me in helping me achieve in helping me achieve what I wanted to achieve. As a kid I was the one dragging them out the house telling them to hurry up. I was a pushy kid! [laughs] He was there for every competition, no matter what it was. It was heartbreaking not having him there to witness the bronze medal in London because it was the dream to win an Olympic medal.
You see me stood up there at the Olympics, but its the whole team around me - the coaches, physios, psychologists, sports nutritionist, shapes and conditioning coaches, sports massage, my mum, my dad, all my family and friends, Lance, everyone - that has put in the effort and support system for me to get to that point. So it's not just doing it for myself, but for everyone really. In that moment at the end of the board I'll only be thinking about the process that I have to do, but it has been a massive team effort - which is why I always say 'we' won.
Tom Daley: Diving For Gold airs on Saturday 30 July, 8pm on ITV.