Tom Daley: ‘A big family is always what we’ve wanted’

The Olympic diver speaks to Gabrielle Fagan about being a new dad, how he hopes to parent and his wellbeing secrets.

Diving star Tom Daley had two long-cherished dreams: Becoming a father and winning Olympic gold.

In June, Daley, 24, and his husband, Hollywood screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, 44, fulfilled the first when their son Robert Ray Black-Daley was born.

Daley, a double Olympic bronze medallist who has won World, Commonwealth and European diving golds, says the baby will always be his number one priority now, but he’s still training hard to fulfil his other ambition and secure the one medal that’s eluded him, so far.

Tom Daley with his gold medal in the Men’s Synchronised 10m Platform Final at the Optus Aquatic Centre during day nine of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast, Australia

Here the star, who married in 2017, talks candidly about fatherhood, marriage, whether he’ll have more children, and speaking out about gay rights.

What’s it like being a dad?

“Fatherhood is amazing. I’ve always wanted to get married and have children and now I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

“I’ve had this real paternal thing for years and was buying baby clothes from about the age of 17. Our baby had a pretty good wardrobe well before he arrived!”

What’s married life like?

“It’s been the most incredible year together. Being married makes you feel really safe, and it’s so comforting to know I’m coming home to my husband. It’s stability.

“We’re quite a romantic couple. Lance is so caring, protective and sensitive and amazingly supportive of my career. I never think about the age gap – if anything, I’m probably the more mature one out of the two of us.

“We really connected when we first met in 2013 because we’d both suffered a bereavement. I lost my dad in 2011, he lost his older brother in 2012 and then he lost his mum in 2014. He knew what it was like to lose really important family members and that’s created such a strong bond between us.

“He’s been through very tough times himself. His father left home early in his childhood, and his mother was partially paralysed by polio.”

How much are you inspired by your late father, Rob, in your parenting?

“Massively. My dad was a devoted parent who supported me so much with my diving. I can only hope to be as good as him as a dad. I like to think he’d be super proud of everything I’ve achieved and how I’ve turned out. I was just 17 when he died and it’s very sad he’ll never meet his grandson, never saw me married, never saw me win an Olympic medal.

“I love that he never used to care what people thought about him – he’d wave the biggest Union Jack flag, sing the national anthem so loudly and cheer for me, no matter what anyone thought. Sometimes it used to embarrass me but now I realise he lived the way he wanted to, didn’t care what anyone else thought because he realised life was too short to worry. It’s a life lesson I want to pass on to our child.”

Tom Daley with his parents, Rob and Debbie in 2008.

How did losing him change you?

“Losing him made me realise you never know what’s going to happen. Now I realise you can be excited for the future, but always endeavour to live in the now and enjoy the moment. I miss him very much and talk about him to my mum a lot. He taught me to ‘do a good deed every day for someone’ and I try to do that, even if it’s only a small thing.”

Will you have more children?

“We had an egg donor and a surrogate who have no biological connection and we have fertilised eggs. Half were fertilised by me and half by Lance.

“A big family is always what we’ve wanted but we said we’d see how we go with one child and make a decision from there. I’ve always been such a family person, it’s very important to me.”

How will fatherhood affect your sporting performance?

“It will be our baby first and diving second as a priority, of course, but I think having our son will make me perform even better. I’ve still got a driving ambition to win an Olympic gold. The thought of that keeps me working each day because it’s the one medal that eludes me.”

Do you have any thought of retiring?

“I’ve always said I’ll carry on diving for as long as my body will let me. Because of the physical punishment I’ve put it through, it’s probably around five years older than my age.

When you love doing something, you don’t ever want to stop.”

You spoke out about gay rights at the Commonwealth Games this year after winning a gold medal – why was that important to you?

“I realised when I went to the Games how lucky I was to be married to someone I love without any worry about ramifications and to be able to represent my country in a sport I love and not have to worry about being thrown into jail.

“At that time, there were 37 [Commonwealth] countries which criminalised LGBT people. I just wanted to shine a light on that. I feel every person has the right to feel love for someone whatever their sex, religion, ethnicity or background. Love transcends all those things.

“I feel lighter and freer now I’ve come out. When you try and hide who you really are and suppress emotions, it’s a big burden and a weight on your shoulders. There’s something so liberating about being able to be truly who you are and it feels great to be my authentic self.

“The word a lot of people are using now is ‘queer’ rather than labelling themselves, lesbian, gay or transsexual. I think it’s a better word because it doesn’t define you. Maybe I’ve fancied a girl before or a boy before, whatever. My generation are more fluid.”

How did you cope with the criticism on social media about your decision to have a child?

“There’s not a lot that can surprise me nowadays in terms of people on social media who say whatever they want from behind a computer. They wouldn’t necessarily say it to your face. When we saw the horrible messages, I detached myself from it and avoided reading most of it.”

How do you look after your wellbeing?

“Being present in the moment is crucial to wellbeing. I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve been consumed with self-doubt and mindfulness has really helped me to overcome them.

“After the 2016 Olympics when I didn’t qualify for the men’s 10 metre final, it felt like everything I’d worked towards had been shattered to pieces. As time’s moved on, I’ve taken away the positives from that experience and moved on.

“I’ve learned to detach myself from negative talk in my head, and every day I practise 10 minutes of meditation using an app. I do yoga, and have a diet that’s energy-giving and boosts my immune system.

“Through my new book, Tom’s Daily Goals, I want to show people you don’t have to be an athlete to improve your life, health and wellbeing. My book’s aimed at ordinary, normal people, like my mum, who want to get fitter.”


 

Tom’s Daily Goals: Never Feel Hungry or Tired Again by Tom Daley is published by HQ, priced £16.99. Available now.