Interview with Tom Daley: “Sport is one of the most heteronormative areas: Men have to be male”

IIf anyone wants to know what the worst thing about diving is, it’s getting wet,” says Tom Daley, giving off the kind of spin you’d normally expect him to do on the synchronized 10 metres. “For example, every day it just gets cold and wet. I know it’s part of the job, but that’s the worst part.”

Daley speaks to me via Zoom from his tasteful south London kitchen (all reclaimed wood and snappy fridge magnet souvenirs from his travels around the world), which he shares with his husband, writer-director Dustin Lance Black, and their four-year-old son, Robbie . The 28-year-old has bright eyes, bushy hair and a vivacious demeanor, a man completely at ease in his own skin.

After finally winning Olympic gold at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, Daley took a year off to pursue what sounds like every passion under the sun. You know him as Britain’s favorite Olympian. But I meet a quintessential millennial multi-hyphenate — swimmer/entrepreneur/author — who’s turning his newfound knitting addiction (you may recall his needles went viral during the Games) into a fashion label, Made with Love, that’s hitting the front Rows of fashion show lights up from here to Milano in gorgeous Moschino and Louis Vuitton looks and in general a very nice time on dry land.

His new knitting book Made with love: Be inspired by 30 knitting and crochet patterns, hitting shelves on October 27th. Is there anything he won’t try? “I don’t have a scent,” he says. “It would have to be Eau de Chlorine though, right? I just smell like chlorine all the time.”

So is he remembering to hang up his suitcases? “Actually, I haven’t made any decisions yet,” he says. This afternoon he’s going into the pool with his diving instructor for the first time since Tokyo. But he has spoken to his management team about the future. “Honestly, I just wanted to be a knitwear designer and sit on a beach with a margarita and be happy.”

TRUE. But maybe he’s not satisfied. Being a sports star gives him a platform useful for more than just reverse pike backflips. He was “furious” after a ruling by diving organization FINA in June banning transgender women who have gone through male puberty.

“We should send out a message to everyone that everyone is welcome, no matter who you are, where you are from, what gender, race, sexual orientation, religion you are, whatever it is, everyone should feel welcome when they Tried sport,” he says. We don’t address the issue of fairness here: the counter-argument is that biologically female-born divers have a clear competitive disadvantage. But Daley’s argument is broader. “I only think about myself when I was younger. I’m obviously not transgender, but if I’d been told that as a gay man I could never compete because that’s who I am, I certainly wouldn’t have tried.”

And what a waste that would be. The sports world, he says, lags behind the rest of society. “In most companies there is no such exclusion. And if there is, then there are a lot of HR people who would step in while sport just seems like a case of, oh, well, no, that’s sport. It is essentially this form of entertainment for many people around the world. Still, it is probably one of the most heteronormative spaces. Men have to be masculine and can only do so in a certain way. It just doesn’t make sense to me and of course there’s still a long way to go.”

Case in point: Qatar, the site of the upcoming FIFA World Cup winter soccer tournament, where homosexuality is illegal. “I don’t see why it would be a good idea to have a World Cup in a place where not everyone is welcome,” says Daley. At last year’s Virgin Atlantic Attitude Awards, he called for an Olympic ban on countries that criminalize homosexuality – but changed his mind after visiting LGBT athletes around the world illegal to be me Documentary he made with the BBC this year. “They said if I said ban these countries it would put a target on the backs of these LGBT people… it then becomes further oppression,” he told Channel 4.

Nevertheless, there are reasons to be happy. “When I came out, there weren’t really any other out athletes who were still at their game,” he says. “A lot of people would quit towards the end of their careers or in retirement. But now the amazing thing is that in the Olympics that just ended, they had more athletes than all the previous games combined. So that’s a big deal for visibility. And it’s not like they weren’t there before. They were, but now they’re just comfortable with being open about who they are.”

I always choose with the most vulnerable person in my family in mind

I’m asking if this tough, determined Daley could join Gary Neville in showing a more political side of himself (Neville took the stage with Keir Starmer at the Labor Party conference last month to criticize the Conservatives, although the Footballer said he would prefer to operate outside the party as a “loose gun”). “I think my husband would be great at it,” notes Daley. But campaigning isn’t for him, he says, because he wants to speak out on LGBT issues “without worrying about getting re-elected.” He says he has never been tempted by the ballot box. But he’s fired up. “I never spoke about it [who I vote for] but it’s not the party that’s hot right now,” he says. He finds the current climate “scary”.

“I always vote with the most vulnerable person in my family in mind,” he says. “I think of people like my grandma and grandpa who are not doing well. And also like my mother and my brothers who live in Plymouth, like my brother has a little girl. And I’m worried about her. He’s a trainee and he has a house that he’s paying off a mortgage on and the cost of living is going up, the price of fuel for his car, the cost of living for gas and electricity. There are so many elements I think… Obviously I’m in a very privileged position to be able to help if that should come up, but I agree with them in the back of my mind.”

You won’t catch Daley taking his beautiful life for granted. Just look at Italy, where same-sex parents are asking “what next?” after the election of Giorgia Meloni, a far-right arsonist who opposes adoption and surrogacy for same-sex couples. “If people, especially LGBT people or really a minority, are happy with the rights that we have, if we don’t keep trying and fighting for more equality and more legal protections, then people will come and take them away from us,” says Daley.

He says London is a place where he feels completely safe – he takes great delight in wearing flashy haute fashion outfits on the London Underground (a case in point is his all-red, low-cut Kaushik- Velendra suit and the 15cm Louboutin heels he wore to the London Underground (Team GB Ball last November). “But I still find myself checking myself. What if I meet someone who doesn’t want to see me in it? Or don’t want to see me with my husband? Or whatever it may be. Although yes, I feel safe, I still have those thoughts.”

“I’m a school dad now”


Closer to home, the past few months have been surreal. Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of milkHe suffered a “serious head injury” last month. “He’s doing a lot better, but I can’t really say much about it because it’s like a legal battle,” says Daley. “We’ve been trying to rest and make the best of trying to recover as best we can and trying to be a little less busy. But you know, it’s also nice to be with Robbie and just be able to remember what’s most important.”

like what “You know, I’m a school dad now,” Daley says, laughing. Since September he has been taking Robbie to the gate every morning and picking him up again after karate, arts and crafts or choir. Time flies. “You suddenly notice massive differences in your reading, math and similar ability, which makes it very surreal. He’s a real person.” New beginnings. New endings. Last month, he sighed at taking Robbie in line to see the Queen lie down – “I didn’t think it was possible to stand with a four-year-old for so long.” – but he felt particularly devastated, he says. “It was like everyone lost their grandma.”

She had a wonderful sense of humor, says Daley. “I met her with some of the others [Olympic] Gymnasts…she said, ‘Oh, you’re very small.’” A huge tall Olympic rower was in the same room, which didn’t help. So Daley said reassuringly to HRH, “Yes, divers and gymnasts tend to be quite small.” What did she think of that? “She said, ‘Oh, maybe I should take up gymnastics.’ Well, that would have been quite a career turning point.

Made with Love (HQ £28) will be released on October 27th Interview with Tom Daley: “Sport is one of the most heteronormative areas: Men have to be male”

Fry Electronics Team

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