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Olympic champion Tom Daley has given a wide-ranging interview to The Guardian in which he answers readers’ questions about his career, coming out as gay, his family, and dealing with grief.
One of Daley’s earliest and biggest supporters was his father, Rob, who accompanied him to all his training sessions and early competitions.
Tragically, Rob Daley was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died in 2011 aged just 40.
Tom Daley publishes his memoir, Coming Up For Air, this month. In it, he talks about some of his dad’s ashes being buried beside the diving pool of the London Aquatic Center. The state-of-the-art facilities were built ahead of London hosting the Olympic Games in 2012. Daley has competed and trained there.
“It was one of those things that only I knew during London 2012,” recalls Daley. “That’s why I put my water bottle there; I still put my bottle there whenever I train. He got the best seat in the house – no parents are allowed poolside during diving competitions, let alone the Olympics. It was very special to me that I won my first Olympic medal in that pool.”
Unhderstandably, he says that he found his dad’s illness, and death, very hard at the time. He focused on his diving as a way of not dealing with his feelings.
“I didn’t allow myself to believe that it was going on, and diving was my outlet to escape from it all. Even after my dad died, I was very much ‘diving, diving, diving.’ It wasn’t until I met Lance and he said: ‘You need to deal with this, you can’t just carry on and pretend that nothing’s happened.’ … Everybody grieves differently, but I definitely had a delayed grief moment.”
Daley met his partner, screenwriter, and producer Dustin Lance Black, in Los Angeles in 2013. Their connection was instant.
“Our mutual friend brought some friends, of which Lance was one. In that first week, we said we loved each other and we named our children. And here we are, four years married and with a three-year-old son.”
He says Lance’s own experiences of losing family members were among the things they have in common.
“That’s where Lance and I connected a lot – he had lost his brother, I’d lost my dad, and then he lost his mum. We’d also experienced the highs of a career [Black won an Oscar in 2009 for his screenplay for Milk] and having that comedown afterwards. That was something we really were able to connect on.”
Daley also said the 20-year-gap is not an issue for them (“Lance is very much the big kid in the house. I consider myself to be an older soul”), and they hope to be able to have more children at some point.
Below is a video Daley made in 2016 for a UK cancer charity, in which he recalls his dad’s illness and death.