Olympic diving champion Tom Daley on fatherhood and his new children's book

Olympic diving champion Tom Daley reveals how fatherhood has changed his perspective on life as he publishes his first children’s book. Hannah Stephenson writes.

Juggling family with Olympic commitments is proving “incredibly difficult and high stress”, says world class diver Tom Daley, in the run-up to his fifth Olympic Games, but husband Lance has been “an absolute rock star”.

“I travel for 10 days at a time going to competition and he’s been absolutely amazing,” says the 29-year-old, “especially because I’d been retired for two years and we thought that was over and done with. Then I felt, ‘I’m ready to go back again for a little bit’.”

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Daley, winner of one Olympic gold and three bronze (he entered his first Olympics at the age of 14 in Beijing and won gold at his fourth Games in Japan), is looking forward to the next challenge. Today, Daley enthuses as much about his family as he does his sport.

Tom Daley (left) after receiving his OBE in 2022 with his husband, Dustin Lance Black. Picture credit: Alamy/PA.Tom Daley (left) after receiving his OBE in 2022 with his husband, Dustin Lance Black. Picture credit: Alamy/PA.
Tom Daley (left) after receiving his OBE in 2022 with his husband, Dustin Lance Black. Picture credit: Alamy/PA.

He’s been married to Oscar-winning American filmmaker Dustin Lance Black for nearly seven years and they are dads to Robbie, five and Phoenix, nearly one.

Daley’s decision to come out of retirement was sparked during a nostalgic visit to the US Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs before Phoenix was born, he recalls.

“As we walked through I felt all warm and fuzzy and I thought, ‘What is coming over me? This is really weird’. At the end, there is an inspirational video of what it means to be an Olympian. I remember watching it and at the end I was a mess. Lance looked at me and there was this sudden realisation when we looked at each other of, ‘Oh s***, he wants to go back, he’s not done’.

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“Then Robbie looked at me as said, ‘Papa, why are you crying?’ I told him, ‘These are happy tears, I just really miss diving and I wish I could go back and compete in the Olympics’. Robbie said, ‘Papa I want to see you dive in the Olympics’. Now, Robbie is like my pushy parent,” he continues, chuckling.

They moved to Los Angeles last year, closer to Black’s work in Hollywood.

When he’s away training, Daley says he gets terribly homesick, calls his family “an excessive amount” and takes a photo of them to put on his bedside table. They’ll be at the Olympics, he says.

In-between diving and family life, Daley has found time to write his debut children’s book, Jack Splash, in which the eponymous 10-year-old hero who doesn’t quite fit in joins a diving team, encountering both triumph and disaster, facing bullies along the way. Daley admits there have been similarities in his own life.

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“As a kid growing up when I was part of a diving team, and when I was at school, I didn’t have the best time. Throughout the book I was trying to emphasise the importance of kindness, friendship, teamwork, working together, positivity, perseverance, to reiterate that it’s not always about winning, it’s about the relationships you build along the way, the friendships you make and the journey of getting there.”

Fatherhood has totally changed his perspective, he agrees. “When you become a parent you realise that [children] are the most important things in your life. You do a lot of things to change and shift the way you think, especially when I was going into competitions. I knew that no matter what happened in the competition I could come away from it and know that I was going home to a family that loves and cares for me no matter how well I perform.”

He says he’ll take a long break after Paris but isn’t sure if it will be his last Olympics. “I thought the last one was going to be my last Olympics and here we are. So, who knows? I’ll be 34 at the next Olympic Games [after Paris], so it would be a stretch, but it’s one of those things that I said no to last time and then look, we’re back again. So I’m taking one step at a time.”

Returning to diving after a two-year hiatus has created a lot of nerves, he admits. “Competition endurance is something that I’m working on between now and Paris. Every time I get out and dive in front of the judges is another opportunity for me to get some of that experience back.”

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He’s learned breathing techniques, mindfulness and meditation to calm his nerves, as well as knitting, which helps him not to overthink things in the lead-up to competition. He says he doesn’t fear retirement because he has so much going on in his life. He has become an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ+ community since coming out in 2013.

“It’s incredibly important. Growing up when I was a kid there wasn’t really anyone to look up to, like an ‘out’ sportsperson that was still competing. For lots of people it can be a very terrifying space to go into sport as an LGBTQ person because you want to fit in with the rest of your team-mates but you know there’s something about you that is slightly different.”

It’s a positive step that more athletes have come out, he says. “Sport is a very heteronormative space, especially in males. You want to be macho, you want to be tough, you want to be the person that is doing everything possible to be the best that you can be.

"You know, sometimes it’s not all about that. In team sports I think it can be very difficult because when you are working as a team it takes one person not to have the same view or be as accepting as other people, and then it can change the whole dynamic within the team. So, the more people that are able to just be themselves and lead with kindness, that is the big thing.”

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Fatherhood seems to have reinforced those emotions. “I can’t imagine seeing my kids go through any feelings of shame and discrimination and just feeling like you’re on the outside like you do when you grow up as an LGBTQ person. You want your kids to grow up and just be happy.”

Jack Splash by Tom Daley with Simon James Green is published by Scholastic, £7.99.

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