Firstly let me make a point of solidarity with Tom Daley… As a competitive swimmer who also has to wear speedos a lot, I know how it feels to get more attention than you might like from both women and men, some of whom are bound to suffer disappointment.
But to have the full glare of the media focusing not only on your aquatic techniques but also on your swimwear and your personal life is tough for a nineteen year old.
Tom Daley has been brave, honest and authentic in his approach this week. He has pre-empted any kiss-and-tell tabloids ‘exposing him’ and promoted himself as a genuine, truthful human being who we can now all love that little bit more every time he balances on the edge of a springboard.
The manner in which he did it was innovative and ensured his audience received his undiluted message, on his terms.
However, the question for me is not where or how this has been done, but why it needs to be done at all.
After all, a person’s sexuality is nobody’s business but their own. Tom Daley has never professed to be something he is not, never led a contradictory public and private life. Who he is in a relationship with makes no difference to his ability to compete in diving competitions, which is the only thing on which we should be judging him on.
His throw-away comment that “of course he still fancies girls” hinted that he was slightly less comfortable than his gesture suggested. Why “of course”? Why does it matter?
Apparently his family and friends gave mixed advice, some of the more proactive suggesting he do a magazine cover or an exclusive TV interview. Why not reassure him that he shouldn’t feel any pressure to do anything?
Apparently he keeps being asked in interviews about whether he has a girlfriend and gets photographed whenever he is out and about with someone. The interviewers and photographers clearly think this is important to us. Is it? Does it impact upon the likelihood of him winning Gold medals for our country? Is it really so vital that we want to push a person to tell the nation what many of us wouldn’t tell our friends?
Daley may well have come out of this smelling of chlorine-quenched roses, but plenty of other ‘celebrities’ – and indeed many ‘normal’ people – have been destroyed by our incessant demand to know the details of their intimate activities.
Whilst our media and the public praises his fearless stance and bold approach, it also needs to think carefully about why a young man at a sensitive time in his teenage years feels forced into making public pronouncements about his personal life.
It may well fill a few pages in a newspaper and give us something to talk about down the pub, but an individual’s existence is worth more than that, isn’t it?