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Tom Daley on balancing fatherhood with Olympic gold medal dreams

"Definitely after the Olympics... we'd love to make our family bigger."

By Will Stroude

Interview: Cliff Joannou / Additional words: Will Stroude

At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Tom Daley experienced both triumph and heartbreak, taking home the bronze medal in the in the men’s synchronised
10m platform with Dan Goodfellow before crashing out of the men’s 10m individual semi-final – despite a record-breaking solo Olympic performance just a day earlier.

Half a decade on, and 26-year-old Tom’s personal life has undergone major changes. He married Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black in 2017 and they welcomed their son, Robert ‘Robbie’ Ray Black-Daley, born by surrogacy, a year later.

Tom Daley for the Attitude July issue, out now (Photography: Eddie Blagborough)

As he sits down for his interview for the Attitude July issue – out now to download and to order globally – Tom reflects on the very different environment he finds himself in as he prepares for July’s Olympic Games in Tokyo; exemplified by the fact son Robbie joins him on the video call mid-interview.

Balancing the rigours of elite sport with fathering a toddler doesnt’ appear to be affecting Tom’s performance in the pool however: Along with diving partner Matty Lee (who appears alongside him in the Attitude July issue) he’ll soon go on to take home gold at the FINA Diving World Cup in Japan and the European Aquatics Championships in Budapest, with an adorable of Robbie cheering on his ‘Papa’ at home with Dustin melting hearts across the world.

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A post shared by Tom Daley (@tomdaley)

“I think all of my friends, if they were to describe me, I’m just one of those weird people that if I want to do something, I’ll do it,” Tom says of the mentality that’s propelled him to global sporting fame.

“I’m quite impulsive in that way, whether that be wanting to go to the Olympics, wanting to learn how to knit and crochet, becoming a planned parent, all of these things.

“I’m a big dreamer, but I also never put limits on what I can achieve, and I think that’s something that I’ve just always done from a young age.”

The three-time Olympian, who made his breakthrough at Beijing 2008 aged 14 before coming out publicly five years later while still a teenager, goes on: “I’m quite obsessive, if I set my mind to [do] something I’m very much addicted to getting there.

Tom wears swimwear by adidas (Photography: Eddie Blagborough)

“Which is a good trait, but can also be a dangerous trait, because I set my mind and get very blinkered to what I want to achieve.”

The father-of-one adds: “And especially in an Olympic year, my husband’s always, like, ‘I’m looking forward to Olympic year being over, because you’re very much a worrier’.

“I’m very strong-willed during an Olympic year; I know what I want, I like my routine. But in any other year I’m not really like that, I’m a little bit more go with the flow, and free-spirited.”

The disappointment of Rio remains fresh in Tom’s mind heading into Tokyo this summer, and the London-based athlete confirms that despite his growing personal responsibilities, diving success remains his driving force.

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A post shared by Tom Daley (@tomdaley)

“I don’t want to go into the Olympic Games with any regrets whatsoever, so when I stand on the end of that diving board, I want to know that I’ve done every single thing possible, whether that’s eating, sleeping, not drinking. I make sure I try and get as much sleep as possible,” he explains.

“I’m very regimented, which is fine when you’re an athlete, it’s even great when you’re a parent, because I’m in bed just after Robbie goes to bed, and then I’m up before he is, so it works well.

“But in terms of being able to be a normal human being and being an athlete, it’s quite difficult to balance that.”

As Robbie sits alongside his father, enthralled by his colouring pencils, Tom reflects on one of the few positives that training in a pandemic has offered.

Photography: Eddie Blagbrough

“He’s changed so much in the last year,” says Tom. “It has been so nice to actually be able to be home to see him grow, because in a normal Olympic year I wouldn’t have been home otherwise, to actually experience him changing into the lovely little human being you are, aren’t you, Robbie?”

Little Robbie nods, his bountiful blond locks bouncing in full agreement.

“I’m Papa, and Lance is Daddy”, Tom continues. “That was one thing that we had to decide, because with same-sex parents, it’s like, Dad and Daddy. But then with that, when Robbie is 30 years old and calling one of us Daddy, it’s a little bit weird.

“So, I went for Papa, because it’s got a slightly older connotation; so as the younger one, I went for the Papa.”

While the Olympic Games are consuming all of Tom’s throughts right now, it’s clear that it may not be too long before there are more kids around to call him Papa, too. 

“I mean, we’ve always said we want a big family,” Tom admits. “Robbie, do you want a brother or sister?”

“A brother and a sister,” comes Robbie’s retort.

“You want a brother and a sister?” replies Tom, before continuing: “We’ve always said we want a big family. Definitely after the Olympics at some point, I’m sure we will.

“There aren’t any plans to yet, but we’d love to make our family bigger, of course…”

Read the full interview in the Attitude July issue, out now.

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