Tom Daley Talks DMs, Fatherhood and Knitting Collabs

Tom Daley Talks DMs, Fatherhood and Knitting Collabs

by Evan Ross Katz

Tom Daley is wearing a Moschino teddy scarf hoodie featuring a harness motif around a teddy bear in a T-shirt that reads, "THIS IS NOT A MOSCHINO TOY." "I'm going for the full teddy bear moment" he grins, which could either be interpreted as cheeky or saccharin depending on your read. But I already reckoned he'd be wearing the hoodie, having seen it on his Instagram just hours before our interview (how else do you think I prep?).

The Olympian's gold medal is on the steps, he says, "randomly." He doesn't think it'll ever sink in, having a gold medal around his neck or lying at the foot of his Calgary rental, which he currently occupies while his partner Dustin Lance Black works on a new project. "Growing up the gold medalists felt like superheroes to me and I'm just Tom, and the fact that it's happened to me–" Daley stops for a beat, thinks, then self-corrects, saying it didn't just happen. He worked for it. "It's going to take some time to actually sink in," he tells me, but also I sense, himself.

Mostly, he's excited about the next couple of weeks, where he'll have nothing but time to amble through Calgary with his other beloved, his three-year-old son Robbie. On the list: Theme parks, trampoline parks, climbing walls and going to see the Dinosaur Museum that he's obsessed with. They just did the Calgary Tower and that only whetted their appetite for more little adventures. It's a necessary pause in the aftermath of the 2020 Olympics, where Daley picked up his first-ever gold medal after competing in four consecutive Olympic Games.

Below, we chat about all this and so much more.

Now that you've had a bit of time to reflect, how do you look back at your Olympic journey on the whole? Not just your most recent stint and the gold medal, but all four times? That's a rare distinction.

I remember my first Olympics in 2008, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was a little kid that had done alright with diving and I was just excited about getting off school early for the summertime, so there really was no expectation or pressure. But then, going into the 2012 Olympics, there became a whole lot of pressure externally from all of the sponsors, the British public, doing it in front of a home crowd, etc. Then going into 2016 I put a lot of pressure on myself and that was quite an intense feeling. And then, going into 2020, my whole world flipped on its head with COVID, as everyone's did. On top of that, I became a parent and a husband, so my whole perspective changed. Robbie, my son, reminded me of what actually matters most and what's important. So I was able to go into that competition feeling loved, feeling supported, and knowing that whether I did really well or terribly that I was going to come back to a lot of love. So that allowed me to be calm, really enjoy it and have a sense of peace around the whole thing.

As you are aware, there were more out LGBTQ+ athletes at the Tokyo Olympics than in all of the previous Olympics combined. What is it like to know that your mere presence at the Olympics, medals aside, is really having a transformative effect on queer athletes around the world and creating a possibility model for them that might not have previously existed?

When I was younger there were no out LGBTQ+ athletes that I could look up to that were actually competing at the highest level. And those that were out were more often than not retired. Whereas now, having little kids that might be able to see themselves in me or be able to have that moment of "yes, I feel different and I feel like I don't quite fit in but maybe if I keep persisting and doing what I love, I might be able to make something of this" is special to me. Of course, it comes with its ups and downs and all of that stuff, but at the end of the day it's incredible. Just the other day someone in a press conference told me that I was the third ever gay Olympic champion, and to think that there's only been three is quite surreal. I also think that it's one of those things that, although it's great to have more out athletes, there's still 10 countries where it's punishable by death. So there's a lot of progress being made, but there's still a lot more to be made before we can take our foot off the gas.

You are a gay icon to many, but I'm curious: Who is your gay icon?

For me, growing up, it was Greg Louganis, and I know that might not necessarily be as mainstream as most people, but he was a big inspiration of mine because he was a gay athlete.He wasn't out at the time he was competing, but since coming out has definitely made me feel less alone and a lot less different and that I could still achieve something regardless of my sexuality. Because there are times when you grow up that you don't think you will be able to because you feel like all the doors are going to be slammed in your face.

During the Tokyo games, Simone Biles suffered from twisties. Is there ever anything like that in diving?

Exactly the same. Twisties are a thing in diving, as well. It's the same issues that you have with losing the movement and not knowing where you are in the air. It can be really difficult.

Is that something you've experienced firsthand?

Yes! After 2012 I had to do a redive and since that my twist completely went to the point where I had to relearn my twisters from scratch, and I actually looked at a circus trick on YouTube and turned it into an Olympic dive. But yeah, it's horrible. It's demoralizing. It takes over your whole life. And for it to happen just before the Olympics I feel really bad for Simone and I think good for her for speaking out about it.

Speaking of Simone, I'm wondering what it was like watching her make that decision to prioritize her mental health. And I'm asking you specifically because you both share the rare distinction of being a gold medalist and understanding uniquely the pressure to be the best.

Good for her! The fact that she has prioritized her mental health not only as an athlete, but as someone who is an extremely high-profile athlete, someone that was expected to win, and that she put all of that aside for her own mental health is very, very admirable. And I think it will make a lot of athletes and coaches and people within sports realize that we're human beings, we're not just these robots. Beyond that, the intense focus on gold and the winning, winning, winning, there is that vulnerable side to athletes too. We do worry, we do stress, we do panic about lots of different things, especially going into the Olympic games, the biggest sporting event that gymnasts and divers can actually take part in. So again, I say good on her.

I want to go back a bit to your early life. Your coming out video on your YouTube page is approaching its eight year anniversary with 13M views. How do you reflect on that moment now?

You know, it was one of those things that I kept getting asked so many questions, all the time, about what my situation was, and all I wanted to do was be given the space to explore my sexuality on my own before having to [make any kind of pronouncement]. But then I got to a point where I was like, "I'm just going to go on [YouTube] and say exactly what I want to say without anyone twisting my words, not being asked any follow up questions, so that I have the freedom to do it my way." I wanted to take ownership of it because it's my life and I wanted to be happy with being me.

What has vlogging all these years and that ability to have some control over how the public sees you taught you?

Everyone has experienced that moment of being able to share with the world only things you want to share, but there is a dangerous side to it too. You always see the happy and exciting stuff on social media. And yes, it's exciting to be able to take control of your own narrative, but I do think people get a very skewed view of what people's lives are like and that for me is where writing my book proved helpful. It allowed me to have those moments of reflection upon the things I have done in my life and the things that have shaped me because shit happens and life is crap sometimes and you don't always see that. You see the happy and the glitz and the glam, and there are times when I've really struggled and times when people might not have known that. I love having my YouTube channel and my other special media, don't get me wrong, but there are more layers than what you see on social media.

Let's talk about your upcoming book. You write that your "constantly shifting perspectives have given [you] a totally different outlook on what really matters most in life." What would you say are some of your perspectives that have changed the most over the last few years?

Well, being a parent massively changes everything. Robbie is the most important thing in my whole life and his presence shifts the way I think about everything. I can leave diving at the pool because when I come home, I am very much a parent. I am doing everything for Robbie and making sure that everything is okay. But also learning as I go along in life to care less what other people think about, and do what I'm passionate about as long as my friends, my family and I are happy, that's the most important thing.

You had your son Robbie via gestational surrogacy. Being that there are so few out gay parents in the public eye that speak about their journey with with surrogacy, what is some of the information you most wanted prospective LGBTQ+ parents to learn or better understand.

Surrogacy, depending on where you do it, has so many different laws. In the UK, for example, surrogacy is a lot more difficult to do because there isn't the legal protection for the surrogate or the intended parents, so when we were looking into where we would do it, we decided on the US, and Lance is American anyway, in an effort to do it in a place that would be safest for everyone. In the US, the whole process is such a magical bonding experience, not only for Lance and I, but with our surrogate and our surrogate's family, as well. We're still in contact all the time, we do FaceTimes and Robbie loves our surrogate's kids. You create a lifelong best friend/ extended family throughout the process. Of course it can be quite a stressful thing, too, because you're not necessarily always there. I guess the one piece of advice I would give is to not be in a rush, not be in a hurry, just enjoy getting to know your surrogate. She was our guardian angel. She was able to help us create our dream family and that's something that we will be eternally grateful to her for.

Any hopes of Robbie following daddy's footsteps and becoming a diver?

He's been interested in trying so many things and I've always said, "I'll let him try whatever he wants to try." I know how grueling and how difficult sports can be, but if he wants to give it a go, great, we'll support him.

Is there anything unexpected that fatherhood has taught you or brought? Things that you didn't know it could?

It's just that moment of being able to go out into the world and almost see the world through his eyes in such an innocent way. Like you get to almost be a kid again and experience that moment of how he might see something for the first time that we take for granted. He's obsessed with it, and all of the sudden I might be like, "Hey, that is really cool." It's a whole new sense of gratitude.

Let's talk about the knitting. Did you have any inclination that those images of you knitting would become as ubiquitous as the ones of you winning gold?

I now get when I go down the street, "Oh, you're the knitter!" And I'll be like, "Well actually, I'm the diver, but yes, I knit." I've been doing it for nearly a year and a half now and I've been loving every step. It's my way of finding peace and calm and mindfulness. I was doing it on the bus to the pool and pool-side and doing it for the whole two weeks we were there. It just so happened I got photographed on that day and then all of the sudden people were very excited about the fact that I was knitting.

Any plans to sell your knitwear or grow this out into a full-fledged business?

I have lots of people asking me to make dog jumpers and jumpers for their kids and things like that, but I just don't think people understand how long it takes to make something by hand. It takes hours and hours to create something. I wish I could put it through a machine and it would just be done, but that's not what I do knitting for. I do it for that long, extended, slow-passion.

Would you ever consider doing any kind of knitwear collaboration with another brand?

I'd definitely like to try and make it work. I could see a collaboration with a brand to be able to do a capsule collection.

I'm all about manifesting, so if you had to pick your choice collaborator who would it be?

Burberry. It's so iconically British and I consider myself to be quite British, obviously, so I'd love to be able to do some kind of collaboration with them.

Are you interested in acting?

My husband works in the industry, so it would be really weird for me to ever do that.

Would you ever work with Dustin creatively?

I'd consider doing something like a podcast. I'm always up for doing that kind of stuff, trying new things, so that's something I'd be down to consider.

Are you a podcast listener?

Yes, I am an in and out podcast listener. The last one I listened to was about 100 items that tell the history of the human race essentially, so going back to the first made tool to now the credit card and how each thing shapes humanity and helps tell the history of the human race. I found it all really fascinating. And I think the Victoria Albert Museum has a whole section of those 100 items that you can actually go and see and understood the stories that were told. I know it's a slightly nerdy one. Oh, and I'm currently obsessed with space, as well.

Space, like outer space?

Space, like how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of the whole universe. It blows my mind.

Guilty pleasure TV shows?

Well, I don't think it's necessarily a guilty pleasure but I absolutely love Drag Race. I'm a Drag Race super fan. I've watched every episode. I'm currently watching Drag Race España, so I've even gone international.

I noticed that you follow Milk, Bimini, Monet, Aquaria, Jackie Cox, Willam, Art Simone, Trixie, Kandy Muse, Detox, Courtney Act, Valentina and Jimbo. So you really do back-up your super fan credentials there. Any desire to guest judge on the show one day?

Oh my gosh, I would love to! RuPaul just has to hit me up and I'm there.

Any other shows you're addicted to at the moment?

I watched Succession. That was our first lockdown show. I'm trying to think of the other shows I've been watching.

Have you done The White Lotus yet?

No. Any recommendations are great because normally by the time Robbie's in bed I sit and knit and unless I'm watching something with Lance, I don't tend to turn the TV on.

Are you aware of the thirst for you on the Internet?

You know, it's quite funny, because whenever I am on a photoshoot I always feel so awkward and I hate looking at photos of myself, so often I'll see photos of myself and refuse to even look at them, 'cause it's... I don't know. It always feels really weird for me to do a photoshoot, it's all such a surreal thing because I'm not a model, I'm a diver, and then sometimes I have to do things — well, I don't have to do things — where I'm put in front of a camera, and again, as I've gotten older I've learned to care less and less about things. I used to go to photoshoots and be really awkward whereas now I go and don't really care what anyone else thinks and it's great getting to this point where I'm able to trust the photographer's vision.

But do you see the comments?

I don't necessarily look at the comments all that much, to be honest. I don't necessarily go through my DMs either. You know how sometimes you get DMs and they go to a request folder? I went through them one time with some of my friends, and you can kind-of imagine the sorts of things that I see in those direct messages. It can be a lot. But on the other side of that sometimes there's some really sweet messages where people have said how much me being an out athlete has meant to them. So there are very much two ends of the spectrum.

Speaking of the one end, your Six Minute Butt Workout from 2018. Any chance of more workout videos like this or at the very least a sequel?

Oh, okay, you know I'm down for that! I do lots of different workouts all the time for different parts of my body that are without any equipment. And I started filming some of them thinking people might want to see the workouts, but I feel like lots of people don't actually do the workouts. They probably just sit there and watch it. Or that's what most of the comments say anyway.

Are you thinking at all about 2024? Is that an annoying question?

I'm taking a break, for sure, for right now and then next year I will see where my body is at, see where I'm at, and make a decision then. I haven't had a period until now where I'm able to take a break from diving. For 20 years. So I'm very excited to spend time with my family and see where we go from there.

What's next for Tom Daley?

Other than my knitting and trying to work out something with that, I'd love to become a TV host. Exploring options around that would be really fun. And who knows? You might see me being head knitwear designer at Burberry, as well as TV host in 10 years time. Who knows!

Welcome to "Wear Me Out," a column by pop culture fiend Evan Ross Katz that takes a look at the week in celebrity dressing. From award shows and movie premieres to grocery store runs, he'll keep you up to date on what your favorite celebs have recently worn to the biggest and most inconsequential events.

Photos courtesy of Tom Daley