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10 surprising things we learned from Tom Daley’s Desert Island Discs

The diver Tom Daley is just 24, but he’s been competing at the very highest level in his sport for more than a decade, winning world championships and an Olympic medal. On Desert Island Discs, he reflects on the highs and lows of his life so far, including his recent experience of becoming a father, his wedding to Dustin Lance Black, and the early death of his own father. And he has plenty to say about what it’s like to stand on a very high board – and take a leap. Here are some surprising things we learned from his interview with Lauren Laverne…

1. Diving always hurts

Diving from a 10m board can be painful – very painful: “It hurts when it goes wrong and when it goes right, if I’m being completely honest,” Tom says. “Obviously it hurts a lot more if it goes wrong. I’ve broken ribs, coughed up blood. Some people even split skin when they hit the water.”

2. He wouldn’t be able to swim away from the island

Although he has spent thousands of hours at the pool, Tom says he’s not a strong swimmer: “I can swim to the edge of the pool, but doing a 50 metre length – I am absolutely knackered by the end of it. I’d prefer to be out of the water and diving into it rather than swimming in it!”

3. He was a ‘water baby’ from the very start

When Tom was born, the midwife said he was a ‘water baby’, because he had big hands and big feet – which Tom now believes are an advantage in his sport: “Big hands help with balance when I’m doing my handstands, and then big feet help with being able to stand right up my tiptoes on the edge of the diving board. I feel like I’m secure and have a good base to stand on.”

4. He was an Elvis impersonator – with his dad

“I used to dress up as Elvis”, says Tom, “as a bit of inspiration from my Dad who used to dress up as Elvis, when he used to do karaoke – in his full Elvis jumpsuit, glasses, wig, you name it, he had it.” Tom’s initial karaoke choice was S Club 7, but he soon joined his dad’s fulsome tribute to the King.

5. He identifies with Harry Potter – thanks to a diving injury

“I’ve hit my head on the diving board twice,” Tom says, “And I used to dress up as Harry Potter at Halloween when I was younger, because I had a scar on my [fore]head so I only needed to add an extra little squiggle.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, his choice of book for the island is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which he remembers first reading with his grandma, mum and dad.

6. Dry Your Eyes by The Streets used to make his dad laugh

We had this whole private joke about ‘dry your eyes mate – don’t worry, it’s only someone 10 years younger than you who’s just beaten you.

Tom first became a national champion at the age of 13, beating much older divers. When The Streets’ hit song came on the radio, Tom’s dad thought the lyric ‘Dry your eyes mate’ was hilarious, because he imagined how upset the older competitors would be. Tom recalls: “We had this whole private joke about ‘dry your eyes mate – don’t worry, it’s only someone 10 years younger than you who’s just beaten you.’ And that song then forever resonated with those moments with my Dad, where we had won.” The track is Tom’s third choice of disc.

7. Going back to school after the 2008 Olympics was very tough

After competing in Beijing at the age of 14, Tom found himself the focus of unwanted attention from some of his classmates: “People used to throw things at me, call me names.. I had scissors thrown at me, rolls of tape. In the field at lunchtime these guys would come and rugby tackle me to the floor… to the point I was starting [to get] injured. It got to the point where I had to move school.”

8. He dreamed of competing in the Olympics in his home nation before London 2012 was announced

When Tom was nine, he drew a picture himself taking part in a London Olympics – before the announcement of the host city for 2012. Winning a bronze medal in London was a career-defining moment: “To dive in front of a home crowd at an Olympic Games, there was no better feeling. And I remember hitting the water after that [final] dive and I felt like I could have been a dolphin – there was so much adrenalin and excitement.”

9. Winning an Olympic medal left him feeling lost

“A month afterwards I was really sad about it,” Tom says. “[It] felt like I’d lost all purpose, like there was no end goal anymore.” He says it’s one of the feelings he can share with his husband Dustin Lance Black, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for the film Milk. “Lance had been through a similar thing – winning an Oscar and then having the downward slump that comes after it.”

10. The song How Long Will I Love You? was played at his wedding – twice

“We knew [it] was going to be our wedding song”, says Tom. “We had a string quartet play it while we were walking down the aisle, and also it was our very first dance.” Ellie Goulding’s recording of the song is Tom’s sixth disc.

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