Tom Daley: modern man
The revelation about the Olympian's sexuality, delivered on YouTube to a fascinated world, says more about the age we live in than Tom Daley's love life
The story of Tom Daley is, on so many levels, the quintessential tale of our times. From the bestowing of instant celebrity status to the internet bullying and, finally, to the manner of the public declaration of his sexuality, this is a three-act morality play that is so "now" it almost defines the 21st-century media age. Daley's YouTube statement – a five-and-a-half minute "selfie" – in which he explained that he has been in a relationship with a man since the spring and that he has "never felt happier", was in response to the rumours and speculation about his sexuality that have been swirling around in cyberspace for some time.
I can't be alone in thinking that this was too much information. I couldn't care less what Britain's leading 10-metre platform diver does in his private life, as long as children or animals aren't harmed. But, in the modern age, Daley was never going to be able to keep his private life private.
It comes as something of a surprise that Daley has only just finished his A levels, so long has he been in the media glare. As he says in his touching and articulate YouTube soliloquy, using the language of today's celebrity: "My life has been a little bit of a roller-coaster." He took part in his first Olympics at the age of 14, immediately became a national figure, and was propelled into a life that has since encompassed product endorsements, chat-show appearances, an autobiography (well, he was 18 at the time), a TV show and a documentary. He's hung out with Kate Moss (who hasn't?) and has been photographed by Bruce Weber for Italian Vogue. He also has 2.5 million followers on Twitter.
In short, he has experienced the classic trajectory of the modern celebrity, even though his notoriety derives from one of the least glamorous, most arcane, sports you could imagine. He has suffered, too, from the reverse side of fame. Bullied at school, he has been the subject of speculation among those who care about these things – that he is gay – and has had to endure homophobic taunts on the internet.
Which brings us to his appearance in the modern confessional box that is YouTube. It's easy to see why YouTube and Twitter are now the preferred platform for celebrity disambiguation. It's mass media without the mediation. There's no chance of words being twisted, or an unintended meaning being applied. The appeal of these channels is that the power is totally vested in the messenger, traditional media are rendered redundant, and the public is left to make up its own mind.
Daley's piece to camera, long-winded though it was, was brave and honest. Nevertheless, I couldn't help thinking that, despite all this directness and openness, we were, on some level, being manipulated. Why didn't Daley simply release a statement, and ask for his privacy to be respected? Did he find the camera just too alluring, knowing he was supplying irresistible footage to every TV channel? Was this, in fact, the action of a man who is hooked on the modern drug of self-publicity? And when does the next series of his show start? Oh, it begins in a month or so. µ
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