Tom Daley, the teenage diver tipped to win gold for Great Britain at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, has been the victim of a bullying campaign so severe his parents may be forced to move him to a new school.
Daley, 14, caused a sensation when he was picked as the youngest member of Team GB at last summer's Beijing Games. He has paid for his public profile, however, with relentless taunts and intimidation from other children at Eggbuckland Community College in Plymouth. He has been kept away from school since before Easter after another boy threatened to break his legs. Daley, who finished seventh in the men's 10m platform at the Olympics, also faces constant name-calling and jibes such as "Speedo boy".
Speaking to The Independent before he flew to the US for a training camp, Daley said: "Since I got back from the Olympics, people have been taking the mickey and it has escalated to levels I just can't stand any more. Fair enough, I expect mickey-taking and I'm not precious about what I do. But it has got worse and worse: people chucking stuff at me on a daily basis, emptying my pencil case on the floor for the hell of it.
"If I have to stand up in class for any reason, I get called names and made to look stupid. It makes me not want to go to school any more. It has got to the stage where I can't go to school and be normal. I don't think my diving has been affected but then again if I go to training in a bad mood, perhaps it has." Daley, who will be 15 next month and is in the first year of his GCSE studies, was interviewed for work experience at BBC Plymouth yesterday. In an interview with this newspaper last year, he said he hoped to become a children's television presenter when his diving career was over – an ambition he reaffirmed yesterday. Daley said the interview went well and he would return to the studios for a work placement on 1 June.
Daley's father, Robert, who gave up a job making electrical machinery to take his son to diving competitions around the world, said Tom might be forced to leave Eggbuckland. "I have been working with the school trying to resolve it and, in an ideal world, it stops," he said, adding that he was considering other options for Tom, such as a transfer to a school where sport was central to the curriculum.
"The bullying has been unacceptable," he said. "It has been name-calling, piss-taking; everyone is doing it. Since Tom came back [from the Olympics], it has snowballed and he is fed up with it. He can only tolerate so much. As a responsible parent, I have to look at other options and that's what I'm doing. Any parent would do the same thing. You don't see your kid hurting and turn your back. It's starting to affect his home life. He has lost his bubble and we've got to sort it out."
Daley, who has been diving since he was seven and trains for 30 hours a week in addition to his school work, has been feted in public since he returned from China. He switched on Plymouth's Christmas lights last year, attended film premieres in London and the Royal Variety Show.
Katrina Borowski, the principal at Eggbuckland, said: "Tom's extremely high profile has led to a minority of students acting in an immature way towards him." She said certain pupils had been "sanctioned" as a result.