Daley's golden smile prepares world for a feast after breakfast of champions

Only commercial pressures threaten the diving prodigy making a global splash. James Lawton reports from Beijing

Tom Daley, aged 14, admits that maybe it is too soon to expect to step up to the Olympic podium here, but already there is a score of compensations, including breakfast with one of the great champions of sport, tennis superstar Rafael Nadal.

"He just came up to my table, sat down and started talking – it was very exciting," says the boy from Plymouth as he peeks over his nameplate at a battery of cameras only marginally less wide and deep than the one that earlier in the week greeted Michael Phelps, the American lord of the swimming pool who is anticipating adding another eight medals, this time ideally gold, to those he won in Athens four years ago.

Yet there is undoubtedly gold here, too, for the youngest Olympian.

It is just probably not the kind, for the moment at least, that you hang around your neck and is accompanied by a laurel leaf and the playing of the national anthem. It is the variety that tends to come from sponsors when you wield their names with something approaching subliminal ease.

Young Tom also says – with the unaffected candour that has marked for some time now his astonishing emergence not only as the talismanic little brother of the entire British effort here but as an international celebrity – that the sudden blast of fame was a little "weird" at first. But yes, maybe, he will be able to deal with it as adroitly as he does the challenge of making beautifully co-ordinated dives into the pool.

Already, though, the salesmanship has become as seamless as the diving.

He is, for example, very happy with the room he shares with his synchronised diving partner, the near ancient 26-year-old Blake Aldridge, in the athletes' village.

You see, he points out in an aside for which their corporate office would almost certainly hand out an instant 10, it has been very nicely fitted out by B&Q. A family entourage of parents, siblings, two sets of grandparents and an aunt is in town and they all have seats in the soaring Aquatic Centre. Was that a problem? Not at all, it took just a phone call to Sportsworld.

Also most helpful in the matter of advice has been Sir Steven Redgrave. He is, arguably, Britain's greatest Olympian and, if you had by some mischance forgotten, Young Tom is quick to remind us, also a member of Visa's Olympic team.

So is British sport's golden boy also becoming a swiftly fattening cash calf while still two years away from taking his GCSEs at Eggbuckland Community College in Plymouth?

Maybe it was inevitable from the moment he charmed the nation when accepting his BBC award as the Young Sports Personality of the Year. Yet there is still good news. It is that the little brother whose voice is still to break continues to shine light on what the tough-minded team leader, the Australian Steve Foley, believes can grow into the most promising diving squad Britain has ever assembled.

Foley was asked whether Daley is a bonus or a distraction with the weight of the media attention he has attracted – and which yesterday filled a conference room to overflowing. Foley's reaction could not have been more emphatic. "Tom Daley is great for the team – and the sport in general.

"The Chinese are in their own backyard and it would not be surprising if they had a clean sweep of golds, but they have been so dominant they carry great expectation. We are going through our apprenticeship stage but if we show the right approach here we will have a lot to build on in the London Olympics in four years' time. Tom is obviously a big part of all of this."

Aldridge agrees: 'Tom has had a lot of attention, a lot of media, but it's been good for everyone. We have been lucky in having good chemistry. We have gelled very well in the teamwork and it is just great having him around. He is the messiest member of the team, but that's no problem for me.

"I've had my ups and downs with injuries and at my age London will probably be my last chance of a medal if one doesn't come here. So I just hope I can hang on. What I do know is that Tom's presence is keeping me young – in body and mind."

Daley is also candid about the fact that he is still comfortable with some of the attachments of fairly extreme youth. The clutter around his Olympic cot includes an ageing toy monkey. Eagerly, he is asked if it has a name. "No, it hasn't, and I don't even know if it brings me luck. But I brought it here because I just thought it was the wrong time to stop doing things I have been doing for so long."

At his current rate of progress it will not be so long before the signing of autographs is included in that number. "It is so exciting being here. I can hardly wait for the competition to start but in the meantime there is so much to do. It's phenomenal. It was a bit strange being asked for my autograph in the street so far from home but, of course, diving is a big sport here."

Though he stumbled over the word phenomenal, and then repeated it with almost grave precision, there was something almost eerily mature about the willingness and the ease with which he answered a good 75 per cent of the questions directed at the team and the coaches.

One that wasn't posed – perhaps because most suspected they knew the answer – was whether he was entirely sure Nadal had made Britain's most luminous young sportsman his No 1 target for breakfast conversation. Young Tom was, after all, sitting with his team-mate Tonia Couch at the time. She is blonde and beautiful and her voice has broken – into a West Country burr some might say was as appealing as cider and roses.

Young Tom says he will pursue a serious girlfriend only after the London Olympics and his 18th birthday. The odds, on yesterday's evidence, are that the sponsors will still be besotted, along with the nation of course.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone