For all the talk of our “integrated” media, the separate disciplines don’t half love it when they perceive the other side to have screwed up. But never has there been a mass condemnation on the scale of how the papers received ITV’s new Saturday night offering, Splash!. In case you’ve missed it the show invites Olympic pin-up Tom Daley to teach various lardy celebrities how to dive. Oh, my goodness, WHAT a belly-flop, hooted the papers. The criticism of Daley stung his mother, Debbie, so much that yesterday she published a furious open letter to the British Swimming chief executive, David Sparkes, telling him that Splash! would boost, not damage, the profile of diving in Britain. How right Debbie is and how very wrong the critics are.
Last Saturday, my entire family sat down, open-mouthed with delight, absolutely loving every moment of this show. You want Olympic legacy? How better to show Daley’s extraordinary ability, and the sheer toughness of the sport, than have him teach his craft to a bunch of no-hopers.
Diving is clearly a terrifying sport, but because everything was so amazing at the Olympics there was a kind of plateau, and nowhere more so than in the diving pool. You would see someone from France perform a stupendous dive, but because the Brazilian and the Chinese chaps had both just done mind-blowingly marvellous ones, it looked pedestrian.
Whereas here we have Helen Lederer, a person so against the notion of entering water head first that she has to be tipped into it from a yoga mat, like a log leaving a carpet. When she comes to do her final offering, from the 3m board, Daley yells out to her: “Use the board as a pivot! Go deep into the water!” What a brilliant summation of diving. Far more instructive than any Olympic techno-speak, frankly.
All, however, is nothing compared with the moment when Omid Djalili, an overweight comedian, mounts the 10m board. Imagine if he fluffs it. Television executives are always going on about “jeopardy”. Here is jeopardy, in 10m dollops. “Just imagine doing that,” quavers one of my children. Exactly. That is exactly what five million of us are imagining. It is one of TV’s greatest gifts; putting the viewer right there. It is watching Philippe Petit cross between the Twin Towers on a tightrope; it is witnessing Felix Baumgartner step out above the Earth. Imagine doing that. And here is Omid, not a diver but a funny guy who lives in clubs and pubs, feeling the fear, conquering it and leaping off a 10m board, arms outstretched as if in flight.
I urge you to watch Omid dive. It shows that fear is the only thing to hold us back. If Omid can go off the 10m board, just think what you, me, anyone can do. It’s a key message. Do you know, I think Splash! is more important family viewing than David Attenborough and his murderous shoebills.