After winning Olympic medals and other major titles, British diver Tom Daley is used to being covered by the mainstream media and surrounded by PR people. Today though, he bypassed it all and used a camera phone and YouTube to get his message out, exactly as he wanted it.
In a five-and-a-half-minute long video Daley came out, telling the world he was currently in a relationship with a man. The most telling aspect was the description underneath – “This has been a hard decision to make, but I wanted you to hear this from me.”
Daley’s coming out is in stark contrast to previous, PR organised, press on the issue of his sexuality and private life. Only in September he said in a interview with the Daily Mirror headlined Tom Daley: I am NOT gay:
“I think it’s funny when people say I’m gay… I laugh it off”
“I’m not. But even if I was, I wouldn’t be ashamed. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest what people thought.”
What’s remarkable about Daley is not that he is in a relationship with a man, I suspect few will be bothered by that in modern Britain, but that he used social media to bypass the industry around him. For years celebrities have had their image manicured and manipulated by PRs, press officers and managers, who were more concerned that their (normally young) steers might isolate a section of their potential fan base than whether or not they were being open and honest.
Daley does not reveal the identity of his boyfriend in the video, clearly indicating that while he is happy to come out, he still wants to maintain some level of privacy. It will be interesting to see in the post-Leveson era how the tabloid press and gossip magazines react, desperate as they must be to find Daley’s mystery partner.
Sexuality is still a bizarre and outdated taboo in sport, and previously a sports star coming out may well have ended up doing PR puff pieces and big set piece interviews for TV and glossy magazines. That’s just not natural for 19-year-olds these day, who are used to communicating on their own channels, on their own terms.
By settling down on a sofa with his phone Daley showed how increasingly redundant the celebrity PR industry is becoming in the social media age.