Tom Daley dismisses the unimportant

The Oxford Union hosted a talk, followed by Q&A, from Tom Daley. The video of it was posted on YouTube on 2 January, 2018, so was probably recorded shortly before everyone broke for the Christmas holiday 2017.

When he enters I am pleased to note that he carries no paper. I later discover, from the way that his eyes occasionally flick down to the lectern, that his notes have been placed there beforehand. Full marks for planning and stage-setting, coupled with admiration at how discreetly he later consults his notes, easily swamp whatever small disappointment I might feel for his using paper at all.

I always feel sympathy for anyone invited to deliver a speech about themselves. What the hell is there to say? If you are famous, which under the circumstances is likely, the audience already knows plenty about your fame. All then that is left is your private life which is none of their business. In Daley’s case he is a prodigiously successful high-board diver, and he’s gay. The former we can follow on the sports pages if we’re interested, the latter we can follow on other pages – again if we’re interested.

Speakers square this circle in various ways, and Daley has elected to make this motivational. His message is that you should combat stress by being yourself, trusting your game, and caring less about peripheries.

Almost a bald opening. It is clear that a pure bald opening was planned, but a delayed train forced him to squeeze in front of it his apology for tardiness. I forgive him.

The early part of the speech, almost a quarter of an hour, is spent with Daley recounting several ways and occasions through his childhood when his late father used to embarrass him in public. That sentence probably doesn’t exactly drag you in to watch it, and indeed it is rather garbled, prone to needless repetition, and clumsily recounted. There were many times I found myself editing and improving it in my head.

The strange thing, though, is that when he reaches a description of his standing with his toes at the edge of a ten-metre diving platform, with an Olympic medal riding on how he performs the next few seconds, you understand how he attributes his father’s eccentric behaviour to his now being able to wipe from his mind that which doesn’t matter in order to focus on that which does. And the garbled nature of that early section of the speech helps to paint it as belonging to those things that don’t matter. It’s an interesting structural device, whether or not it’s intentional.

At 18:30 the speech gives way to Q&A, which too quickly homes in on his being an LBGT &c. icon; and I’m afraid at that point I couldn’t care less. His, or anyone else’s, sexuality is their business and, for me, slightly less interesting than whether they are left- or right-handed. This is not least because my wife is left-handed so always folds up the ironing board the wrong way.

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