Entertainment

Tom Daley: I held my father's hand as he died

The Olympic diver's father Robert died in 2011.

Olympic diver Tom Daley has described how he held his father’s hand when he died, and said his death left him without his “biggest cheerleader”.

The sports star, who was 17 at the time, said he thought his father Robert was “invincible” until the moment of his death aged 40 from brain cancer in 2011, a year before Daley competed in the 2012 London Olympics.

He told Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs how he was called back from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by his mother when she knew his father had just a few days left to live.

Tom Daley and Lauren Laverne
Tom Daley and Lauren Laverne on Desert Island Discs (BBC and Amanda Benson)

He told the programme’s stand-in host Lauren Laverne: “I get home and I see my dad in a hospital bed in the living room. As the days went by his condition started to deteriorate.

“And, you know, one of the last things he said to me was: ‘Do we have our tickets yet?’

“I thought, ‘Tickets for what?’ And he said: ‘Those London 2012 tickets, because I want to be right on the front row.’

“And I was like, ‘Oh my goodness’, because I didn’t know how to say to him ‘You’re not going to be around to be on the front row, Dad.’”

He continued: “It was the next day, when all of our family and friends were around and he had gone unconscious. We were watching his chest.

“I was holding his hand as he stopped breathing.

“It wasn’t until he stopped breathing and he was dead that I finally acknowledged that he wasn’t invincible, that he wasn’t going to be there to teach me to drive, to fill up my first pint, to be able to watch me win an Olympic medal, to see me get married, to see me have a kid.

“All those things. Because 40 years old is such a young age to die. I was 17, my brother was 15 and my younger brother was 12.

British Academy Television Awards – London
Tom Daley and his father Robert (Yui Mok/PA)

“You know, that’s such a young age to lose a parent and a big, big adjustment to not have your biggest cheerleader with you any more.”

Daley and his husband Dustin Lance Black welcomed their first child, a son, in June via a surrogate.

They named him Robert Ray, after Daley’s father.

Laverne is filling in for Desert Island Discs presenter Kirsty Young, who is taking a step back for several months as she is suffering from a form of fibromyalgia.

Tom Daley is on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday at 11.15am.

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