How Tom Daley bypassed press to take control of coming-out

Once, Daley would have had to tell a newspaper and hope they didn't twist his story. Not any more

Column LAST UPDATED AT 11:03 ON Tue 3 Dec 2013

TOM DALEY has spent his life perched on the edge of a diving board, waiting to take the plunge – as good a preparation as any for the moment he pressed publish on his coming-out video.

As he was deluged with congratulatory messages, one or two of Fleet Street’s more far-sighted features editors might have felt a twinge of alarm. Daley’s message, delivered via YouTube and Facebook and Twitter, laid bare the limits of their shrinking empire.

“Why don’t you just do a statement?” he said his family had asked him. “Why don’t you do a magazine cover, why don’t you do a TV interview?”

His answer was simple: “I didn’t want to get my words twisted.”

Public figures can now bypass the media they once had no choice but to invite into their lives. They can speak directly to their audiences, controlling the message in a way that was not previously possible.

Until recently, Daley would have had to select a sympathetic publication and hand it control over how the story would be handled. By the time it had been mediated by photographers, reporters, sub-editors, editors and page designers, the tone and emphasis of the interview may have shifted substantially – and, for the subject of the interview, uncomfortably.

By filming himself with his own phone, Daley was in charge of what the world would see. He could re-shoot it as often as he liked – or abandon the whole idea at any point.

He could also control the context. Before he got to the big news, Daley embarked on a long preamble in which he described the bullying he experienced at school and the death of his father.

In a TV interview, these details would probably have been cut; in a print interview, they would never have left the reporter’s notebook. Impatient viewers might skip through the opening of the video, but true fans will see the announcement as Daley wished to frame it – as a story of an unhappy, unsettled past and a contented present.

The video leaves many questions unanswered, not least the identity of his other half, but Daley’s DIY media strategy allows him to duck the follow-up questions, at least for now.

In this case, when we’re talking about the private life of a young sportsman, that’s unquestionably a good thing. In other cases it may not be.

The unprepared answer to an unexpected question can reveal much about the character of a public figure, for better or worse. When more serious matters are at stake, the ability to speak unchallenged and then dive for cover may not be seen as progress.

But social media is a two-way street, and public figures seen to be taking advantage of it are likely to be given short shrift by their followers.

Tom Daley knows only too well how boisterous the social media world can be. For now, at least, it’s encouraging to see how he has turned all that energy to his advantage. · 

Read more about