As it was, Rob never got further than the national championships in Sheffield in April 2011. He arrived in a wheelchair, clutching a Union Jack, amazed he’d made it, and joking about Debbie’s driving. He could barely walk to his seat and tears rolled down his face. He looked stunned - at being there following another brutal round of chemotherapy, and at the knowledge that, after years of following Tom around the world, this could be the last time. Tom won gold in the synchro event with Pete Waterfield, beating the Chinese into second, and Rob sang his heart out to the national anthem. It was a happy day.
Tom flew to Mexico the next day, but a week later Debbie called him to come home. His dad was dying, having survived several scares. For the next few weeks, Rob was nursed in the living room by his family and a rota of nurses. His speech worsened, but he could hear and squeeze your hand. One day Tom texted me, “Come down, bring your camera, we think you should film. I want people to know how difficult it is for him, and for us to lose him.” Late one night Tom broke down. “Cancer is a terrible thing. I know I’m not the only person going through this and other people lose a dad, but I love him so much.”
Now every morning when he wakes up, Tom looks across to two photos of his dad flanking a small, heart-shaped container that holds his ashes. “I touch it every morning and say hello. It used to be really weird thinking my dad is inside that, but now I’m fine with it.”
Overall, Tom has coped well with his father’s death, though I have seen him very upset. He only took one day off from his diving schedule, because he knew his father would have been mad at him if he didn’t continue. For a long time he felt numb and didn’t know what to feel. He carried on training, five hours a day, morning and afternoon, wrapped around lessons.
The past 15 months since losing his dad have seen Tom’s life change dramatically. He’s now the breadwinner and becoming a brand, with sponsorship by BMW, Nestlé and Adidas, and he can drive. Since making the 10m platform final at the Beijing Olympics, he’s big in China, with 1.5 million followers on Chinese Twitter. And with success - the world championship title in Rome, 2009, double gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games - has come international recognition. He has designed his own website and online TV channel, ghosted his autobiography and been sculpted by Madame Tussauds. But he hasn’t changed. He still bounds to the door and puts smiley faces in texts. He loves making cupcakes and babysitting his cousins. He was boyishly excited when his Team GB kit was delivered. Much to his amusement, the trunks have all been made too big and will have to be changed. He grimaces at the number of days to go. “It’s come round so fast. My heart beats so loud at night I can hear it when I think of competing.” But he also can’t wait. When Tom was seven he drew a picture of himself in the 2012 Olympics, before anyone knew it was to be in London. Now he will sense Rob around him, waving his flag from up above, and he grins widely at the thought.
Tom Daley: Diving for Britain is on tonight at 10.35pm (N Ireland 11.15pm) on BBC1