'She gives her all every time. Whether she wins or loses, she’s my daughter, I want her to be happy and to have fun'
Credit: Rii Schroer
Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix may just have been selected for her first Olympic Games but, at 16 years old, the British diver can still be embarrassed by her dad.
When we meet at the London Aquatics Centre, the teenager is standing on a diving board alongside her father, Fred Sirieix, the charismatic maitre d’ for Channel 4’s reality show First Dates. Posing for pictures together, Sirieix is keen for his daughter to hold up her index finger, to signal “No 1”, but she is reluctant to play ball. She scrunches up her face, shakes her head: “No!”
Sirieix shrugs his shoulders, laughing. Despite balancing precariously over the water on a springboard, the pair are at ease in front of the camera. Though her father’s TV fame makes him more accustomed to the limelight, Spendolini-Sirieix’s profile is growing, and last year she emulated team-mate Tom Daley by winning the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year.
The added attention that her father’s celebrity brings seems not to affect her, especially when critiquing Sirieix’s television persona.
“I watch First Dates from time to time, it’s quite an entertaining show,” Spendolini-Sirieix says. “But sometimes it’s a bit cringey because it’s my dad, and maybe the joke wasn’t too funny…”
“I’m the lame dad,” Sirieix says smiling, hands in the air. He is happy to take the jokes about his career on the chin, but when it comes to his daughter’s exploits in the pool – Sirieix is a proud “girl dad”.
Spendolini-Sirieix’s rapid rise is worth shouting about. One of the world’s leading 10-metre divers, in 2020 she won the British Championship and her first individual gold on the international stage at the Fina Grand Prix in Rostock, Germany. Adding European bronze to that tally last month, as well as silver in the mixed synchro with Noah Williams in their first competitive outing together, the teenager earned her first Olympic Games selection.
Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix in action at the Fina Diving World Cup in May 2021
Credit: Toru Hanai/Getty Images
She is taking it all in her stride, saying she is more relieved at finishing her GCSEs, before she returns to poking fun at her father, who in turn teases her about her conservative approach to eating at the top London restaurants where he made his name working. “No, no one is giving me a snail,” she says, shaking her head.
The pair may share the same sense of humour, the distinct ice-blue eyes, but as Sirieix points out his daughter’s “Queen’s English” is very different from both her mother’s Italian accent and the French lilt that endears him to British TV audiences.
Spendolini-Sirieix grew up in London and is very much a product of British Swimming. Stemming from a sporty family – her father boxes, her mother is a former volleyball player and personal trainer and her younger brother swims – she was talent-spotted at her school aged eight as a keen gymnast. Though she had to be dragged to the pool by her mother, after a few diving sessions she was hooked, sparking what Fred calls her “obsession” with the sport.
At what point did she think Tokyo was a possibility? “The 2018 nationals,” she says, confidently. “It was my first official big competition. I thought, ‘If I’m going against the seniors at 13 and I’m coming fourth, there’s obviously a lot of room to improve – I can do it.”
Sirieix knew from an earlier age she had the mentality to reach the top. “I think if you want to be a champion, you have to go through the pain barrier,” he said. “She had a competition in Singapore, with a swollen wrist and an ear infection and she still finished fourth.
“It’s physical, it’s mental, it’s about resilience and a positive mental attitude, and I think that’s one thing that Andrea is doing better and better. It’s the difference between a champion [and someone else]. Once you are on the 10-metre during a competition, it is 50-50 mental and physical. That’s the way I see it.”
Spendolini-Sirieix jumps in: “I think it’s 70 mental and 30 physical. The pressure can come in competition and you can crumble. I hate putting pressure on myself, because I know that it doesn’t bring any good.”
She felt that pressure ahead of winning individual bronze at the European Championships last month. Sitting in 10th spot after the first round, Spendolini-Sirieix produced a series of consistent dives to edge back into contention before a final dive, comprising a back two-and-a-half somersaults and one-and-a-half twists in pike, clinched third spot.
It is the type of composure her father has a new appreciation for. In April, the 49 year-old signed up for five days of intensive diving training. He had watched Spendolini-Sirieix climb the stairs to the 10-metre platform more times than he can count, craned his neck from the stands to watch her pirouette through the air before entering the water in a perfectly tiny splash time and again. As the hands-on dad that he is, he wanted to know what it felt like. Terrifying and painful was his answer. “I found it extremely hard and extremely scary. I box, and I have never felt scared in a boxing ring like I have felt on these diving boards.
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“The fear was just at the forefront of my mind, and that sometimes stopped me from actually doing the movements,” he says, shaking his head.
“I’m never going to be part of the reserve team for the Olympics.”
Spendolini-Sirieix was armed with plenty of tips for him, but struggled to get her message through. “My dad was very stubborn,” she says, smiling. “I told him, don’t think about the height: it’s not going to change, but the dive can change. That’s the best way to think about it. But if you’re afraid then you have a higher chance, not to hurt yourself… but to do it in an uncomfortable way.”
“To hurt yourself,” Sirieix says, referring to the bruised body he left the pool with.
“Why were you scared again?” she asks, a cheeky smile on her face. “Because I don’t think it’s natural to throw yourself from such heights!” her dad exclaims, and Spendolini-Sirieix giggles. “But I have an appreciation for diving now. I know what she goes through.”
That fear does not translate to watching Spendolini-Sirieix and he freely admits he is in awe of her ability: “I am not scared when she’s doing it, because she’s a pro.”
As she takes the plunge in the next step of her career, competing in the Olympic 10m platform individual competition, her family will have to watch on TV from home, due to Covid-19 restrictions. But has she learnt anything from her father about coping with being in the spotlight?
“What you see on television is what I see in person,” she says of her dad.
“Some people, they might change, but my dad is, you know, he’s a bubbly French!”
Sirieix is laughing now, and adds: “She gives her all every time. Whether she wins or loses, she’s my daughter, I want her to be happy and to have fun. The main thing for me is that she’s a kind, sweet girl. After that, the diving and everything else, for me, is a sideshow. But I’m going to support her all the way.”