Matthew Mitcham - all singing, all talking, all dancing!

After a tell-all book about his struggles with drugs and depression Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham has set it to music and we have the all-singing all-talking all-dancing stage version! Well, almost. He talks to Ian Horner.

Matthew Mitcham was the first Australian bloke since 1924 to win gold for diving at the Olympics, for perfect dives with perfect scores. It was hard dealing with the let-down afterwards and he struggled with long-time depression and addictions which he faced head-on, subsequently writing a terrific and frank book, Twists and Turns. Having aired all his dirty washing in public he set his story to music and we have the cabaret version, getting rave reviews around the country. It plays Sydney on February 19 and 20.

During a break in rehearsals I asked: 

How can you deal with such serious topics in song'n'dance?

Oh, God! [laughs] We sat down and had a look at the themes in the book and what we thought were the most important and what would translate best to the stage. We looked at the emotions and the main message we wanted to tell in song. It's not all doom and gloom. There are difficult themes in the book but they give it perspective. There's a balance between the extreme highs and lows in my life. The show's the same. Dark moments, high moments, and we match them with song.

Such as?

Alanis Morisset's Perfect is really perfect - sorry - to represent my continual striving for perfection and positive reinforcement. It's about constant negative feedback and never feeling good enough. I felt like that as a child and as a teenager growing through my sport. It was ironic for someone with self-esteem issues to get into trampolining and diving where your feedback is in numbers. I relied on 9s and 10s from the judges to boost my self-esteem but didn't realise it till I was injured in 2010 and had to stop competing. Suddenly, this external positive reinforcement is gone and my teenage depression which I'd never addressed is back with a vengeance.

You wrote being gay is incidental to who you are, nothing to do with your sport, your goals, your achievements. Yet it's a vital part of who you are. Do you get frustrated being treated as the poster boy for the gay community?

I like it when I think it's appropriate and when I think it's irrelevant I say so. When it comes to being an athlete sexuality should be as inconsequential as hair colour, race, religion. It says it in the Olympic charter. I think exactly the same way. On the other hand, there are so few athletes who are out - sport's still one of the places where people feel the least comfortable to come out. I was fortunate to be in a position where I felt comfortable and supported and safe and I was very lucky to be able to come out and I hope being so open and proud and successful makes me a good role model and I hope I make it easier for others to feel comfortable enough and safe enough to do the same.

A shame Russia doesn't have that attitude.

I'm not gonna get into that. I read this great article - the Australian men's and women's bobsled teams are sponsored by Principle 6, a US anti-discrimination group. That's wonderful. And they're Australians. They're not persecuted like Russian gays but they're doing this in solidarity with Russian gays.

Obama made a strong statement by not attending the Sochi Olympics and not sending high-level government officials. Would you go? Would you compete?

I'd go just to be visible, not to spread propaganda because that's jailable but just to be a proud man who is who he is and to support the Russian gay community. More powerful to be there than to boycott.

After your candid memoir is it easier or harder to be Matthew Mitcham these days?

I've had a lot of help. A lot of quite intense psychology and psychotherapy and AA and NA - I've had a lot of help around my mental health and myself as a person. Yeah, it's been a long and really intense journey. But it's something I had to do. I wasn't born with or I didn't develop healthy self-esteem and boundaries so I had to learn it a bit later in life and, unfortunately, I had to hit rock bottom before I could take this pro-active step and work on my mental health. But better late than never.

I wasn't born with healthy self-esteem so I had to learn it later in life and I had to hit rock bottom first.

In regards to all this stuff being public, I don't feel burdened by it at all. I've always believed if the benefit to others outweighs the detriment to myself then it's worth it. The feedback I've had these last few years supports that. No regrets. I guess it holds me accountable, too. I must maintain my integrity and my sobriety as a role model. That's very important to me.

You wrote about your rivalry with English Olympic diver Tom Daley in London a few years ago. Were you surprised when he announced he was gay?

Yeah, I didn't know. That rivalry stuff — I was just jealous but things have been heaps better between us since then. He's come out twice - I mean, he's come out to Australia twice [laughs] - and we've hung out and gone to dinners with other Australian divers. Most important for me is he's happy.

What are your show's funny highlights?

My mum's nuttier than a bag of trail mix and one of the anecdotes I use is when she and I lived without electricity for six months when I was 6. She was fighting the electricity company. She didn't want to pay a disconnection-reconnection fee because they hadn't actually come out to disconnect the electricity. She was like, well, stuff you, come out and disconnect it. So we lived without electricity for six months. No lights, we lived by candlelight, we boiled the water for our bath on the gas stove, we didn't have any CD players or anything like that so we had this old wind-up gramophone and we listened to old vinyl records, like Five-Foot-Two Eyes of Blue and Blue Skies, fabulous jazz standards. They're both in the show.

Twists and Turns Cabaret plays at the Slide Lounge on February 19 and 20.

Details, bookings: slide.com.au or 8915 1899.

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