Photography by Alex Marsh King
Chris Mears flies through the air with the greatest of ease
Let it be known that Tom Daley isn’t the only hot guy on Great Britain’s diving team. If you have any interest in toned, scantily clad, elite divers who also happen to DJ in their free time, you’ve probably come across Chris Mears. He’s the one with the fabulous scar and gorgeous eyebrows. He was once told he had a five percent chance of living. Now, he’s on the road to the 2016 Olympics. We photographed the 22-year-old in Los Angeles, where he spends his off- season, at El Matador beach in Malibu. Afterward, we asked a few personal questions. He couldn’t have been more forthcoming.
So, how’d you get that scar? That’s a crazy, long-ass story. I had glandular fever where the glands in my stomach swelled up to a ridiculous size and basically put crazy pressure on my organs, causing one of my organs to rupture and burst. Then all the blood in my body was in my stomach, and it didn’t go well. I had this surgery where I was given a five percent chance of surviving the operation. Somehow I pulled through. How? They don’t really know. They said it was a medical phenomenon. So that was crazy. And then I went into a coma for six days. But now I’m all good.
I know a lot of people either love their scars or they hate them. How do you feel about yours? My scar is the favorite part of my body because it shows everything I’ve been through. It represents so much to me. The scar, along with the pain and the stress and all the emotion of surviving an almost near-death experience, it carries so much meaning for me. It was a big change for me. At the age of 15, 16, I grew from a boy into a man. I had to adapt or die, basically. I had so many changes in my life I had to overcome that it was definitely one of the major reasons I ended up making the Olympics. I was like, “OK, I kind of understand what life is like. Maybe I should try to buckle down and try a little harder with everything I’m doing, because we’re only here for certain amount of time.” That was the approach I took after my surgery.
Is your scar delicate when you’re shaving down there? No, it’s just a part of my body. It’s just my skin. Yes, it’s a big line down my chest, but that’s a good thing because it defines my abs a little bit more.
Do you shave your entire body? I don’t shave my legs. They’re kind of natural. I’ve got dark hair, and during competition, my leg hair is one of the things I grip when I spin around. It’s kind of a treasure to me, and I don’t want to lose that.
Have you ever used Nair before? What’s that?
Nair is a shaving cream that removes hair without actually having to use a razor. Oh, I know what you mean. I’ve used that twice, but it burnt my skin because I put it on for too long. So I stopped using that.
When did you start diving? I started diving when I was 7 years old.
Did you want to start diving or did your parents just think it was something you should do? I was a crazy little kid. Every opportunity I saw — if there was a couch or a chair,I would get on top of it and try and throw myself off onto the floor. I would normally hurt myself, so my parents were like, “This kid’s got so much energy — way too much energy. We’ve got to find someway for him to channel it. Find a positive way for him to do that.” So diving was kind of the obvious thing.That’s how it all started.
Was diving the only thing you did growing up? I did a bit of swimming, and that was just incredibly boring, so I stopped that pretty soon. I was pretty good at long jump, but again, I wanted something a little more challenging, so that’s why I went for diving.
The Olympics are next summer in Rio. Do you train year round, is it nonstop? I’m on my break right now, and I go back to training soon. I only get three days off for Christmas, then I’m training all the way up until Rio. It’s pretty hectic.
Can you talk about your process before a dive — what goes through your mind just before you jump? At that point, there’s no time for anxiety, right? I think I carry quite a lot of nerves into every competition, so I’m quite scared. But in a good way! I use the nerves to my advantage. I’ll be standing on the board, and I have my process where I tell myself the one thing I need to think, because I don’t want to crowd my head. That’s pretty much my only method apart from concentrating on breathing in and out quite slowly, because otherwise my heart rate goes up and I can’t focus. What about when you’re diving with a partner, what is that relationship like? It’s exactly the same. It’s nice to have somebody else there as well. Like when I compete with Jack [Laugher, with whom Chris won a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games] we’re like best buddies. So we’ll stand there and then be able to turn to each other after the dive and say, “Dude, that was sick! Nice entry,” or whatever. It’s nice to have someone there next to you.
Once you land in the pool and you come up for that first breath, what are your thoughts? Normally it’s reflecting on the dive — how did the dive go? By the time I’ve hit the water I know if it’s good, bad, what score I’ll get. (I usually know within half a mark what score I’m going to get.)
What is the scariest dive you perform? I have a few problems with my reverse twister, and I’ve had a few cyclic problems because I get lost with where I am. Yeah, it’s a whole lot of scary. It’s really frightening. But if I don’t think about it and I just perform the dive, it’s fine. It’s just when I carry a little bit of doubt — like, “Have I got this? Do I know where I am?”— that’s when it goes wrong. During competition, I try to have all faith in myself that I’m going to nail it. It’s just when I have a little bit of doubt that it’s scary.
You’re completely aware of your body at all times? Totally.
So you’re DJing parties, but are you partying yourself? That’s something I get asked quite a lot. And the true answer: Right now I’m on my time off, so yeah, I am. I’m having a great time. I’m drinking alcohol. I’m still very body conscious. I’m still working out every time I drink, to try and get my body back in shape for the next season. During the competition season, I literally don’t consume alcohol. I’m very pure to myself because it’s easier for training.
For sure. Do you have a favorite drink? Yeah, I love Corona. Bottled Corona with lime, that’s my drink.
When you’re diving, what’s your diet like? I’m eating a lot of salads with mostly grilled chicken and fresh vegetables, like beetroot.
We often see athletes wearing big headphones before they compete. What type of music do you listen to to get into the zone before you dive? I listen to a lot of my own stuff because it’s what I do, and I enjoy that. I use music as one of my main tools to prepare for a dive. I listen to the kind of stuff I play in clubs to pump me up, get the adrenaline flowing. That’s one of my saving graces during competition is listening to that kind of thing.
What motivated you to become a vocal LGBTQ ally? I guess I’ve got a lot of gay friends and I’m always mixing in that kind of scene. The first time I did a shoot was pretty much to show that it doesn’t matter who you are or who you like. You don’t need to be categorized as something. I haven’t.
Did you experience any homophobia because of that shoot? Yeah, a lot. I’ve had a lot of people say to me, “Oh my god, you’re gay. You’re doing this gay press and gay media, that must mean you’re gay.” And I think some people are like, “Oh, you’re gay. Whatever,” although I’m straight.That part is fine. It’s the people who are doing it in a negative way that I have a problem with. I have that type of personality — I will just confront anyone who does that. It’s something I really, really hate, and I want to be a part of the movement. Slowly but surely, gay people are becoming more accepted across the world, and that is something that’s really important to me.
Did you have gay friends growing up or did you make them after you started traveling? I think the more I was traveling and meeting different people, and also mixing in the music scene and around London and LA, I was meeting more and more of those types of people. And I think no one should be categorized as something. Everyone’s unique, and that’s something that is really beautiful.
Did Tom Daley’s coming out inspire you to become even more vocal about gay rights? No, Tom didn’t inspire me to be vocal about gay rights. I kind of got there by myself.
Have you ever kissed a boy? Have I ever kissed a boy before? No, I haven’t.
You should try. Do you have a beauty routine? I’m very, very particular about my hair. First, I use this sea salt spray to give it a bit of texture. I started doing it because a while back I came off the beach and I was like, “My hair is so amazing.” I could just do anything I wanted with it. The salt content in the hair gives it a thicker groom. After I’ve put that in, I use this fudge stuff. It’s like a clay. My hair is pretty massive at the moment because I’ve not been home to get it cut. Apart from that, you know, deodorant, a splash of aftershave, and I’m out the door.
What makes you smile? I think whenever I see my family or friends, because I don’t get to see them often, since I’m always away. I live north of the country right now, and all my family lives down south. Whenever I go back, it’s such a good moment to see familiar faces — my dog, my sister, my brother. That’s what makes me smile.
Do you have time to date or sleep around? I’m a single guy, so yeah, I have fun.