This week, Australia got a front-row seat to exactly what happens when a cocktail of fame, youth and intense pressure is shaken up, consumed and swallowed.
Bernard Tomic, the young man who once had big dreams to star on centre court, who once had big dreams to hold up a Grand Slam trophy, all but told the country that he wasn’t OK, that he hasn’t been OK for a while now.
After appearing on and swiftly departing from the I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here jungle, Tomic admitted he is “depressed”, that he doesn’t “love” tennis and that he needs to go home.
The public were as loud as they were divided. Some walked down the hard-nosed cry-me-a-river garden path and others sung from the he-needs-help choir.
For the ensuing days, public conversation centred around where it all went wrong for the tennis golden boy. So much skill, so much potential, so much opportunity.
Of course, the conversation was, in large part, fruitless. After all, he had told us what the problem was all along.
Jessie Stephens on Bernard Tomic: “Often one of the biggest symptoms of depression is being unlikeable.” Post continues after audio.
“You guys have got to remember that I didn’t have a childhood, I didn’t have a life since I was eight [or] nine years old. I didn’t come from anything,” he told fellow contestant Josh Gibson this week.
“It’s been there since I was eight years old, and now I’m 25. I can’t do anything else. I haven’t studied to be a doctor or finished my degrees. I knew only one thing, to play tennis,” he said.
Did he wish he never got into tennis to start with? “Yeah, probably,” he told Carrie Bickmore on Sunday. “The grind with everything, you know, it’s taken 18 years already and it’s stressful. It’s not easy. It’s a big job.”
And therein lies the greatest curse of the child icon: The inability to grow up without intense public scrutiny.
To be, at the age of just 15 or 16, on the receiving end of waves of attention and expectation is desperately dangerous. No teenager is equipped with the tools necessary to navigate the waters of fame and attention, and so, later on, when great levels of scrutiny attack, resilience doesn’t come in spades.
No matter how adult they may look or adult Tomic’s skills may have seemed, being a teenage icon renders it almost impossible for him to be a resilient adult.
Across the seas, and across industries, young teenagers are idolised everywhere.