Ian Thorpe has confirmed he is gay and revealed the pressure he felt, as an Australian champion, to keep his sexuality hidden.

“I’m not straight.”

And so Ian Thorpe came out to Australia on prime time TV – telling us something we thought we knew anyway, even if his own mother hadn’t before he told her.

But the whole point of the Sunday night interview with the iconic Michael Parkinson wasn’t so much just for Thorpey to say a simple yes or no.

It was for one of the nation’s greatest ever athletes, most successful Olympic gold medallist and most gossiped-over public figures to tell, on his terms, why now, why so long, and why it matters.

That first hurdle cleared – or first lap done – Thorpe was more relaxed and finding his stride.

“I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man and I don’t want young people to feel the same way that I did,” he told his interviewer, Parkinson.

“You can grow up, you can be comfortable and you can be gay.”

Thorpe, now 31, revealed he has not been comfortable for a long time.

Even before he carved his place in world swimming history as the 17-year-old star of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, he had been on the defensive over questions about his sexuality.

With his growing profile, the enormity of any public statement became overwhelming, even as he felt asking anyone about their sexuality was inappropriate.

“Part of me didn’t know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay,” he said.

But the silence had a cost.

“I felt the lie had become so big that I didn’t want people to question my integrity,” Thorpe said.

“I didn’t want people to question – had I lied about everything.”

Parkinson pointed out that, in fact, Thorpe had lied in the 2012 biography where he denied being gay.

“I did. Everyone does,” Thorpe replied, but said he doesn’t feel ashamed about that, just comfortable he has told the truth now.

Parkinson didn’t get to THAT question until half an hour into the near-90 minute broadcast but what preceded was not padding out.

Thorpe discussed frankly the depression that dogged him from his teenage years, his abuse of alcohol to cope, and his thoughts of ending his life – dismissed because “I couldn’t deal with leaving friends and family”.

Dressed darkly in a high-necked navy cardigan and t-shirt, Thorpe was unshaven, tired-eyed and slightly jowly – a very different person to the glowing sports god of the Olympic years.

Thorpe said he hoped to find a long-term partner and wanted to have children – which could happen a number of ways.

“I would love to have a family,” he said.

Thorpe did seem to visibly relax as the interview progressed but told Parkinson he wasn’t going to be happy until the pre-recorded interview was broadcast in Australia.

“That’s when I will be happy, when people have heard it from me,” he said.

“I look at my life, I’ve made mistakes but I’ve made good choices in my life and I think that I’ve got back to one of the core values that is most important to me which is my honesty and integrity.

“This is one thing that I value more than anything else and I’ve just offered it to people.”

Thorpe issued a brief message on Twitter after the broadcast: “To everyone who has sent a message of support I sincerely thank you”.

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.