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Chris Packham: ‘I’ve spent 30 years on the telly trying to act normal’

Chris Packham: Asperger's and Me
(Image credit: BBC)

Chris Packham has given TV Times a revealing interview ahead of his BBC2 documentary...

“I’ve spent 30 years on the telly trying to act normal, when really I’m anything but”, said Chris Packham, 56.

Chris was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 44 and tomorrow in an incredibly powerful BBC2 documentary, he talks openly about living with a condition that affects over 250 million people worldwide.

Chris first revealed he had Asperger’s syndrome in his coming-of-age memoir Fingers in the Sparkle Jar, which was published last year.

Here is the interview Chris Packham gave to TV Times...

TV Times: Why was it important for you to make this documentary?

Chris Packham: “After I wrote my book I had such an amazing response, particularly from parents who had children with Asperger’s, that I knew I needed to do more on the subject. My purpose is to generate a better awareness of autism and to focus on the positive. Too often it’s seen as a disability, but I want to give hope and show how people can overcome difficulties and lead fulfilled, productive lives.”

TVT: You weren’t diagnosed with Asperger’s until you were 44… Even as a young child I knew I was very different.

CP: “I wasn’t remotely interested in interacting with any of my peers. I was totally obsessed with animals but quickly discovered other kids didn’t want to listen to a 15-minute monologue about the mating rituals of kestrel! As I got older I began to realise there was a whole social structure that I didn’t fit into. I had some incredibly dark times where I was depressed and frustrated.”

TVT: It was your sister, Jenny, who prompted you to apply for your first TV job, The Really Wild Show, wasn’t it?

CP: “Yes, she was so bored of me wittering on about animals she thought I could put my encyclopedic knowledge to good use! In lots of ways people with Asperger’s are ideal employees. We are highly driven, highly-focused and set ourselves high standards. I hate the thought of young people with Asperger’s sitting in their rooms thinking they can’t do something. The opportunities are huge.”

Chris Packham: Asperger’s and Me

(Image credit: BBC)

Chris only learnt he had Asperger's aged 44

TVT: In the documentary, you travel to America to meet experts working on various treatments for autism. Tell us more…

CP: “There was one man who told me I have a neurological form of cancer. He wanted to give me chemotherapy! Sadly, as the explosion of diagnoses occurred in the 1990s so too did the number of so-called ‘treatments’.”

TVT: In the programme you describe the sensory overload you suffer from… For me, places like supermarkets are absolute hell.

CP: “The smell, the temperature, the lighting, the noise, it’s horrendous. I won’t go to parties and I buy everything on the Internet.”

TVT: What other coping strategies have you learnt?

CP: “I have a constant desire to interrupt people. When I first started working on TV most of my energy was taken up managing myself, doing the actual job was the easy bit! Now I’ve done it so much it’s become habit. I have a checklist: don’t interrupt, make eye contact, avoid situations that you’re going to find too stressful.”

TVT: How does you partner Charlotte cope with your need for order?

CP: “We’ve been together 10 years and she’s incredibly understanding. I live in the New Forest and she’s on the Isle of Wight. The thing about autism is, things are black or white. So when it comes to love, I can only love 100 per cent. I am also 100 per cent trustworthy – I guess that’s quite rare…”

Chris Packham: Asperger's and Me will be shown on BBC2 on Tuesday evening at 9.00pm.