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Pay Attention

Rory Bremner talks to us about living with ADHD, why he’s in good company – and the secrets behind his Strictly dance moves.

Rory Bremner is fresh back from a hectic Edinburgh festival and about to embark on a short tour, performing with the likes of John Cleese and Barry Cryer. He’s busy and could well be forgiven for momentarily taking his foot off the pedal and taking a well earned rest.

But he can’t. It’s one of the bits he hates most about having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He’s made time for our interview but it overruns and he’s left rushing to pick up his daughter from school.

“I take on too many things; over commit myself without properly planning. I don’t fully appreciate that until I’m doing it. But I have to remind myself of what it’s given me.”

Bremner, once famous for ‘being’ other people, is now on TV and radio in his own right and is as entertaining as ever. But there are no quips during this interview, no random impressions of Tony Blair. Rory Bremner is talking to us on a topic that’s seriously close to his heart.

You don’t know what it is that makes you different

The condition he describes as both best friend and worst enemy first came to light – to him at least – during a ‘chaotic’ childhood. Bremner realised what it was when a relative was diagnosed and has had many years of therapy. 

“There’s a fear. You don’t know what it is that makes you different. The best description was told to me by Dr Hyatt Williams, an eminent counsellor. He said it’s like being made up of patchwork – lots of small bits stuck together. “

The love hate relationship with his condition hasn’t changed with age. “I don’t like being disorganised and losing concentration. I wonder sometimes that it’s getting worse. But it’s given me the ability to make leaps and bounds out of the ordinary. “

He’s proud to go public alongside an elite group of writers, artists, musician and others. Robbie Williams, Michael Phelps and most recently gymnast Simone Biles, who took to twitter during the Olympics after her medical records were exposed showing her medications.

“They’re pathfinders, the ones that eat poisoned fruit. You want people like that on your team.”

You can’t step out of your head.

He’s patron of the ADHD Foundation, speaking at its annual symposium last year and is worried that the education system, rather than allowing children with the condition to flourish, simply labels them as disruptive.

“Imagine an open plan office, on a busy day, big TV screens blaring out, music playing, and a football commentary. Could any of us produce good work in that environment? That’s what it’s like for a child with ADHD in a classroom.  And you can step out of an office – you can’t step out of your head.

“The despair and anxiety of finding things difficult has to affect their self esteem. These kids who are blessed; creative, energetic, productive people; but they are told to conform, be organised – to pay attention. If they don’t they’re excluded. It creates so much despair and some of them will drift from classroom to courtroom and onto prison.”

I made up phrases for my Strictly routines

His own coping strategies were never more called into play than on Strictly (Come Dancing) back in 2011 with partner Erin Boag.

“As we put the sequence of steps together I’d come up with a phrase that fitted with the tune. It’s similar to using mnemonics to remember things at school. One phrase I dreamed up was ‘Everybody Loves Bruce Forsyth’. (At this point he starts singing the words to the tune of the Nutcracker Sugar Plum Fairy dance – better known to over 50s as the Cadbury’s fruit and Nut advert.)

Order and sequence still catch him out. “I was making a cake for my wife for our wedding anniversary the other week but I’d agreed to help my daughter with her homework. I’ve made the cake before but I wasn’t concentrating and got the ingredients mixed up. It was ok and I got to the homework, but that’s the sort of thing you know that causes problems. They call it attention deficit but in fact it’s attention surplus, hyper enthusiasm.”

We just need to be understood

Would he change anything? Not at all.

“It helps to have an overactive imagination. It’s not always fun living with it but like most ADHD’ers, I’d rather have it than not.  People with this condition are special -we just need to be understood.”