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Rory Bremner On Living With ADHD – “A Lot Of Mind-Wandering Goes On”

Impressionist Rory Bremner reflects on being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, and how the condition’s proved to be both friend and foe…

Rory Bremner
by Rory Bremner
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I didn’t have a formal diagnosis of ADHD until recently. It came to light after a relative of ours was diagnosed and I found myself recognising many of the symptoms. The impulsivity, inattention and organisational issues – those all applied to me.

As I looked into it more, I became involved with the ADHD Foundation [Bremner is a patron for the charity] and other organisations and saw I could play a role in highlighting what we can do to help the half a million children living with the condition. While filming a Horizon documentary on ADHD for the BBC, it was decided that I should visit the Maudsley Hospital in London to establish what my own experience was. I completed a questionnaire, did an interview and on the basis of that was formally diagnosed with the condition.

ADHD doesn’t impair my life to an intolerable degree, but I’m very aware of it. In terms of my time management, organisation and attention, a lot of mind-wandering and procrastination goes on. I get a great many requests and don’t always deal with them effectively. I also take on too much, get easily distracted and fail to complete various tasks. I’m constantly making lists.

I attend weekly sessions with a specialist ADHD counsellor, which I find very helpful in terms of controlling any anxiety. I generally manage pretty well, and am also in a job in which it can actually be an asset. I sometimes think of ADHD as being my worst enemy and my best friend – it’s not fun having this noticeable impairment, but it allows me to make leaps of logic and think outside of the box. Among comedians, particularly when improvising, it’s useful have a brain that’s ‘freer’ and comparatively uninhibited.

Interestingly it’s when I’m on stage that it least affects me. When I’m performing, amid the pressure and adrenaline, I’m able to find a ‘zone’. It’s during daily life and everything else off-stage – preparing, reading, researching and seeing to other tasks requiring organisation – that it affects me the most.

‘Irrepressible showmanship’

When observed at a neuroscientific level, there are clear differences in the brains of people who have ADHD. The frontal cortex and basal ganglia, in particular – two areas of the brain relating to organisation and networks – are significantly underdeveloped in children with the condition.

Many children go undiagnosed, causing lots of families to live in this world of frustration and despair. I think there’s a worrying tendency among those children towards anxiety and low self-esteem. These are talented, energetic children with creative minds who are experiencing exclusion and emotional stress, due to a diagnosable impairment that we can do something about.

Understanding and awareness of ADHD was obviously very slight when I was at school. My prep school reports referred to my ‘irrepressible showmanship’ – I was always showing off, but in many respects I was lucky. My name begins with ‘B’, so I was sat at the front in a relatively small class; had I been in a larger class at the back, the potential for distraction would have been far greater.

I was very fortunate at public school to be put in a gifted year group and receive lessons from an inspiring teacher who transformed my life. I was engaged by his teaching and the people around me, so I wanted to do well. That combination of a good teacher and challenging, demanding and exciting schooling effectively meant that I was hardly impaired.

Children with ADHD often have a strong visual memory, so mnemonics can be really helpful for their schoolwork – using sentences such as ‘Mummy Buys Really Awesome Food’ to remember the vertebrates ‘Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians and Fish’, for example. Use simple visual learning strategies – if a child constantly forgets their gumshield, put a label on their bag with a picture of a gumshield and a pair of shoes and without having to think, they’ll see it and remember. There’s a website called ‘Additude’ (additudemag. com), that has lots of useful advice and guidance.

Physical activity is also important. Allow children who find it difficult to concentrate to engage in some form of physical expression – though expecting everyone to sit still in a classroom for 45 minutes almost seems like a counter-intuitive way of learning. We didn’t learn like that when we were living in caves, though I’m sure life was more exciting back then. In fact, you would have needed your ADHD people, since as one expert once told me, they’re the ones who’d eat the poisoned fruit, take the risks and go that little bit further – they’d be the pathfinders.

About the author

Rory Bremner is one of the UK’s most well-known and successful impressionists, with a TV and radio career spanning 30 years.

The ADHD Foundation provides information and support for parents and teachers and delivers training for SENCOs, teaching assistants and school nurses across the country; for more information, visit

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