Rory Bremner’s personal ADHD journey on BBC – a point a view

Rory Bremner Brain ScanOn the recent BBC2 Horizon programme (which is still available to view on BBCiPlayer), Rory Bremner, Britain’s most loved comedian impersonator,   took us on his personal journey on discovering his Adult ADHD diagnosis.


It was helpful, interesting, revealing and frustrating to me in equal measure. Cards on the table time.  I am on a bit of a personal mission, fuelled by my own experiences, to get the issues surrounding ADHD into the spotlight.  It is a modern day epidemic affecting millions of people and like many mental health issues gets the nod of sympathy but not the real empathy that is needed to tackle it.

What did I find HELPFUL?

Well first and foremost round of applause to Rory and the BBC in having the foresight and idea in the first place.  Anything that puts ADHD up there, getting some exposure to what this condition actually is and its impact must be positive.  It is really, really helpful on national television to have one of the nation’s treasures (sorry Rory to embarrass you but we love you!) being prepared to be vulnerable and expose a personally Rory Bremnerdifficult diagnosis so we can all understand more.  Rory saw the diagnosis as he said as an “admission of failure in many aspects of my life”.  This honesty and openness will no doubt help people to perhaps get there own diagnosis.  Personally my own diagnosis at around the same age and stage in life as Rory was liberating.  I saw it not so much as am “admission of failure” but as at least a part “explanation” of many of the difficulties I head faced. The programme also helped to make the condition tangible.  The programme showed there was something demonstrably different in the brain that made the condition more real.  For those of us living with it we don’t need reminding of the reality but for those who want to understand it more there was concrete evidence.  Helpful indeed!

Why did I find it INTERESTING?

It was interesting to see the array of different disciplines that considered ADHD Brain Scansthe diagnosis.  Rory and the BBC introduced us to Neurologists, Psychiatrists, Geneticists, Evolutionary Biologists, Biochemists, Cognitive Behaviour Therapists.

Professor Katya Rubia from King’s College, London showed the real differences in the activation of the brain from MRi imaging.

Professor Barbara FrankeProf Barbara Frank showed the genetic research she is undertaking at Radboud University, Netherlands to isolate the genes that may be responsible for predisposing people to ADHD.  They had isolated a few but there seemed a long way to go.

There was a bit of a lame but amusing attempt to develop a metaphor of cooking gingerbread men to demonstrate the complex interplay between genes and environmental factors.  I particularly loved the shark bait Shark bait Dr Jonathan Williamsanalogy, given by Dr Jonathan Williams a consultant psychiatrist, explaining that there was a reason that populations needed a small group of people with ADHD as the risk takers that kept others safe.

I empathised with Salif Mahamane who is doing research at Utah State on how our physical environment really doesn’t help the ADHD condition.  As an ADHDer himself he believes that urban indoor environments (where we spend too much time) lack spontaneity, are monotonous and boring.  These really don’t help.  He pinned for the Salif Mahamaneoutdoors and described those with ADHD as ‘pathfinders’ for communities. My own kids completely recognised this in me. Even remembering the times I spotted the twitches in the undergrowth whilst enjoying a family Kent country walk, with me saying “its a snake” only to reveal  an actual bloody snake!

Like with many medical or mental health issues there is no single discipline or approach that will address the underlying causes.  Our best hope through research is definitely a multi-discipline approach.  It was interesting to me how the programme weaved the story together through the different disciplines.

What did it REVEAL that I didn’t know already?

I have to admit I was expecting the worst when I sat down to watch the programme.  I have a personal interest in the real science and don’t expect to learn much from a TV programme that needs to be interesting to a wide audience.  While some of the science was superficial in its presentation it was very interesting and I did learn some stuff I hadn’t already come across.  I was particularly interested in the historical piece.

ADHD is often portrayed as a ‘modern disease’.  There is some truth in this as changes in our diet and other aspects of our modern lives have created health challenges that weren’t so prevalent 100 years ago.  Rory took us back to Germany where some of the earliest efforts to understand ADHD were made.  The first known description of ADHD appeared in a textbook in 1775 but in the 1840’s a physician, Heinrich Hoffman who also famouslyADHD BBC Horizons wrote children’s books based on his patients told us of a character called “fidgety Phillip” who showed all the symptoms of ADHD.

Whilst the history revealed the fact that this was a condition that has long been known about and researched the programme also revealed the lack of progress in dealing with the underlying causes and how our own medical approach again tends to put all the energy into dealing with symptoms rather than ‘root’ cause.  This leads to my next reflection on what I found frustrating about the programme.

Why did I find it so FRUSTRATING ?

Underlying my frustration was the similarity of Rory’s experience to my own when you get to the “so what are we going to do about it?” point following the diagnosis. Unsurprisingly, there was a Doctor providing a pill, Methylphenidate, (a class A drug in other forms!) to treat the symptom without any particular exploration or discussion of real alternatives, emerging science or non-medicated approaches.

Pop the pill, there may be a few side effects (completely underplayed) and this is the rest of your life! Rory quipped to the consultant psychiatrist “How long have you been a drug dealer?” . For me it sums up the approach we have come to accept.  It showed Rory after apparently his Rory Bremner BBCfirst dose going on stage and then subsequently describing a difference he felt. Hmmmm! Seems a bit instant.  Also the doctor who was diagnosing Rory said that he didn’t know why Ritalin, now conveniently renamed, gets “such a bad press” What!!!  The friendly voice over tells us that the doctors say Rory needn’t worry about the medication after all there were over 1 million prescriptions in England alone last year.  Well that’s alright then!! As if it was some form of justification.

You only have to look at many of the recent studies that show for example the potentially addictive nature of stimulant drugs like Ritalin and other methylphenidates.  They stimulate dopamine which is believed to relief some of the symptoms but the brain builds a tolerance that then requires more and more drugs to have the same effect.  This can create dependency and anyway is still not dealing with the underlying cause.

There is a huge growing research base in many neurological disorders like ADHD, Parkinsons ans Alzheimers showing that these conditions can be fixed – yes actually fixed! – by focusing on other non-drug, non-surgical approaches.  None of this was even mentioned on the programme which given my own similar experience is frustrating.  After my diagnosis and in my first visit to my G.P. I was prescribed a daily dose of 90mg of Concerta Concerta drugwith zero discussion about alternatives, my lifestyle, my nutrition, my sleep etc etc.

I am not saying that drugs don’t have their place or that you need to deal with symptoms.  My frustration is that a programme like this is a rare opportunity to explore some different thinking, approaches and ideas.  Instead we are left with something that just tows the current medical line and I didn’t find helpful or hopeful.

The other frustrating omission for me was the most serious impact I see that those with ADHD having on people in adulthood differently from childhood.  We saw a stark demonstration of a young boy with extreme symptoms and the huge impact on the relationships in his family, especially his mum and sister as well as those at school.  Yet we didn’t hear much about impacts on relationships with Adults.

In my experience this is by far the biggest impact people are having to cope with in their relationships at home and at work but Rory didn’t really take us into this issue in the programme.  Divorce and not being able to hold down a job remain the really difficult issues for those with ADHD and the people they live with.  We are loved and drive people nuts in equal measure.

I’d love to hear what you thought.  If you manage to watch the programme  let me know. Interested to hear your views or any challenges to my conclusions.  Please feel free to comment below.

18 thoughts on “Rory Bremner’s personal ADHD journey on BBC – a point a view”

  1. ADHD is not a condition that many are familiar with. We only hear it being mentioned every now and then, but most do not know what it is. I used to think that it only affects little children.

    I totally agree with you that current treatments for ADHD only involves dealing with the symptoms, rather than the root cause. Perhaps if more people come out and talk about their conditions, then the health ministry will take this matter more seriously.

    Great article!

    1. Thanks Farhan, I am glad you enjoyed the article and I think it would help if more people were more familiar with the condition. I think more people need to talk about it and the health services need to support some of the underlying causes instead of just dealing with the symptoms using stimulant drugs. I didn’t talk much about the legal system in my article either although this was part of the programme. A huge number of adults with ADHD end up in our courts and prisons often undiagnosed and untreated. Thank you again. Let me know if you have any other questions and spread the word by sharing the article. Positively, Keith

  2. Wow, great article Keith. Rory Bremner’s personal ADHD journey is very interesting and revealing. I am currently in college and have dealt with lack of focus while taking tests throughout my whole college career. Thankfully, I went to the school therapist and she allowed me to have extended time on tests; it has helped out immensely.

    I haven’t gotten tested for ADHD yet, so I am not completely certain of whether I have it but I honestly believe that I do to a smaller extent. My mom and sister have it, but they don’t take medication for it. If I am diagnosed, I’m a bit scared about jumping on the medication since I know methamphetamines are very strong drugs and I don’t know if I wan’t to deal with all of the side effects that it produces. I’ve tried Adderall twice and I can definitely see why people say it’s addictive so I’m a bit apprehensive about that.

    1. Thanks Juan, I am glad you enjoyed it. I am not a great one for labels and ADHD is another label for a range of issues most of which are positive rather than ‘problems’ that are negative. I believe in embracing the differences you may have, yes try to improve aspects if its important but otherwise live a fulfilling life as the person you are. I would encourage you whether or not you get a diagnosis to look at alternatives before diving into stimulant drugs. You are right to be cautious. Good luck and let me know how you get on. Get your Mom and sister to watch the programme and see what they think. Positively Keith

  3. To be honest, I haven’t had the opportunity to watch the program. I, however, deal with ADHD daily and it can be seriously problematic. I have to force myself to sit and work on my endeavors every day. It’s extremely difficult for me to even keep my eyes on social media.

    As a matter of fact, I lost my job, and I find it difficult to maintain a relationship. So with this in mind, I do have a question. I don’t like the feeling that the medications provide. Yes they help me get things done, I just don’t believe medication is a viable solution. Do you happen to know of any remedies that might assist without medication? If so, this would be a tremendous help.

    Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi Will
      Thank you for the open and honest mail. I really appreciate you taking the time. I totally empathise with your position. When I was diagnosed I was off the severity scale on all the different elements and it sounds that you have a daily if not an hourly struggle.

      To answer your question, I am not medically qualified so wouldn’t be able to advise you to come off meds or even how to do that. I will tell you some things I personally found helpful and why I have given up meds for alternatives. First things first! I found that changing my mindset and the way I thought about helped in the first place. You still need to view all the positive aspects equally with the negatives. Also go with the flow and don’t get frustrated with the stuff that makes everyday life a bit more difficult.

      In terms of remedies the book STAYING FOCUSED IN A HYPER WORLD by Dr John Gray really changed things for me. It really opened up the possibilities of alternatives to medications. All from a guy that managed to reverse his own Parkinsons. The book directly addresses ADHD. As a minimum it will give you further avenues to explore. I have done a review on it on this site. I suggest you read it for inspiration and any motivation you need to try alternatives to meds. Let me know how you get on. I have combined some of the nutritional changes with other changes like a form of meditation. Asking ADHDers to meditate is funny right!! But if you give yourself the time out you can find your own way.

      There is no pixie dust but changes in nutrition, mindset and some behaviour can help. John Gray believes it is completely reversable.

      Thanks again. Good luck my friend and take care. Let me know how you get on. Positively, Keith

  4. Hi, Keith and thanks for this very informative post. I am not affected by ADHD, my luck, but it is interesting to learn about the disorder. We live together with so many people having ADHD and the better we are informed the better we can react and help.
    I wish you the best, see you

    1. Thank you Stefan for your kind words and encouragement. Its important for people to be better informed and its also important for people to be more tolerant, understanding and accepting of the differences we all have. You take care and thank you again. Positively Keith

  5. Hi Keith,

    Amazing story. I have to admit I don’t know heaps about ADHD and I too thought it was mainly a kid thing. I tried watching the doco but being in Australia it didn’t allow me. I certainly understand your frustration. The big drug companies no doubt have some kind of sponsorship with these kinds of programs and allowing a conversation about natural medicine would not get a look in. Its just like turmeric which is an amazing healer and been proven to be, gets bad press with the backing of Big Pharma because if everyone started eating plants as medicine they would go broke. Frustrating big time but all we can do is keep putting the word out there. It’s slowly getting through.

    It’s only a small thing but I know for me when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer it was important for me not to own the disease. I never once said ‘my cancer’ I just refused to. I saw it as a trespasser in my body that was not going to stay. Once we start labelling ourselves we start believing that is who we are. That was a strong mental thing for me.

    Love your story! Your a real business tycoon! Haha love your passion for what you do. I really admire your determination to help others with ADHD and get on top of it yourself. I intend to learn more about it myself. I know for better memory and focus eating lots of avocados, beetroot, blueberries, broccoli, coconut oil and lots of water can really help. I gave up dairy and red meat for a year and found that really helped me. I only have those feeds very occasionally now.

    Thanks again for a great post. Oh yea I didn’t think you had snakes in the UK! Haha,

    Cheers Keith,


    1. Thank you so much Kevin for your kind comments. I think we have ended up in similar places but from very different paths. I have been generally fascinated by the world of nutrition and some of the science emerging from what used to be seen as very alternative, ‘hippy’ approaches. Do you do ‘hippy’ down there ;o) . I also can get over the coincidence – spooky serendipidity – that I was just talking to my daughter about the qualities of turmeric when your post popped through! Keep the good stuff coming and I’ve signed up to your newsletter to make sure I’m up to date. If I come across anything interesting I’ll let you know. There aren’t many snakes here in Blighty and of course they are all rather tame. You still need an ADHDer with you to spot them – we have our uses!! You take care my friend and thank you again. Positively, Keith

  6. So I read your post and my first question was “What EXACTLY is adult ADHD?” I googled the following list of symptoms:

    Disorganization and problems prioritizing.
    Poor time management skills.
    Problems focusing on a task.
    Trouble multitasking.
    Excessive activity or restlessness.
    Poor planning.
    Low frustration tolerance.

    I have some of those characteristics, but not all. I do not manage time well. I do not care to multitask. I’m not sure anyone is truly good at it. My mind is extremely active. It is never still. I see and hear things most people do not notice. My impulsiveness is rarely a problem, but on rare occasions it can startle people.

    Drugs? Seriously? Not happening.

    I am very careful with my diet, I write myself lists and stay on schedule. I keep myself busy with productive activities.

    If I overstep my bounds I just apologize. It’s not like I have ill-intentions. The last time my impulsiveness got the best of me I redesigned my client’s child’s bike during a lunch break. The kid was handicapped and couldn’t ride it. I fixed it so he could. Kinda embarrassing. Shoulda asked first. Client wasn’t all that upset. I still have the contract.

    Right now I’m trying to set myself up to be totally self-employed, because I tend to be very driven and I like to go ahead and get things done without having to explain my ideas.


    I’m not seeing why ADHD is really a problem for an adult. It just seems like one of the many types of people who make the world go ’round.

    All the Best,


    1. Hi Elizabeth

      Good question!! Well I’m not medically trained (and I am not one for labels) so I’ll give you my lay version definition and the clue is in the word ‘Hyper’ in the Attention Deficit HYPER-Activity Disorder bit.
      Most people have varying levels of Inattention, Unfocused Motor Activity and Impulsivity but in ADHDers these symptoms are both much more severe and much more frequent. This can be in one or all aspects and to the extent that the behaviour greatly impairs how they perform socially as well as in other everyday functions. It can be described, measured and viewed neurologically, biologically, behaviourally, psychologically as well as interpreted from a evolutionary biological point of view. In the brain Dopamine levels are typically lower or suppressed. A simple way of thinking about it that helped my was what is happening in the brain when either doing a task or not doing a task. When we are not focused on a particular activity our Default Mode Network (DMN)gets to work. It used to be called the resting brain. Our mind wanders, we ruminate we daydream, we repair etc. etc. When we go into task to do something or focus the DMN switches off and the parts of the brain needed for the task switch on. Very simply with an ADHD brain everything stays on, all the time making it difficult for the brain to remain attentive to even the simplest task like listening to someone speak beyond a sentence or two or remembering what you went upstairs for or that after writing the address on that envelope you were meant to post three days ago you can’t seem to focus enough to put the stamp on so you leave it another three days!! With ADHDers with severe symptoms these things are not occasional lapses but happen every minute of every day with everything your trying to do.

      I haven’y explained it very well but you get the drift and there is plenty to Google on. The tragedy is the UK and USA at least the way we approach these issues are to treat the symptoms with drugs. We are putting 6 year old kids on class A drugs without really exploring the alternatives. There is plenty of science out there to support alternatives but we don’t give the training to our health professionals.

      I believe also for being more accepting of people for who they are. As you clearly do which is refreshing. Hope this helps if you have any more questions please feel free. Positively Keith

  7. I have to agree that its very hard to live with an adult , like a spouse having ADHD, especially for a lady.

    Although most ladies manage it, some feel they are not heard and their spouse is not really interested in knowing more about their life since they show complete disinterest.

    I actually had a friend of mine who almost called it quits on her marriage because of this condition. Thank God I was able to talk her back into it.

    1. Thanks for sharing this Dave. It is most tough on Partners of those with ADHD. I think the more we can view the characteristics positively rather than judgmentally the better. There is plenty of information and help to get out there as well. Thanks again, Keith

  8. Hi Keith, thanks for this post and really shining a light on ADHD! I’ll be honest and say I don’t know much about it myself and sometimes when I do hear about it, it’s just a bit of punchline, so I really appreciate learning more about this and, as you touched, I think more needs to be said about the effects ADHD has on its sufferers. Thanks again Sean

    1. Thanks Sean, Appreciate you taking the time to show your support. Many people remain undiagnosed with ADHD so I hope that by bringing it to people’s attention it will enable more people to make sense of their lives and really make a positive contribution. Thanks again. Positively Keith

  9. I think every human being in the US is now familiar with the term ADHD and ritalin. I’m not sure, but I think the epidemic of teachers and physicians putting every hyperactive child on ritalin may have subsided somewhat?

    I agree from every aspect that child or adult with ADHD or any other health condition should be given facts about the drugs and alternatives to drugs.

    But pretty much it does’t matter what the illness, or problem is, physicians are never taught to treat the illness. Only the symptoms make money, if you look at treating the cause sooner or later there’s no need to sell pills or seek medical help.

    Great and informative article on ADHD and Rory Bremner.

    1. Thanks Mike, Glad you like the post and appreciate your views and comments.  I would hope things are improving but although I really enjoyed the programme with Rory Bremner and on balance it was positive, I was frustrated by the lack of discussion around alternative approaches to treatment. It was pretty much straight from diagnosis to drugs to treat the symptoms as you say.  This was pretty much my own experience. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you talk about our health professionals really addressing symptoms rather than the underlying causes.  There is a lot of proper research now in areas of nutrition, for example, that at least point to underlying causes. Thanks again for your comments and if you have any other questions or thoughts let me know. Positively, Keith

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