The Chase star Anne Hegerty opens up on battle with autism and how she’s struggled with sex and intimacy

Anne Hegerty was praised for raising awareness surrounding autism on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! in 2018 after opening up about her diagnosis aged 45.

While the 61-year-old is famed for her incredible knowledge, she insists that she’s a very slow learner. Prior to TV fame, her autism meant she was struggling to keep up with the workload as a freelance proofreader and managing a household. Thankfully, a social worker helped Anne sort out her bills and taught her to cope with everyday life. Soon after, she learnt about the high level quizzing circuit and, in 2010, was invited on The Chase as The Governess.

Since speaking out about her diagnosis, Anne has been hailed as an inspiration by the autistic community. Here, she opens up to OK! magazine about breaking down stereotypes and not being held back…

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You weren’t diagnosed with autism until your mid-forties. Do you wish you’d received a diagnosis earlier?

There are times when I wonder if it would have been better. But then I worry that people, and by people I mean by mother, may have expected less from me. My mother was always trying to keep me from academic pressure, not realising that I thrived on it. Had I had that diagnosis as a child, I worry I would’ve been sheltered and there might not have been thought of me going to university. However, I’m all for a diagnosis. The more you know, the more choices you have.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions with autism?

A lot of people assume we want a vibrant social life but are just too shy and awkward to ask. They insist we come out, thinking they’re doing something very nice. But for me, I’d love to have less of a social life. I thrive in my own company. I think clearer when I’m alone because I’m a slow thinker. Autism is a learning disability after all. That being said, if you’ve met an autistic person, you’ve met only one. We can be very different. There are autistic people who love socialising.

What are some of the key symptoms in adults?

There are many but it could be someone who seems quite at home in their own company. They’re in their own bubble. It could be someone who gets passionate about certain things and wants to talk about them all the time, regardless of whether anyone wants to listen. It could be people with special skills who are very mathematical and very musical. Or maybe even people who express a lot of emotion and happiness, but quite often that has nothing to do with who they are with.

Do you find it easier to get on with people who are also autistic?

No, not necessarily. I can remember in school being irritated by people who I now realise were probably on the spectrum. All my heroes have been neurotypical, so not autistic. I’ve read a lot to try and brush up on social cues. I’ve learnt through reading that doing something nice for someone else will have a positive impact and I can understand that logically.

Would you prefer to date someone who was also autistic?

I think I would prefer not to be with someone with autism. It does depend on the bloke though, they are all so different. What I have found is that I do fall in love but it tends to not be with people I meet in real life. I fall in love with historical or fictional characters. People I can put a bit of distance between. I get overwhelmed in the presence of actual people and everything shuts down. I’ve found that with sex, too. It’s like I can’t be fully in it. That much intimacy, I almost zone out.

How have you found the lockdown?

I think I’m the one person in Britain who is loving it. I don’t want it to end. I do for the sake of other people, but personally, I’m having a great time. That’s because it’s not my fault that I’m not being sociable. People might want to see me but there’s a big pandemic stopping me going out. It takes the blame off me.

You’ve said that you are a hoarder in your house. Have you managed to get that under control?

Yes, lockdown has been brilliant for that. I’ve had so much time to get things sorted and I’ve been cooking proper food! People have thought I must be struggling during this time because people with autism like routine and structure, but for so many years I found it hard to develop a routine with my job. Every day can be different and filming can require me to be out and about. With this, I can finally impose my own routine.

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