When Anne Hegerty appeared on I’m A Celebrity in 2018, little did she know she would amass a whole new set of fans. Her revelation that she was autistic meant that she soon became a role model for many neurodiverse people who were watching her in the jungle.
The quizzing champion was only diagnosed fifteen years ago and believes if she had known she was autistic when she was younger, it would have made life much easier for her.
Speaking on White Wine Question Time, the ‘Governess’ said her childhood wasn’t the best.
“I didn't have the happiest childhood,” she told podcast host Kate Thornton.
“I wish people had known more about the autistic spectrum, so that I could have actually sort of explained to myself why I did certain things that nobody could make any sense of.”
She continued: “It wouldn't have been known about when I was a child - so there was nothing I could do about it. I mean, I would imagine Shaun [Wallace, Anne’s co-star on The Chase] has suffered more from racism than I have from an ignorance about autism because you know, people have always known about racism.”
One of the reasons behind her unhappy childhood was the fact her mother didn’t really understand her.
“She was an affectionate person but there were things that were things she was trying to share with me, and it didn't work,” she revealed.
“She loved history. I mean, I loved history, but I didn't tend to learn it the way she did. I liked to learn my history from books, and she liked to learn it by actually going to places and I was this grumbling child who simply did not want to have to go around another bleeding castle. I would quite happily go home and read about the castle - I didn't actually want to visit it!”
In contrast, her father was her biggest cheerleader. Anne said: “He always encouraged me to do things, and he was always the person who would cheer when I did do things.”
However, while he was supportive of her interests, he wasn’t perhaps the best role model to the young Anne.
“Dad was a complete deadbeat,” confessed the Chaser.
“I mean he was a man who spent his entire life doing his best, never to have more than £6,000 pounds at a time, because if you have more than that, then you couldn't get the money from the social, which was to him the function of life was to live on the welfare state.
“The luckiest thing that ever happened to my father was that his mother had very bad arthritis and he inherited it, so by his late forties, he was having serious mobility issues - and thank goodness he was, because it was a great excuse for him not to have to do anything!’
Thankfully her dad’s attitude didn’t rub off on Hegerty, who said she loves to work and to watch experts at work.
“I'm a great believer in the dignity of work,” she stated.
“I am so awed by people who can actually do things! I've stood backstage in a theatre and watched the technicians press this and pull that and do this.
“I just have so much respect for people that can actually do stuff. I would say my favourite thing is just to watch experts doing their expert thing.”
Hegerty says she thinks it’s funny that people think she went on I’m A Celebrity to help raise awareness around autism in this country, when in fact it was all down to the money, however, she has been touched by the response she’s had from her stint in the jungle.
“I was doing panto in Middlesbrough last year and I literally was walking on the street and got stopped by a couple of guys who wanted to chat to me,” she recalled.
“And one of them told me that I'd literally saved his life, because he had been very distressed and suicidal…
“And he had been watching me in the jungle and he found that it just inspired him so much that he thought, ‘You know, maybe there is a way forward’. So, he didn't have to kill himself, which is honestly kind of awesome really.”
While Hegerty admits her early years weren’t her happiest, she says it doesn’t affect her now as she has a very positive outlook on life.
“I tend not to sort of dwell much on the past,” she told Thornton.
“One reason I'm an optimist is I tend to feel that life starts off a bit crap and just generally gets better, because that's been my experience!”
Hear Anne and fellow Chaser Shaun Wallace chat about quizzing, their greatest achievements and what historical figure they would like to meet on this week’s episode of White Wine Question Time. Listen no on iTunes and Spotify.