Sam Thompson: ‘I wanted to know if I have ADHD before becoming a dad’

He’s charming, handsome and successful, having turned a reality TV career into a bankable brand.

On top of that, former Made In Chelsea favourite Sam Thompson has found his soulmate in former Love Island star Zara McDermott, a woman who is beautiful, clever and shares his totally goofy sense of humour.

On the day of our interview, Sam is buoyant and energetic, having just returned from a snowboarding holiday. However, this is a new Sam we’re seeing – one who is finally learning why his life is sometimes so chaotic. He has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD.

“When I first started doing TV I’d have producers say it to me,” says Sam. “But I was like, ‘I’m in my early twenties, shut up!’ Then I did SAS: Who Dares Wins [in 2019] with [former politician and author] Louise Mensch and she has ADHD and she was like, ‘I’m convinced you’ve got it,’ and she went, ‘I take medication for it and it’s changed my life.’”

The conversation stayed with Sam but he didn’t act on Louise’s advice. Then as he grew a bit older and his life became more complex, he became overwhelmed by mundane tasks such as paying parking fines and submitting his tax returns. But, just as Sam couldn’t focus on those tasks, he also couldn’t focus on addressing the possibility that he may have ADHD. “Because I have ADHD, I basically didn’t do anything,” he says.

Now Sam is 30 and he knows that his dream of marrying Zara and starting a family will bring more challenges that will need him to find ways of coping with the disorder. So he decided to find an answer to his ADHD question once and for all and has documented his experiences for E4 in a new show called Sam Thompson: Is This ADHD?

Sam says, “A part of me was growing up and being like, ‘When am I going to be that person that everyone else seems to be? When am I going to sit in an office or sit in my kitchen and just get s**t done? When am I going to be the one who’s got the bag full of passports and tickets for the flights?’”

It was his desire to become a dad that finally motivated him to get help. “A big thing for me was kids,” he says. “I do want kids and I want to know I can look after a child. I want to know I’m the provider and I’m the carer and that I can be the security that child needs to grow up.”

Until recently, Sam just didn’t feel that way. “I was like, ‘I don’t feel like I can even look after myself a lot of the time.’ The older I was getting, the more I was thinking about that.”

Sam’s girlfriend Zara has been an enormous support to him and has taken on a lot of Sam’s life admin, making sure he catches trains and completing the day-to-day tasks he struggles with.

On the show, Zara reveals that she can get frustrated and it’s a hard truth for Sam to hear.

“Zara has always been a giver,” says Sam. “She’s a gift-giver and a date rememberer. She’ll remind me of my family birthdays, she’s such a thoughtful person. She shouldn’t have to book me a train journey. Admin stuff was never my forte whatsoever but it can snowball… You forget that person is doing something to make you happy and you feel like that is the way it should be. It was really tough to sit there and hear Zara say, ‘I don’t want to do it, I just have to do it because it will make your life easier and I love you.’ You’re sitting there going, ‘Oh I’m taking a lot and you’re giving a lot and it’s not balanced at the moment.’”

Sam loves larking about and has amassed 1.6 million followers on Instagram who tune in to watch him sending up himself and other influencers, usually with Zara. Fans lap up his jokes, but it leaves Sam fearing he’ll never become a serious player in his own life. “I’m one of those people who’s very light-hearted but it almost manifests itself too much andI was like, ‘What if I can never be serious or I can never be the provider or the safety net for other people I really want to be?’

“At the start, I wasn’t really that aware of how much it may have affected Zara, that actually came through the documentary that I started figuring a lot of that out. A lot of it was down to actually wanting to be a father.”

After he gets his diagnosis on the show, Sam decides to see if medication could help him become the more focused, capable, responsible person that he dreams about being and takes a low dose of a drug called Elvanse. It seems to work and on the show he says, “I think I feel slower. But not in a bad way. I feel less scatty.”

The figures show that medication helps the majority of people who have ADHD, but Sam struggled with the side-effects which for him included not being able to sleep and losing his appetite. “I felt in the zone, lower, more focused,” says Sam. “But with that focus came the sweats and my appetite would go. I couldn’t sleep that night.”

Instead, Sam decided that using his ADHD diagnosis to be more self-aware could be the answer alongside strategies like timers, time sheets and fidget toys.

“I’d say one of the biggest things to me is self-awareness,” says Sam “If I’m having a moment where things get on top of me and I start imploding, it’s just taking a second to be like, ‘You know that this isn’t the world against you, you know that this isn’t anything your girlfriend’s done… You’re being a little snappy with your family members. So just take yourself away.’ And that really helps.”

In the show, Sam also sees therapists and behavioural experts. “There are loads of coping mechanisms that I found really, really helpful,” says Sam. “I’ve got a little clock in my office that I just turned around and it goes red and it spins around. I’ve got about 1,000 widgets that I f**k around with when I do any sort of work, I bought time sheets but all of these things are quite basic. For me it was definitely knowing.”

Since getting his diagnosis, Sam’s relationship with Zara has improved. “I’d always say we had an incredible relationship but there definitely were things that I could do better,” he says. “Now that I’m aware of it, the communication is better.”

So will Sam and Zara get married and start their family? “Yes. Absolutely. I’ve always known I want to be with her for the rest of my life, that’s a given,” he says. “I’m definitely not engaged but I love her to bits. I don’t want to be with anyone else. I asked myself that question a couple of years ago. I was 28 at that point, I was like, ‘If I don’t want to be with a girl for the rest of my life, what is the point of that relationship?’”

Marriage and children are definitely on the cards for the couple, but with Zara making successful documentaries of her own, it won’t be for a little while yet.

“Zara is only 26,” says Sam. “She’s got a whole career ahead of her and she’s doing some amazing things. I really want her to do all of the things she wants to do before we settle down.”

One thing’s for sure, when they do have children, Sam will know how to help if they too are diagnosed with ADHD.

“I think it’s a huge thing for me,” says Sam. “When I’m eventually a parent, I want to be understanding of it.”

Sam Thompson: Is This ADHD? is on Monday 8 May, 9pm, E4 and All 4


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