Chris Packham presents a new documentary Asperger’s and Me this Tuesday 17th October at 9pm on BBC2. Here, his partner Charlotte Corney explains what he’s like to live with – and how his autism affects their relationship
Chris and I met professionally when he visited the zoo that I run on the Isle of Wight. He tells me now that he knew that day that I was the one. I had no idea of this, and at the time I was with my ex-partner anyway.
Then in 2007 Chris did a voiceover on a programme that was filmed at the zoo. He made a huge effort to come to the launch of the film so that he could meet me again. His Asperger’s means he can’t flirt, so there were none of the usual signs to pick up on. A few days later, we were meant to go to dinner, but instead we just talked the whole night, and we connected on every level. I knew that my whole world was in that person.
Not long down the line, I thought how weird it was that this guy who was so interested in me could not actually look at me. As our relationship progressed, I noticed he didn’t always seem to care how I felt. His truthfulness sometimes hurt me. It can still make me pretty distraught, and I can still make the mistake of equating this with how much he cares. But it’s part of the Asperger’s.
It was about five years before he told me he has autism, and that was only because I asked. I had googled the conundrum of his absolute devotion to me and his daily lack of empathy. It felt like I didn’t know who I was with. Asperger’s came up as the answer, and when I put it to Chris I thought he would be horrified. Instead, he gradually agreed. He hadn’t told me because he thought he had the techniques to hide it.
It has helped me that I had an amazing relationship with my father, who died five years before I met Chris, and was very like him. My dad was everything except conventional — a very charismatic, kaleidoscopic, colourful man… and extraordinarily difficult. He was never diagnosed with any form of autism, but there are parallels.
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Chris and I have talked about how he’ll feel when Scratchy dies. I was impressed how he survived Itchy’s death. It was less destructive than I feared. He coped by pouring everything into Scratchy. But he will have nothing left to love when Scratchy goes.
I don’t compare his love for Scratchy to his love for me. I am certain of his love. We are working towards living together. I am more physically affectionate to him than he is to me, but it’s fine. Sometimes I think it would be great to be with someone more normal — he can seem so alien as to be extraterrestrial — but I know I couldn’t live with that. He never embarrasses me. Chris’s outlook on life is so rich, and he’s agonisingly funny. He makes me laugh like nobody else. I know I will never be bored.
As told to Kate Battersby
Image credit: Andy Earl
Chris Packham: Asperger’s and Me is on Tuesday 17th October at 9pm on BBC2