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March 13th 2002 - 11:00 GMT

The following article appeared in the Sunday Mail - March 10th 2002

See our story in response Billy Won't Lose Comedic Edge


Treatment could kill secret of his live stage jokes
By Lynn Mcpherson

Billy ConnollyBILLY CONNOLLY is getting treatment that could "cure" the very condition that has made him Scotland's greatest comic.

Connolly, 59, has admitted he has Attention Deficit Disorder, a condition linked to symptoms ranging from poor concentration to extreme hyperactivity.

Although largely associated with children, it's thought to affect up to one million adults in the UK.

Connolly is said to have had EEG neuro-feedback treatment - sometimes known as bio-feedback - in the US.

He believes a side-effect of his previously undiagnosed condition could be his rambling, scatter-gun anecdotes.

But a side-effect of that treatment could be that his ability to tell a joke is impaired.

Psychologist Surinder Kaur set up the first full-time neuro-feedback practice in the UK and has treated hundreds of ADD sufferers, allowing them to understand and work with the electrical states of their brain.

She said: "I am 99 per cent sure this is the treatment Billy Connolly will have undergone.

"Patients can receive anything from 20 to 60 sessions, and treatment usually costs several thousand pounds."

"It doesn't work overnight. But once it does, the effects tend to stay with you."

Connolly has revealed how he used to just think that he was stupid.

But he added: "I don't any more, because I've since found that there's something wrong with me. I have this attention deficit thing. I have an inability to focus. Sometimes it's so intense that I want to sleep."

He admits he is often praised on his comic technique when, in fact, it's the disorder making his brain work that way.

He said: "People say it's awful clever the way I'll leave a story in the middle and come back to it later.

"No, it's not. I leave the story because I can't f***ing remember it.

"I'll have had another thought, and this thought will spoil the story I'm on. So I have to talk about the thought until it's finished.

"That's the way my brain works.

"I'm allowed to be like this on stage. And I'm very good at it."

Millions of viewers heard the comic reveal his condition on stage in Ireland last Monday, as part of his BBC series, Billy Connolly's World Tour. He joked: "People say, 'You should get your head examined'. Well, I did and I was found wanting.

"I am attention deficit apparently, which is fair enough, I don't care. I don't feel any different from when I thought I was stupid.

"That was the diagnosis before."

He made a joke about how he had failed to get a single qualification from school - except a letter from his headmaster.

"I got a letter saying 'Billy Connolly is always punctual'. I've got an A level in punctuality."

In her award-winning biography of the star, Billy's psychotherapist wife, Pamela Stephenson, reveals how she came to suspect her husband had ADD.

She said: "Everyone who knows Billy today is aware of his considerable, albeit unusual, intelligence.

"However, he does not process information the same way that many others do.

"Psychologists currently ascribe a diagnosis such as 'Attention Deficit Disorder' or 'Learning Disability' to such a way of thinking and, in the more enlightened educational environments, there is understanding and help for such children."

Instead of writing his material down, and then performing it, Billy just rushes on stage and "hopes funny things will come out".

But friends say now he has been diagnosed and treated, he realises that his style of performing is connected with his condition.

One said: "It's no secret that Billy had a troubled early life, and this combined with the learning disorder, have made him the person he now is.

"Now he's terrified that if he's treated, he simply won't be able to be funny any more."

In the EEG neuro-feedback treatment, the patient is wired up to a computer by electrodes.

The information is presented to the individual in a way that he can consciously see the changes in the electrical state of the brain.

By learning to modify them, the brain can overcome deficiencies caused by ADD.

Some experts believe it is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, only treatable with drugs. Others blame environmental factors like food allergies and upbringing.

, from the support group for sufferers, ADDERS, fears treatment could help Billy's thinking but harm his comedy.

She said: "With ADD your brain is going faster than your speech and you're thinking of the next two of three things ahead.

"It obviously works for Billy's act but there must be a concern that any treatment will curb that spontaneity that makes him so funny."

A spokesman for Billy Connolly said last night: "Billy talks about the condition when he wants to, sometimes on stage, but wouldn't want to comment."

Most adults with ADD are restless, easily distracted, impulsive and impatient, have mood swings and fail to plan ahead.

But if they harness the energy and creativity that often accompanies the disorder, they can thrive professionally.

In Japan, company executives are routinely given neuro-feedback sessions to train their brain waves to patterns linked with success.

More information can be found at or the 24 hour helpline number +448715903693.

Son proved to me I was a sufferer too

WHEN Caroline Hensby's son Richard was diagnosed with ADD, after 12 years of struggling, she did a lot of research about the condition.

As the mum-of-three and husband Simon learned more, it dawned on them that she herself had many of the symptoms.

Caroline, 39, was diagnose with ADD two years ago.

She now runs a support group, ADDERS, for ADD sufferers and their families. She said. "I realised that so many of my personality traits fitted in with ADD.

"One of the symptoms is poor concentration, and I do go off on tangents. I could also be short-tempered and erratic.

"And at school all my reports said 'Could do better if she concentrated'."

At first Caroline was shocked and struggled to come to terms with the condition. But she found ways of dealing with it. She said: "I can be talking about one thing and will veer off onto another.

"So sometimes if I'm talking to someone about the group, I later send an e-mail so they have something that's more structured."

Caroline says she is grateful she was diagnosed.

She said: "I'm a good example that it's never too late to get help. If you can control it, you can work with it, rather than against."

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