Christine McGuinness on life with autism: ‘I was always a loner – I left school at 14

For years, Christine McGuinness and her husband Paddy had questioned why all three of their children are autistic.

So suspecting there could be a genetic link, they had assessments during filming for their forthcoming BBC documentary – which confirmed the 33-year-old former model also has the condition.

Speaking to us ahead of the release of her tell-all autobiography, A Beautiful Nightmare, Christine exclusively opens up to OK! about her diagnosis, explaining she had long had a feeling she was autistic because of her hang-ups around eating and her struggles with socialising.

“We always thought it was genetic and it didn’t come as a shock to me that I got diagnosed,” she says.

“When I was writing my autobiography, I could see so many similarities between me and my children that it was pretty evident.”

Other topics covered in Christine’s memoir include her difficult childhood, her struggles to conceive due to the knock-on effects of her anorexia and the highs and lows of her marriage. These include her heartbreak when pictures of TV presenter and comic Paddy, 48, walking arm in arm with another woman during a boozy night out went viral in 2018.

Despite this “difficult” time, the couple – who live in Cheshire and share twins Penelope and Leo, eight, and five-year-old Felicity – are now stronger than ever. She tells us, “I’m so happy we stayed together. I’ve got my husband at home and my children have got their daddy at home.”

Here, Christine opens up about adjusting to life as a registered autism sufferer, challenging the stigma around the hidden disability and taking strength from every trauma she’s endured…

Hi, Christine. Congratulations on your autobiography. What will be the biggest shock for people in the book?

I wonder if people will be shocked to read that I’m autistic myself. Although I’ve suspected it for a while, I’ve never spoken about it before and I’ve never been asked about it, and it was only while writing the book I realised how many traits and symptoms I had as a child. When I was writing my autobiography, I could see so many similarities between me and my children that it was pretty evident. By the end of the book I had my diagnosis. I hide it so well. I’m high-functioning, I work, I’ve got a husband and children.

When did you get your diagnosis?

During filming for the documentary. We’ve always had this question hanging over us, as to why we’ve got three autistic children. We always thought it was genetic and it didn’t come as a shock to me that I got diagnosed during filming. I recognised the traits in myself and my husband did, but it wasn’t something we’d discussed an awful lot. I wanted to explore it a couple of years ago but I often wondered what a diagnosis would bring for me. I kind of felt like I already knew I was on the autistic spectrum – but without a diagnosis, it was always that question. So getting it, I actually felt relieved. The best part of getting a diagnosis for me is that when I talk to the children about their autism, because we haven’t spoke to them about it yet, I’ll be able to tell them that Mummy’s doing OK and Mummy’s autistic too, and they’re just a bit like me.

You said in the book that when you were at school, you felt like you were different to everybody else. What made you feel like that?

I always felt like I didn’t fit in. I always felt different, I always felt a lot older. I preferred having conversations with the teachers and the adults and I didn’t feel like I had anything in common with the other children. I found school really overwhelming and the way people would hang around in little groups and make friendships, and I wasn’t really a part of anything. I was always quite a loner. I found the social side of school really difficult. Academically, I was fine, but I always seemed to struggle and I think that was down to the classroom environment. I found it too busy and was quite overwhelmed with it all. I remember doing exams and really struggling with how busy the room was and the pressure was too much for me. I ended up getting really upset and leaving. I left school at 14.

If only you had support back then…

When I think back, if I had a diagnosis then I probably would have had help and support, and maybe finished school. I maybe would have got good grades on my GCSEs but it just wasn’t picked up on and I was left to get on with it. I was often called naughty, difficult, always being told off and skipping class. And where the teachers thought I was just being naughty, I was struggling, overwhelmed and couldn’t cope, and the only way I knew to show that was to stay off school – and then I would get in trouble.

Do you think things have come a long way since then?

Yeah, definitely. Knowledge is power and the more people know about it and understand it, it can help. Even for me, it’s helped me with my own children. One of the biggest things for me being at school and what I really struggled with was the food. Not the food itself but the whole social side of it. Actually eating in the dining hall for me was too much. I found it too busy and I didn’t have anyone to sit with. Everyone seemed quite happy chatting away and having a laugh, whereas for me, just standing in the queue to go and get the food, I’d already be feeling nervous and anxious. I never ate at school and then I ended up with an eating disorder.

Are you in a better place with your eating disorder?

I think it has improved. I’d never eaten food with any kind of colour until my thirties. I’d have an awful lot of carbs – mashed potato, chips, toast and bagels. It was only when I was in my thirties, when I took my children to food play therapy to try to help them, I realised I had got to try more for my children.

How did Paddy react to your diagnosis?

He was really good. He was quite relieved for me and I was relieved too. He said that he’s known for a couple of years and suspected it since we started learning about autism ourselves. There’s been loads of little things in the house where we’ve been renovating it and he knows that I prefer everything quite plain and simple. So now he’s understanding that there’s a reason why. He’s a real foodie, he loves going out to restaurants and I don’t. And now he understands I’m not being difficult or spoilt, it’s just not something I’m overly comfortable with. It’s been a really good help for us and it’s helped him to understand a lot more.

How do you feel moving forward, now you’ve got this diagnosis?

It’s been amazing for me because I’ve been able to use it to my advantage, when in the past I never would have said anything. It’s taken the pressure off a little bit. It’s made me go, “Give yourself a break, it’s part of being autistic, breathe through it, you can do it.” And I know with the children the more you do something, it does get easier. It’s made me go, “If my little children can do this, I can.” It’s been brilliant but on the other hand I’m worried it might affect my work. I’m worried that any potential TV shows or jobs might not understand autism and won’t consider me for them, thinking I might not be able to do it or I could be difficult, so that’s a bit of a worry. That’s a stigma I would like to change.

There’s a lot of harrowing stuff in the book about your childhood. Was it hard to relive that when writing about it?

Of course. It’s something I wasn’t sure I’d ever speak about but I knew when I agreed to write an autobiography I had to be honest and you can’t leave things out. And part of those things has built me into the woman I am today. It’s made me become a really protective mother, which I’m proud of. There were times that were extremely difficult to write about, that I didn’t want to, but it was part of my life and a part of my life that is well behind me, and I feel healed from it. My life now is completely different and I’m very lucky. I’m always very positive and look forward to the future. I said in the book that in times of trauma you can gain strength and I honestly feel that because my childhood was difficult, it made me become a really strong and good mum.

One of the toughest chapters in the book is when you went through a difficult time in your marriage after photos emerged of Paddy out with another woman. Was it therapeutic writing it down?

I’ve never spoken about it before and at the time I couldn’t speak about it, because I was heartbroken and it was such a difficult time. It was such a big turning point in my life. It was just before my 30th and my marriage was in a difficult place. But it really made a huge difference in my life. It made me look at what I want, it made me look at my marriage, it made me think, “I really don’t want this to fall apart, I want our family to stay together.” And it made me realise how much I wanted my independence back, to get up and go to work, and go out and try and socialise. For the first time, it crossed my mind that I could be a single parent – and I need to be a good example for my children. I want my children to see me going to work.


It seems like that rough patch made your marriage stronger…

Definitely. He realised how much time he was spending away from home and that he needed to be at home more. He’s become such a better dad since then, because he’s really tried and put the effort in. You can’t always knock someone when they’re trying and it wouldn’t be fair to always drag it up. I’ve never mentioned it since it happened. We got over it, we dealt with it. We never really spoke about it or argued about it, we just moved on. If you’re planning on moving forward, you can’t keep going back to the past. We’re doing amazingly and I’m so proud of us as a couple, and a family, at how strong we are right now. I’m so happy we stayed together. I’ve got my husband at home and my children have got their daddy at home.

PRE-ORDER CHRISTINE’s autobiography, A BEAUTIFUL NIGHTMARE (RRP £20, OUT 25 NOVEMBER), AT MIRRORBOOKS.CO.UK AND SAVE £5 WITH OFFER CODE XA9.

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