‘How my canine Maxwell helped me by my breakdown’

“/>Nicky Campbell with his dog Maxwell

He had just finished his Radio 5 live breakfast show, spoken to politicians and callers, and had sparked a debate as had been for years, but he was inwardly obsessed with a disturbing story he read about a family of elephants killed by a train in India .

Campbell may have gone through the moves on the show, but he now admits that he was crying inside, plagued by a pain that felt worse than physical.

He stumbled out of the building in what he called the “Zombie March” building along Euston Road in London, arrived at his station, and fell on his knees sobbing on a small patch of lawn near the entrance as people passed.

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He called his wife Tina, got a taxi home, and sought medical help. Shortly afterwards, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He describes the impact it had on him in his new book, One Of The Family, and how his loyal golden Labrador Maxwell brought him comfort.

“When I had a little breakdown at Euston Station, Tina said, ‘Come back, come and see Maxwell’. Of course I wanted to see Tina and the girls [they have four daughters]but there was this four-legged magical thing that won’t know but will know everything; that will not understand, but will be completely empathetic; I won’t know what’s going on, but I’ll somehow fully understand. Besides, I don’t have to say anything – he won’t ask questions. “

The experienced broadcaster Campbell meets on Zoom today seems as down-to-earth and controlled as ever, not the fighting figure on the lawn he was in 2013. “Everything just took me by surprise. It was boiling inside and I just left. It was a very out-of-body experience with people walking past me and almost kicking me, ”he recalls.

“People must have thought, ‘Oh my god, this is the guy who used to do Wheel Of Fortune and lay there crying!’ Maybe they thought I was praying, ”he adds with a laugh.

He remembers being obsessed with animal cruelty at the time and tormenting himself over every new documentary or story he read, just as he was long obsessed with garbage bags and receipts from discarded bottles and pizza boxes in his local park and had scooped up nearby taking her home for a forensic examination to try and catch the culprits until Tina persuaded him.

After the breakdown, his family doctor referred him to a psychiatrist, and he admits that self-disclosure was torture. “It’s hard to hear the way you take it all because you feel like an idiot, like another person is talking, and part of you rolls your eyes and says, ‘Hold on, you crazy one. ‘Go out on the street, hide behind cars and bushes, wait for piles of rubbish. Seriously?

“I told him everything, the obsessions, fixations, the manic missions, the terrible lows, deep depression and despair,” writes Campbell.

Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder actually came as a relief, he recalls, saying he was lucky enough to find the help he did. “People are having problems with depression and mental health right now. So many people suffer so much and may only get 10 minutes with their family doctor. But I had four or five sessions [with the psychiatrist] before he said, “This is what you have and this is what you need.”

“Diagnosis and prescription is critical,” he continues. “I was lucky I got this time and I cry for people who don’t have this opportunity.”

His bipolar disorder also gave him a connection to his birth mother, who also had it, he explains. 59-year-old Campbell previously wrote about his adoption when he was a few days old by the Edinburgh couple Sheila and Frank Campbell, who gave him a loving, stable family environment.

But for a long time when he was adopted, he felt like a fraud, who wasn’t one of them, who wasn’t wanted, who, despite the fact that his adoptive family clearly loved him and gave him all the warmth and security, “gnawing feelings of abandonment “Cared for child would need, he recalls.

He pursued and met his birth mother, Stella, an Irish nurse, when he was 29, but effectively pushed her away as he felt there was no connection and read the many letters she had given him over the years sent, only after her death.

“She was incredibly persistent and I had terrible things in my life at the time and I just couldn’t turn these plates,” he says now. “She wanted to be our mother and wasn’t. I was looking for reasons to understand things. I had an amazing one [adoptive] Mummy.”

Working with co-host Davina McCall on 10 series of Long Lost Family, in which family members reunite after years of separation, made him feel like he needed to find out more about himself in One Of The Family.

“It was a tedious, difficult, and laborious process to write it, but after I’ve done it, it’s good to share these things with people. We ask people to open up and it would be a bit hypocritical not to be as open as possible about feelings and life and things that people can relate to when necessary. “

He admits he’s been taking medication for his bipolar disorder indefinitely. “I’m still obsessed and hyper-focused,” he notes. “I have lull days, but I know why it happens.”

His dogs, first Candy, a piebald fox terrier cross, through his childhood and later Maxwell, who has been part of the Campbell family since 2008, have completely enriched his life, he thinks.

“From the moment he walked through the door, it was the way it should be. I could never have had another dog. He’s the special boy. Maxwell and I are inseparable. “

Maxwell still helps support Campbell’s wellbeing when he’s having bad days, the host says. “I just touch him or smell his ears and get a rush of well-being and security inside me. It’s a deep-seated emotional and psychological trigger that makes me feel better. He is my four-legged therapist.

“If you sit there with him, he’ll show up and snuggle into you and put his head in your lap and just want to be with you. It’s one of the best feelings in the world.

“Dogs are so dependent on you and the relationship is so pure and perfect and so innocent and undamaged and uncomplicated, tactile and original.”

Campbell didn’t have a dog for many years after Candy died because of fear of loss and grief. Today he has three dogs – two Westies, Misty, 10 and Maisie, seven, and Maxwell, who is nearly 13 years old. Is he worried about the ending?

“I don’t know how to deal with it,” he says openly. “We’re talking about it more and more. But Maxwell’s mom is still there, so hopefully he’ll hold out a little longer. “

One of the Family: Why A Dog Called Maxwell Changed My Life by Nicky Campbell is published by Hodder & Stoughton at a price of £ 20. Now available.