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Overcoming adversity

From combat to craftsmanship and opera to Oscars, Greg Campbell (BA Theatre Studies, 1987) has spent many years of his life in the creative arts. Since then, he’s completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), two Master's degrees and is underway with an Education PhD. But it was only when he received his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis that the world – and his struggles as an undergraduate - began to make more sense.

How do you remember your time as a student?
I enjoyed my time at Warwick, but it was a mixed experience overall. I met some people I loved (and still do), but really struggled with the work. I hadn’t been diagnosed with ADHD at the time and found it incredibly overwhelming. Luckily, I had a good memory! My biggest regret is that I never thought I was an academic. I still don’t sometimes.

What did you do after graduation?
I was involved in a lot of theatre outside the course, and straight after graduation, I spent a year at a drama school training to do stage combat before starting to teach it. Three other Warwick students I knew had formed a theatre production company called ‘Second Thought Theatre’. When one of the founders moved on, they asked me to join them. We toured everywhere. We were funded to go to Scotland and travelled between tiny communities of maybe 50 people all along the coast.

I also did some small-scale comedy for a few years. A friend of mine – another alum – was a choreographer at The Royal Opera House and he asked me to help choreograph a big fight scene. I spent two or three years in the opera world. I was also a voice and movement therapist, which is a type of therapy to help people find expression. That’s what theatre is all about after all.

Was there any work you didn’t enjoy?
I had another friend – you might notice a pattern here – who introduced me to the film industry. I spent 15 years working in film as an assistant and in the stunt department, two of those under Stephen Daldry CBE. I worked on four Oscar-winning films and travelled all over the world. I didn’t like it, though. Theatre is a collective industry where everyone works towards the same goal. Film is totally different; the work is very siloed. Lots of money and international travel, but very cutthroat.

What happened next?
I retrained as a carpenter, believe it or not! My dad was a builder, so I’d spent a lot of time on building sites growing up. Another friend suggested a job at a school teaching carpentry, so I did my PGCE. Because of all the travelling when I was working in film, I’d missed my son’s early years and I wanted to be at home. He’d started having some trouble at school and was later diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome. I think that’s when I had an inkling that I might have a condition, because Tourette's is heritable.

How did you find out you had ADHD?
I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 58. After a bit of a breakdown, I’d been referred to a specialist mental health hospital. I underwent a year of intensive psychodynamic therapy for complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). At the end of the year, the consensus from the board was that I had ADHD. I felt relieved and wound up at the same time! I've been coming to terms with the effect it’s had on me over the years. I’ve been labelled lots of things: aggressive, difficult, not capable. I started taking the magic pills and it all changed – I can sit in a traffic jam without chewing the steering wheel. The outrage and anger I feel at the injustice are still there, but my reactions are less volatile now.

How did you find returning to education?
I’ve always found theory interesting, and how you apply it to real life. On my tutor's advice I applied to UCL to do an MA in special and inclusive education. Because of my interest, we had lots of students with special educational needs coming to use the workshop, so by the time I’d finished my degree my carpentry class was 50% special educational needs. I finished my MA in 2020, and my supervisor told me that the University of Sussex was looking for PhD students. I’m in my second year now, and my research is looking at the dynamics of the construction classroom.

How is the PhD going?
It’s difficult. I keep meeting people who have massive brains. I suffer terribly with imposter syndrome too. When you have ADHD, if your brain goes off in a different direction it’s hard to pull it back. Sometimes I joke that it’s like therapy with a certificate at the end! But there’s a strong, supportive, neurodiverse community among the PhD students at Sussex, and I’ve been instrumental in getting the school to review its policies and attitudes towards us.

What would you say to someone considering an arts degree?
Two words – do it. We have this problem of steering people down set career paths because they have monetary value or they’re seen to have more value in society. My son has just graduated from university and the pressure to get a job is immense. But we need to keep supporting the arts because it teaches critical thinking, and that’s what we need in the world.

Greg with a green tie and suit jacket smiles at camera