I INTENTIONALLY tuned out of “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!” this year, owing to the participation of a certain politician. It’s somewhat nauseating to watch the likes of Nigel Farage attempting to paint himself as the normal, everyday bloke when he couldn’t be further from it.

Particularly after being subject to much of the same from Matt Hancock last year.

It’s so frustrating to watch what is otherwise a fantastic and well-loved TV series being used as a pair of jump leads for the politically inept and dangerous, who quite frankly don’t deserve the redemption they are attempting to seek.

That being said – and despite not actually tuning in to a single episode until the final – it was hard not to pick up on the success of Sam Thompson. My social media feeds were saturated with his best bits, in particular the warmth and personality he brought to the camp.

It wasn’t surprising to me – I have followed Sam for a long time and, in particular, his journey to being diagnosed with ADHD and discovering that he’s autistic. Between his wholesome relationship with best mate Pete Wicks and the good-natured, hilarious pranks he plays on girlfriend Zara, it’s been so refreshing to watch a neurodivergent person excel so much and be so well-received by the public.

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This kind of acceptance is few and far between for the neurodivergent community.

Sam shot to fame alongside sister Louise on Made In Chelsea, which I have to admit I have never watched and don’t know much about – but his popularity has skyrocketed over the past couple of years. Mostly because of his obsession with Love Island, which saw his social media following grow exponentially.

The National: Sam Thompson (Ian West/PA)

As a neurodivergent person, aware of how much we are usually othered by our society, I can’t tell you how emotional it makes me to watch an autistic person being so loved and celebrated for expressing their joy over their special interests.

Autistic people are no strangers to being ridiculed and infantilised for our special interests, so to see this narrative flipped on its head feels almost like a turning point in autism acceptance. If we are ever going to change outdated narratives around autism, celebrities like Sam Thompson have a huge role to play – and he’s doing a fantastic job.

Going in to the jungle appears to be a combination of my very worst nightmares. I hate bugs, I am by no means a camper and I have an all-consuming, deeply irrational phobia of spiders that would simply not allow me to ever step foot in that camp. Cue the autistic black-and-white thinking, but I have never understood why anyone else would want to either. I can’t imagine much worse. Though I am sure being paid £1.5 million like Farage was might make it marginally easier to swallow.

I did watch the final because I knew Sam was expected to win, and I was so excited to watch a neurodivergent person be crowned “King of the Jungle” on a TV show I have grown up watching.

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Much to my discomfort, Sam’s final challenge was one of the infamous eating challenges. Celebrity campmates are forced to eat – and swallow – various bugs, eyeballs and other grotesque jungle delicacies. As an autistic person whose worst sensory aversion is definitely food, and as someone who hasn’t eaten a meal that wasn’t beige in the last 20 years, these challenges in particular make my skin crawl.

My body physically wouldn’t allow me to put a singular grape in my mouth, let alone a witchetty grub. I once made the mistake of trying a truffle dumpling at a restaurant and my brain imploded to such an extent that I ate nothing but burnt toast for three weeks and lost over a stone in weight. So, I wasn’t just impressed by Sam’s ability to devour a camel’s actual toe – I was dumbfounded.

Sam has been open about his neurodivergence, and the journey he has been on to unearth it. At 31 years old, he’s followed in the footpaths of most neurodivergent people by discovering it later on in life – despite being an arguably textbook case. Anyone with even minor knowledge of neurodivergent conditions could recognise them in Sam just from his Instagram account.

Sam Thompson: Is This ADHD?

Earlier this year he released a documentary on Channel 4 titled Sam Thompson: Is This ADHD?, which followed him as he explored his neurodivergence and sought a diagnosis. I usually steer clear of such television, because it is often littered with inaccuracies and harmful tropes or language about neurodivergence, but I knew I wanted to indulge in this one having followed Sam for so long.

I was not wrong to. It was a really beautiful depiction of discovering yourself later in life, one that I and so many like Sam and I can relate to. It was so life-affirming to watch. What was most heartening about it, though, was the reaction from his best friend, Pete.

Anyone who knows of Sam knows that he comes as part of a package deal with The Only Way Is Essex alumni Pete Wicks. A seemingly unlikely pairing on the surface, they are actually the best of friends. We have witnessed the blossoming of their friendship during the filming of Celebs Go Dating – from unlikely acquaintances right through to the brotherly bond that’s such a cornerstone of their brands now.

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On first appearances, Pete is the epitome of a “lad’s lad”. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him myself and was surprised then by his warmth and approachability given how he’s been marketed over the years. But when it comes to Sam, his softer side is fully on display – a shining example to set for young men in itself. He was so accepting of Sam’s diagnosis and reacted to it perfectly.

Again, the importance of seeing that depicted on TV can’t be understated given that acceptance is such a rarity in our community’s collective experience.

Sam’s only accomplishment here may just be having the confidence to be his true and full self, but with the eyes of the world on you, when you are already subject to intense scrutiny and you are only just making sense of yourself internally, it is certainly something he should be celebrated for.

And it’s the bravery of people like Sam, who do have a platform and want to use it for the greater good, that has the power to instigate real change. He’s not just being himself – he is normalising neurodivergent traits, for the entire world to see.

The consequence? The rest of us are being seen with him.