“At 13 I got an inhaler, and then the whole world opened up”

Getting an asthma diagnosis transformed Adrian Lester's childhood

Adrian Lester“My asthma is triggered by dust and cats, but it was misdiagnosed as ‘a chesty cough’ for years. It really affected my childhood. When the air was cold, I couldn’t run - I couldn’t play football. It was terrible, especially when a lot of boys are judged on their physical achievements. I felt like the wheezing footballer nobody wanted to pick.

“When I was about 12, I had an asthma attack about 200 metres into a cross-country run. I was on my knees, and the teacher put his hand on the back of my T-shirt and literally forced me on. I nearly passed out.”

Freedom to explore

“But at 13 I got an inhaler, and then the whole world opened up. I started ballet and street dance, and joined a youth theatre. I chose a profession that I wanted to work in for the rest of my life. And I realised the only way to do that was to gain the respect of my peers.

“So I asked myself what these people thought was the hardest thing to do, and it was always Shakespeare. It’s strange that as someone who came out of school with one O-level and who never read Shakespeare at drama school, I’m considered to be a classical actor.”

Staying in shape

“When I got to about 28, suddenly food was hanging around my body a lot more than it used to – it happens to everybody! So I took up taekwondo, which was so unbelievably hard. But it’s actually a very good barometer for monitoring my asthma – if I can go to a class and not need my inhaler, come home and feel fine, I know things are going well.”