A creative powerhouse

Songs, books, plays – Bobby Latheron has written them all, including an account of his life with autism. He tells Sean Kelly about a future film and podcast, and his next, darker book.

Bobby Latheron with Carl Pemberton

Bobby Latheron is a young man with autism. He is also an explosion of creativity.

Latheron has written a book that has been published. He has released songs that are available to buy. He has written plays. Currently, he is working on his second book and filming a documentary about his life – which may include part of our interview.

I was able to speak to Latheron along with his support worker Charlotte Rix and I asked him to tell me more about his life.

“I would say it’s been a struggle. I didn’t get diagnosed till I was 15. Secondary school was very hard for me. Because I couldn’t do up a school tie, I used to get detentions.

“The work was too hard. And they would put me in front of like a million students to do an exam and I would just break down. And they wouldn’t understand what it was.”

Latheron found himself labelled a “naughty child” and tells me he was bullied by other children and by some staff too.

Then, at 15, he went to a specialist school for children with autism. This was a bit of an improvement but the drawback was that his educational needs were neglected.

“The autistic school was very laid back. You would go on trips more than work if you know what I mean. I think there needs to be something in the middle. I wanted a little push but not too much of a push,” he laughs.

After school, Latheron went to Stockton College to study performing arts, which he loved, but he could not stay because he did not have the maths and English grades required. So he moved to a specialist ESPA (Education and Services for People with Autism) college in Sunderland.

That was fine except that he was the only student there for two years. “It was very lonely,” he says. During his final year, however, other students began to arrive.

Nowadays, Latheron’s day job is as a carer for disabled people, working for a company called MAIN. He continues to have his own support worker “for my own stuff like my book and my documentary”.

He is also part of a social group in Stockton called Autism Matters. “The staff there are very…” – he searches for the right word – “nice!”

The group has obviously been very important to him: “Yeah, I think coming to Autism Matters, you do make friendships. And those friendships are forever.”

Story, song, script

The decision to write a book came after a discussion with one of his teachers at the ESPA college: “He said your life has been such a journey you should write a book.”

The book, My World in My Words, published by New Generation Publishing in September 2019, is a unique take on his own life. The cover features a (psychedelic) image of Latheron inside a cloud of words including honest, unique, bubbly, dramatic, inspired, autism, struggles, songwriter, script and funny. It’s the most accurate cover I have seen in years.

The book itself starts with more than 20 mini-interviews in which Latheron asks other people to define autism and to give their opinions about him as a person living with autism. Contrasting and comparing different answers to the same questions is fascinating.

The book also features a diary section about a trip to America and a selection of Latheron’s song lyrics (printed in different colours) as well as photos of him with many friends and associates.

Latheron is a gay man and the book ends with a lengthy fictional script for a play featuring him and some fairly complicated relationships and developments, including a dramatised version of his coming out. Without giving too much away, I can say it involves murder as well as convincingly faked deaths. I found myself reading some parts out loud in character because the writing is so irresistibly dramatic.

Out with friends: Latheron includes friends and associates in his book – Steven McDonald Photography; Bobby Latheron

Dark fairy tale

Latheron says his second book will be edgier. Part fiction, this “dark fairy tale” as he calls it will tell of a future in which he has a record deal and is living in America, and describe some more of his relationships. Sounds gripping.

As if that is not enough, he has been writing and releasing his own songs. It started when his sister bought him singing lessons. Latheron discovered his teacher was going to be Carl Pemberton of Journey South, a pop group who had become famous through the X Factor.

When they first met, Latheron refused to sing in front of Pemberton. Pemberton asked him why and Latheron said: “Because I can’t sing!” Latheron asked if he could write songs instead: “I said, well, I kind of keep everything inside of me – do you know what I mean? – like my emotions, or everything.”

He felt writing songs might help him to express some of those emotions. And that is exactly what happened. Pemberton helped him record the songs and sang on some of them, along with other professional singers.

The result is that Latheron has joined an illustrious line of songwriters who write songs for others. About 10 of the songs have been released and can be bought as downloads or listened to on streaming services and YouTube.

Latheron explains that he likes to have a story element in his songs. His most well-known song is called Run. Like many of his songs, it has an autobiographical element and is based on a difficult relationship in his past.

He wants his songs to help people who have been in bad relationships: “I want people to know that there is a way out. You don’t have to stay in a relationship when it’s not working out.” You can run? “Yeah,” he says, laughing, “that’s what the song is about, yeah, like RUN!” He wants the songs to help people “build their mental health and strength in their relationships” and in life. Writing the songs has helped him.

Asked about inspirations, Latheron says he particularly admires the singer Adele “because all her songs are basically about her past relationships and stuff. She inspires me to write.” He also likes Peter Andre, but not all of his songs.

Latheron mentions Katie Price, who was once married to Andre and he has read my interview with her (summer, pages 14-15).

“I really like her as a person,” he says. “I have seen the documentary Harvey and Me. I think every parent fights for their kids but, when you’ve got kids with autism, you’ve got to fight a bit more.”

The start of a musical odyssey with Carl Pemberton of Journey South; holding copies of his book outside a store that stocks it.

Mission for understanding

Helping people in the wider world understand about autism has become a mission for him.

“I am hoping to go into schools after the pandemic and talk about autism, how it’s good to be kind to one another. Don’t ever judge people,” he says.

He has experience of being judged and abused. For example, a few years ago he was at an airport with the Autism Matters group. “You could hear other people saying ‘Look at them spakkas’. And I just want to tell people that we are normal and we do have feelings. Even the people who can’t speak, they can hear, and they do have feelings.”

Latheron says he finds close relationships hard to make. “Because I am out as gay and I have had really bad experiences in relationships, it’s really hard to trust someone. And sometimes I just want to give up on love. Do you know what I mean? People say: ‘Oh don’t give up – there is always someone there for someone’.”

I remind him that his book also gives the same message. “Yeah, but it is very hard to believe in myself after going from being bullied at school or college. When I hear my music on the radio, it’s very hard to believe that I can achieve stuff, you know. Even now, it’s very hard to believe I’ve got a book out and that I have got a second book coming out very soon as well.”

He adds that, for an autistic person, life can sometimes seem like a big battle and he worries a lot about life.

Like whether people may not like me because of the way I speak, or my tone or you know. I think about everything. I am always a worried person. I think that’s to do with my autism. I am scared of flying. I think ‘Oh my God, I could get on a plane and it could crash and I could die’. It is a very hard life.”

At the same time, he feels the difficulties he has experienced have helped to shape him. “If I didn’t have this life now, I wouldn’t be who I am now. If I had never had the ups and downs with relationships, I wouldn’t be a songwriter.

“When I brought my book out, it was so hard. I was thinking: am I doing the right thing? Am I pushing myself out there you know for people to think ‘well, he’s got autism’. Well, I might have autism but I live a normal life. Do you know what I mean? Like we all do.” He laughs.

He plans to launch a podcast: “I want to talk about autism and bring people in to talk about their autism as well, and play my songs on there about living with autism.”