Don Burke self-diagnosed himself with autism in an attempt to explain his behaviour

Don Burke on A Current Affair last night. Source: screenshot

  • Don Burke was a massive TV star for Nine in the 1990s via his gardening show, Burke’s Backyard
  • Several women who worked with him have alleged sexual harassment by Burke, which he denies, but concedes there may have been bullying.
  • The 70-year-old appeared on A Current Affair last night to explain his behaviour, saying he believes he’s on the autism spectrum.
  • Former TV celebrity Don Burke attempted to address accusations of sexual harassment, returning to one of the shows where he used to star, A Current Affair, last night for an interview with host Tracy Grimshaw.

    It did not go well, although he began by saying “I think I’ve got a bit to apologise to (sic)” when it comes to his family and the show’s supporters.

    This morning, Grimshaw said she expected Burke to be more accountable and “didn’t expect the level of denial that we got”.

    The 70-year-old, a leading star on the Nine Network when his gardening show, Burke’s Backyard, topped the ratings for nearly two decades, denied any allegations of sexual harassment, but conceded he’d had numerous affairs and the “bullying may be true”.

    He denied the sexual comments attributed to them, calling them “absolutely despicable”.

    “I wouldn’t say those things to other people and if I said I didn’t say them, I didn’t say them,” he told Grimshaw.

    But he conceded “I have looked in the mirror and there’s a lot I don’t like”.

    Burke tried to explain some of his actions by saying he’d self-diagnosed himself with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder in an attempt to explain some of his behaviour. He was not medically diagnosed, but he’d figured it out because he has “difficulty” looking people in the eye and can’t read their body language.

    Grimshaw said today that Burke had always behaved appropriately around her, but last night asked him about an anecdote she was told by a producer at Nine in which Burke purportedly said that if he had a baby with a young relative, it would be genetically perfect.

    He denied it occurred before going on to say “I’m an Asperger’s person and I have a lot of other failings that are genetic”.

    “I can look at a lens but I have difficulty looking at people in the eye,” he said.

    “I missed the body language and the subtle signs that people give you. I don’t see that. I suffer from a terrible problem with that. Not seeing. No one can understand how you can’t see it. But you don’t.”

    His claim brought a subsequently brought sharp rebukes from those involved with the disorder.

    In a joint investigation by Fairfax Media and the ABC published yesterday, several women who used to work for Burke and his production company, CTC, alleged they were involved in a series of sexual harassment incidents involving Burke.

    One alleged he tried to remove her bra during a road trip, another, hoping to audition for the celebrity gardener, was told she’d have to do it topless. Two of Nine’s CEOs during Burke’s reign also attacked their former star with Sam Chisholm, who ran the station in the 1980s, saying: “Burke was a disgrace because of his behaviour internally and externally”, while David Leckie, who was CEO in the 1990s, called Burke a “terrible grub” and “a really dirty old man”.

    Today, Olympic and world swimming champion Susie O’Neill added to the list, saying Burke crudely asked her about the size of her genitalia when he came to her Brisbane home to film a segment for his show before the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

    Staff from the show present confirmed O’Neill’s version of events.

    “It was crude and it was belittling,” she told Fairfax Media, and her manager tried to have the segment pulled from the show, but Nine pushed back, saying O’Neill was also contracted to the network and it went to air.

    Her former manager, Nick Cummins, now CEO of Cricket Tasmania, says “It was such an injustice”.

    Burke conceded some of his behaviour at work was less than satisfactory, saying “I think I deserve some of this. But not the sleazy sexual stuff”.

    He was slightly less defiant than his initial statement in response to the allegations when he said he was “deeply hurt and outraged at the false and defamatory claims” from “a small clique of malcontents”.

    As the claims against him from dozens of sources grew, Burke conceded “they can’t all be wrong”, but blamed the “Twittersphere” and “the Harvey Weinstein thing”, saying he was a victim of a “witch hunt”.

    He blamed some of his behaviour on being a “perfectionist” and as his show headed towards its demise as ratings fell, saying he “might have been a bear with a sore head towards the end”.

    “I was this bullying figure, it was a robust environment and everybody was entitled to put in their two cents,” he said.

    “I’m a perfectionist that drove people very hard, and although I felt we did have a happy office, there’s clearly, when you look at the people that are complaining now, there’s a lot of people that don’t like me, and they can’t all be wrong.”

    While he denied the claims, saying “I’m not that man at all”, yet added that he couldn’t remember what had occurred.

    “Who remembers what happens 30 years ago? What I know is that I know what I will say and what I will not say,” he said.

    He said he’d spoken to people who used to work with him and told them to “you must say what you believe, do not try and be nice for me”.

    But Grimshaw challenged him saying “the only ones to be believed are the ones who say nice things about you, and the ones who say these things [involving harassment] about you aren’t to be believed”.

    In response Burke looked straight down the barrel of the camera, and said it was the people of Australia to judge if he was “the most evil person in the world” and decide if they could forgive him for his “stupidity and the other things I’ve done”.

    Burke says he was happy to not return to TV because enough people probably believed the allegations. The Nine Network said Burke would not appear on the station in 2018 and it was not in discussions with him.

    It said it could not comment on how the issues raised over their former star were dealt with in the past.

    Meanwhile Michael Freedman, who was managing director of Burke’s production company for several years in the 1990s, appeared on ABC TV’s 7.30 and said the allegations did not match up with the man he knew, who he acknowledged the star’s “ribald sense of humour” at times went to far and he spoke to him about it.

    “Don has a ribald sense of humour. We’ve seen some of that. But that sense of humour was never directed, in my observation, in a malicious, or even directed particularly at a person. It was a general ribaldness in the way he talked,” Freedman said.

    “At times I have said to Don, ‘That’s not funny’, and he recognises that.”

    Here’s the interview from A Current Affair.

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