Since his son was diagnosed with the condition, the billionaire Phones4U founder has gone into action.
John Caudwell’s son Rufus was ten when he had his first panic attack. At first, John assumed it was a ‘trivial attempt’ to avoid going to school. In fact, shortly after, Rufus stopped going to school completely. He developed agoraphobia and emetophobia (fear of vomiting) and, for ten years, says John, ‘probably spent more time in his bedroom than any other place’.
It was hard to fathom. Rufus had previously been a confident boy, happy to sing in front of hundreds of people at his dad’s work events. Now, crippled by anxiety, he seemed beyond help. He went to school ‘only on odd occasions, never for a sustained period’.
Then, in February, Rufus — now aged 20 — was diagnosed with Lyme disease, a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks. His mental illness had, all along, been the result of an infected tick bite. The diagnosis was a relief, says John, as Lyme is treatable. But then his ex-wife Kathryn got tested and found that she had the disease, too. Next up was their daughter Rebekah, then John, then their younger daughter Libby — all four tested positive. I meet John at his house in London. It’s in Mayfair, as you would expect from the billionaire founder of Phones 4U. It has chandeliers, oil paintings and a grand piano. John seems tired and his voice is ragged. His symptoms are mild, he says — he just has a ‘bit of a brain fog’, a headache and poor memory. He is relieved, at the start of the interview, to collapse on the sofa. He has spent all day talking to the media. ‘It’s not been easy,’ he says.
But he feels he has to get the message out about Lyme. He thinks there is a hidden epidemic and wants the NHS to investigate it urgently. And he is not the only one. His Facebook page is overwhelmed by messages of support from Lyme sufferers. ‘You are giving people across America hope,’ says one. ‘Please fight for us John,’ says another. ‘Lyme disease now is like HIV was in the 1980s. We need you!’
Read more at The Spectator