Zac Guildford tells his story: On theft from family, new ADHD diagnosis

Last week former All Black Zac Guildford was sentenced for stealing thousands from his grandfather and tricking his friend out of even more. Now, Guildford speaks exclusively to Katie Harris about the offending and a new psychological diagnosis.

For more than a decade, former All Black Zac Guildford’s life has been marred by controversies.

The litany of offences, including assaulting a woman in 2019 and a drunken attack in Rarotonga, grew longer last week when he was named as the high-profile sports star that stole thousands from his grandfather.

But today, sitting in a garage of the Christchurch home he’s boarding in, where he must complete nine months’ home detention, Guildford is almost in tears as he thinks about how he drove his international rugby career into the ground and harmed his loved ones.

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t make sense of what I was doing for a long time and the trauma I was causing. It started in my own head but then I inflicted it on others through gambling and false promises and being a person I wasn’t.”

LISTEN TO KATIE HARRIS’ PODCAST INTERVIEW WITH ZAC GUILDFORD

The 33-year-old had been living with his 77-year-old grandfather, Frank Burt, in the Wairarapa when he transferred a total of $41,400 from his grandfather’s iPad to his own account between March 30 and April 9, 2021 to fuel his gambling addiction.

Guildford told the Weekend Herald he first took money out of “pure addiction”, boredom, and the idea he could get out of the hole he was in if he just “took a little bit, then put some back”.

“It didn’t work that way, as I found out the hard way -and most addicts will know it’s not just a little bit.”

Prior to the offending, the pair had a close relationship, doing everything together including buying and breeding horses. Breaking his trust was “heartbreaking”, Guildford said. They haven’t spoken since, but he is hoping to soon iron things out.

“I couldn’t contact him previously because of the charges that were going before the court, but that will definitely happen.”

All the money, he says, went to gambling.

“I feel terrible, especially the pain I’ve caused them [his grandparents], at their age.

“If I had my time again I would be that 100-test All Black and trying to be the best winger ever.”

About a month ago, Guildford moved to Upper Riccarton from the Wairarapa to start a new job with a construction industry company and to make a clean break. An introduction was organised via his probation worker and he also lives with his bosses, who have taken in convicted criminals in the past.

Guildford said he had since built up a strong support system in Christchurch. But things were spiralling again just before his latest sentencing and he was slipping back into addictive tendencies. His relationships were “falling to pieces”.

His boss asked him to get tested for a neurodevelopmental condition, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and his diagnosis was confirmed days before sentencing.

“That’s when the questions started to make sense around how my life played out and why some of the mistakes I made were not because I was a horrible person but because of some of the impulses I have toward things.”

ADHD can cause hyperactive and impulsive behaviour, as well as attention difficulties.

While Guildford says his diagnosis isn’t “an excuse” for his actions, he believes if he had been diagnosed earlier, his life could have been different.

“I feel a little bit of a relief, because deep down I thought, am I just a c***? Or, am I just a horrible person? Why am I doing these bad things? That makes no sense, because I’m a good person.

“I want to make it clear, that I’m not being slapped with this hefty court thing, and then all of a sudden coming out the week later and saying, look Zac Guildford’s got ADHD, another F****** excuse.”

In his mind, the diagnosis offers an explanation to why others could spend $50 on a night out and he would spend the “whole $500”.

His employer, who requested not to be named, said it became apparent something wasn’t right within the first two weeks of him living and working with them.

“He lacked focus on tasks that made him uncomfortable or were boring. But the things he loved he was fully focused on. He would fidget, leave the room when it wasn’t appropriate. But then apologised profusely for not listening.”

She said he was someone who wanted to change but had been struggling with how this would look and how to do it.

“Basically Zac was exhausted and felt that he had tried everything and nothing was ever going to work.”

Part of the reason she wanted him to be screened was that a nephew had faced similar issues and he became a “different man” after being diagnosed with ADHD.

She said Guildford’s job with the company had had to be “changed around a bit to suit him”, but he would work in human resources.

“In his spare time to keep himself busy he is building a long-term business plan of selling sports/gym equipment, and researching men’s multivitamins and food supplements. This seems to be something he is interested in so is really focused on making this happen.”

Psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald told the Weekend Herald that people who have ADHD are more likely to develop impulse control issues.

“We’re talking alcohol, we’re talking drug use, impulsive spending and of course gambling. But that doesn’t mean everyone who has ADHD does those things. But you are at increased risk for it, and that’s because decision making tends to be focused more on the short-term than the long term.”

However, he says ADHD is not the cause of the offending.

“I just really hope for his sake, he really gets the help that he needs now and we don’t feel the need to punish him for what he’s done wrong but [have] understanding that hopefully leads to treatment and a better outcome.”

Guildford says he is hopeful he can find the right medication and says he wants to gain more knowledge and do behavioural therapy to help with his ADHD.

At sentencing, Guildford’s uncle told the court he had been exposed to gambling from a young age and was given too much money when he was too young.

Guildford says he believes he may have started gambling when he was 3 and still in nappies.

One example he pointed to on the impact ADHD may have had on his life was how he “walked out” on his rugby career that he had worked hard for since he was a child.

“I became bored. Who becomes bored with becoming an All Black? Who becomes bored with earning half a million dollars in France and just having to go to the gym? Bored of being this person that everyone else wanted me and told me to be. I just couldn’t control it.”

Guildford played 10 tests for the All Blacks between 2009 and 2012 and was a member of the 2011 Rugby World Cup-winning squad, scoring four tries in New Zealand’s 79-15 win over Canada.

He was also part of the New Zealand side that won the under-20 World Cup in Tokyo in 2009, scoring two tries in the final. The occasion was marred by the tragic and sudden death of his father, Robert, as he watched the game from the stands.

Now he says he holds a lot of resentment towards the sport and doesn’t believe his future will involve rugby.

“They didn’t, the rugby community, didn’t understand me, or I didn’t understand myself so how could they understand me?.”

In the courtroom last week he was supported by his mother, uncle and partner.

His grandfather told the Herald last week Guildford was “his own worst enemy”, but he was “relieved” he didn’t get jail time.

As part of his sentence, Guildford must also attend counselling programmes and not use alcohol or drugs not prescribed to him, as well as undertake a gambling addiction programme.

In late 2020, Guildford did an interview like this, claiming he’d changed and was helping others turn their life around too. Shortly after, he was named as the sports star who assaulted a woman.

“I think what’s different this time is I know why. Why a lot of the confusion of why I was going back to addiction was a lack of understanding about myself. Am I just a horrible person like all these voices in my head [are] telling me? Am I depressed? Am I anxious?”

Guilt and shame still weigh heavily on the former sports star.

“Letting my family and friends down through this gambling, that’s made the addiction bigger myself, is massive. I hate letting people down and to have done it to the extent I have.”

Guildford told the Weekend Herald he was sorry to the public and those who have supported him over the years.

“Sorry to everyone that I’ve hurt. I don’t know how I can make it right in terms of the people, the relationships I’ve damaged through friendships, supporters I’ve let down, the false promises.”

Guildford says the old Zac won’t come back.

“I know deep down in the core I’m a good person.”

What is ADHD?

• Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that can cause hyperactive and impulsive behaviour, as well as attention difficulties.
• Adults and children can be diagnosed with ADHD.
• Not everyone with ADHD has the same symptoms and there many are benefits to having it, which include some people being more creative, energetic and spontaneous.
• ADHD affects 2 to 5 per cent of all children.

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