As social media superstar Leighton Clarke, aka Uncle Tics, cuddles up to his long-time love Olivia Campbell during a fun photo shoot for Woman’s Day, it quickly becomes apparent his fiancée isn’t the only one who adores him. An excited group of high school boys spots him across a rugby field and rush over to take selfies with Aotearoa’s most-followed TikTok creator.
It isn’t the first time Leighton has been approached by fans and it won’t be the last. Millions of people around the world have come to love the unfiltered and hilarious Hamilton videographer, who lives with Tourette syndrome , a neurological dysfunction in the brain that causes him to tic involuntarily.
But Leighton, who has a whopping 4.3 million followers, hasn’t always been the confident and carefree guy his fans look up to. It was thanks to the ongoing support of Olivia, 25, his partner of six years, that Leighton felt comfortable enough to let go of any embarrassment about his disability after years of bullying as a child.
“I was an absolute nobody when I first met Liv and she probably paid for my dinner,” laughs Leighton, 29, who was introduced to his partner when they worked together at a supermarket in 2016. “Liv never judged me and still doesn’t.”
Liv, now an occupational health nurse, recalls starting her role as a supervisor the day Leighton joined their team and being told he has Tourette’s. Part of his condition is coprolalia, a tic that makes him swear and say socially inappropriate things, which often relate to sex and genitals. When he’s nervous or overwhelmed, it gets worse.
“One of my co-workers and I stood in the customer service area just staring, waiting for him to do something,” laughs Liv, 25, who initially friend-zoned Leighton, before realising there was a spark after a night out together. “But he’s very good at managing it and he was just so funny. When Leighton was my mate, he wouldn’t leave my house and he’s obviously loud, so my mum and him butted heads a bit! But now they love each other.”
Described by Leighton as calm and incredibly laid-back, Liv was enthusiastic when he decided to share videos about living with Tourette’s in 2020 – even if it meant including her in the footage! Within two months, her partner’s page had 100,000 followers.
“I knew that making videos about my disability would nail a niche and normalise it,” says Leighton, whose tics started as heavy blinking as a four-year-old, before he was diagnosed at six. “Some people say I’m exploiting my disability, but I have every right to talk about it. I can’t help that I have Tourette’s and it’s like, you might as well laugh or you’ll cry.”
When Leighton decided to make the ultimate commitment to Liv, planning a surprise proposal during a trip to Fiji in November, it meant a trip on a plane – something he has struggled with in the past.
Leighton tells, “I’m worse on planes and will yell, ‘Bomb!’ If I say something offensive, I apologise and say it’s my Tourette’s, but if someone doesn’t accept it, that’s their problem. You have to have that mindset, otherwise you’d sit there dwelling on stupid stuff all day and have a horrible life.”
Two days after arriving in Fiji, where Liv believed they went for Leighton’s birthday, he dropped to one knee and asked her to marry him. She tearfully said yes and in true Uncle Tics style, the romantic moment included Leighton swearing and announcing, “Massive penis!”
“My proposal was way more unique than anyone else’s,” quips Leighton, who asked for Liv’s parents’ blessing months before the engagement.
In hindsight, Liv was surprised she didn’t click on to the proposal, explaining, “Leighton was ticing that he was going to propose for months before, but then he followed up with, ‘No I’m not’, so I didn’t believe it!”
While the duo don’t know when or where they’ll get married yet, they’re adamant they both want to become parents.
“I didn’t want kids all my life because I didn’t want to pass my disability on,” shares Leighton, whose family also adores Liv. “I preferred the thought of adopting, but Liv changed my mind on that.
I think it’d be a lot of fun. We chatted about it, and she said it’d be OK and she’d support me in that way.”
For now, though, Leighton is focusing on the release of his newest rova podcast Tic-Heads With Uncle Tics And Clint, where he and The Edge’s Clinton Randell discuss topical issues, including the cost
of living, disabilities, racism and mental health. As usual, Liv is proud of her hubby-to-be’s success, which saw him interview Scottish superstar Lewis Capaldi, who also has Tourette’s.
“Liv has kindness and loyalty that a lot of people don’t have,” Leighton enthuses. “We’re best friends and we laugh every day, so life is never dull.”
The second season of award-winning podcast Tic-Heads With Uncle Tics And Clint is now available on all good podcast platforms.