Anorexia kills middle aged women and does not just affect teenage girls, says Downton Abbey actor David Robb as he said his wife was “murdered” by the eating disorder.
In his first interview about the suicide of his wife, the actress Briony McRoberts, Robb describes anorexia as a “silent killer” and a condition so “insidious” it can become stronger than relationships.
McRoberts - who became a childhood star, appearing in Scottish drama Take the High Road, The Bill and Eastenders - died after she jumped in front of a train near her home on July 17 last year.
In the months before her death she had been warned by her friend Joanna Lumley, the actress, that she was dying and at risk of organ failure when her weight plummeted to six and a half stone. She was 56 and three weeks away from starting treatment following encouragement by her husband.
“She had a future – she hadn’t written ‘Today’s the day,” Robb, 66, told the Evening Standard.
“She was murdered by anorexia. It isn’t a self-centred teenage disease. It kills people – middle aged women.”
The actor, who plays Dr Clarkson in Downton Abbey, said his wife’s suicide had been a shock because she had been such a positive person and he always believed the strength of their relationship meant they could get through the problem together.
“But anorexia is so insidious that it’s stronger than any human relationship," he added.
"Briony had all of me but I never really had all of her – there was always this other thing, her eating disorder. So it makes me feel very inadequate and foolish.”
Robb said he believes one of the drivers for anorexia is not wanting to let go of childhood, which is one of the reasons the issue can resurface during middle age or when people face difficult periods in their lives. He likens the disorder to alcoholism, saying those who have had anorexia go into a form of 'mental remission'.
“It is a silent killer, not a quirk of diet but a mental illness – and if it gets its hooks in it suffocates the person,” he added.
Robb recalls his wife describing her anorexia as a boa constrictor, squeezing its victims, when he asked her who she was starving herself for and she said she did not know.
The couple were together for 38 years after meeting while rehearsing a play. Robb describes watching his wife’s downfall when she turned 50 and began to obsessively weigh herself.
The actress had suffered from anorexia as a teenager, which he believes was due to the death of her mother when she was just seven.
Throughout her twenties and thirties she would skip breakfast or have days when she would fast but did not appear to have any serious issues.
However the problems returned when she reached 50 and after the death of her father, her eating disorder leaving the actress frail and thin.
Robb has been a volunteer with the Samaritans for more than 20 years and now plans to raise awareness of anorexia and other eating disorders among middle aged women.