Downton Abbey star David Robb to appear at eating disorder service at Norwich Cathedral

David Robb, who stars as Dr Clarkson in Downton Abbey, with his wife Briony McRoberts - who killed h

David Robb, who stars as Dr Clarkson in Downton Abbey, with his wife Briony McRoberts - who killed herself last year after suffering from anorexia. Photo: Alan Davidson - Credit: Archant

A service of dedication for lives lost to an eating disorder is to be held at Norwich Cathedral as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations for the charity Beat.

The service - the first of its kind - aims to provide a moment of reflection but also to give a message of hope and reinforce one of the charity's pledges - that there shall be no more preventable deaths from eating disorders.

One of the guests at the event is Downton Abbey star David Robb, whose wife, actress Briony McRoberts, killed herself last year after suffering from anorexia.

He wants to reinforce the fact that is an illness that affects everyone, men and women, young and old - and is not just 'a fad of teenage girls'.

'It's the most insidious of mental diseases,' he said.

'It's not just to do with food, it's to do with control. At what I now recognise was the end, I used to ask her who she was doing it for? She said it was like a boa constrictor that used to get around her and squeeze.'

Mr Robb, who plays Dr Clarkson in the hit period drama, said the anorexia had come on gradually and that his wife, as an actress, was good at hiding it from him.

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'She wouldn't eat breakfast, but then lots of women don't eat breakfast,' he said.

'When she was working up in Scotland and I didn't see her in the week, I used to come up at the weekend and think she was terribly thin. But then we would go out for a stonking great meal in Glasgow and it would seem fine again.'

It started to intrude on their lives, but Mr Robb was convinced their relationship was strong enough to handle anything.

'I never doubted for a second that we would get through it,' he said.

'We were deeply in love. I look at some of my friends' marriages and they are like pals, but we were still deeply intertwined.

'I thought that whatever happened we would get through it, because our love was greater than any eating disorder.'

Mr Robb said the disease had come 'roaring back' for his wife when she entered her 50s and work started to dry up.

'A large part of her self-worth was to do with whether she was working and valued,' he said.

'The acting work dried up as it does for most women of her age.

'She was very talented, but I don't think she was psychologically suited to being in a job where there is so much expectation of you.

'She was very successful when she was young. She was a teenager when she started and when you have success at that age, you are not prepared for it to gradually slip away.'

Ms McRoberts was 56 when she died, and her husband said the shock left him almost unhinged.

'It's the hand I have been dealt,' he said. 'But you go from a life that is intimately shared with someone for a long time to being completely alone and it doesn't matter how much time you spend with friends, you are still alone.

'I would tell anyone else whose partner is going through it - don't ignore it. Don't think it's going to correct itself because it isn't.'

While he says anorexia is a severe mental disorder that is not really to do with being slim, Mr Robb condemned model Kate Moss for her statement 'nothing tastes as good as skinny feels'.

'It was a stupid, stupid statement that should never have been made,' he said.

'It was almost criminal.'

• The service of dedication will take place at Norwich Cathedral on October 22 at 2.30pm. Everyone is welcome to attend, no matter what their faith, and there will be the opportunity to have a candle lit in memory of a loved one.


• Pauline Robinson, of Worsted near North Walsham, was presented with a national award by Beat for her tireless fundraising and campaigning.

Her daughter Charlotte died aged 18 in 2007 when she contracted pneumonia while critically malnourished through anorexia. Mrs Robinson received the award for Fundraising Champion in the House of Commons.

• University of East Anglia student Averil Hart died from anorexia in December 2012.

A report into the 19-year-old's death said health teams failed to care for her properly. Ms Hart was found unconscious on the floor of her student flat kitchen and was taken to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, but was later transferred to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.

Two NHS teams failed to care for her properly, the report by the Patients' Association claimed. Neither communicated with each other or performed regular health checks despite the fact she was at high risk of a relapse.

• Polly Guy, a model from Bergh Apton, spoke to the Norwich Evening News about her struggle with bulimia between the ages of 14 and 20.

She told of retching so hard she tore her stomach muscles - eventually weakening them so much they caused a hernia.

Recovering from keyhole surgery for the hernia in 2011, Miss Guy said: 'I want people, especially young girls and boys, to realise that you can't spend years getting away with it.

'Young people want to look like people they see in the media, but they need to know that so much of it is false advertising, because how are they looking like that?'


• Susan Ringwood, chief executive of Beat, said the first point of call should be people's GPs.

'We would also encourage them to get as much information as they can - come onto our website, call our helpline,' she said.

'If someone is concerned about a friend or a relative, we encourage them to talk to that person and ask them if anything is troubling them rather than asking why they are not eating their breakfast.

'Take them seriously. Show you are on their side, you are there to help them, you are not blaming them. When you see the doctor, be persistent and don't take 'wait and see' as an answer.'

• For more information visit

• Beat Helpline: 0845 634 1414

• Beat Youthline: 0845 634 7650

• Have you got a health story? Email