‘Downton Abbey’ Star Opens Up About Wife’s Anorexia

By Shawn Dwyer 06/09/14

David Robb recently talked for the first time about how Briony McRoberts’ “insidious” anorexia led to her suicide last year.

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Scottish actor David Robb, best known for playing Dr. Richard Clarkson on Downton Abbey, has recently opened up about the battle with anorexia that his wife, Briony McRoberts, suffered throughout her life. McRoberts died in June 2013 when she threw herself in front of a tube train at Fulham Broadway station.

“She was murdered by anorexia. It isn’t a self-centered, teenage disease. It kills people – middle-aged women,” Robb told the Evening Standard. “A lot of the engine that drives the anorexic mindset is to do with not wanting to relinquish childhood, a hatred of getting older, so it can come raging back in middle age. 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."

McRoberts was a successful child actress, but suffered from anorexia as a teenager that Robb attributed to the death of her mother from pneumonia when she was seven years old. She apparently recovered in her twenties after they had been married and was relatively free of any signs of eating disorders aside from the occasional “little quirks.”

In 1999, however, McRoberts was devastated by the death of her father and Robb noticed a discernible change in her behavior that he later concluded was her anorexia coming back. During the months before her death last year, McRoberts’ weight had plummeted and her friends were warning her about potential organ failure.

“[A]norexia is so insidious that it’s stronger than any human relationship," he said. "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.”

For his part, Robb tried to gently nudge McRoberts about the changes in her appearance and even hid the bathroom scales when she began obsessively weighing herself. But eventually the situation turned ever more serious and Robb helped encourage McRoberts to seek professional treatment. She was just three weeks away from attending the Chelsea & Westminster eating disorder unit when McRoberts decided to commit suicide.

“We had a wonderful 38 years together,” Robb said. “Briony wasn’t a sad person: she was optimistic, fun. She wasn’t Sylvia Plath, so her suicide was a total bolt from the blue.”

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.