Maria recalls: ‘We were standing at the top of the stairs and heard our Dad remark: “Gosh, those girls are becoming young women, aren’t they? They’re getting hips.” ’
To most people, it’s the kind of harmless remark that an observant father might make about his pre-teen daughters. But for Maria and Katy, who are the identical daughters of distinguished writers, it triggered a sinister pact that would haunt the family for more than two decades.
At secondary school, at 11, we were all weighed in PE class,’ recalls Katy. ‘There was another set of identical twins who weighed less than us. They were prettier and popular, and Maria and I felt insecure.’
‘Katy and I also began to resent Mum because she was so slim,’ says Maria. ‘We looked up to her as a role model and felt we came up short.’
Katy continues: ‘At primary school, we’d had a friend who had lost a lot of weight. She was anorexic at nine, so we knew a little about the illness.
‘For some reason, instead of feeling repulsed by the illness, it held a weird attraction for us — and when we saw those thinner twins, we wanted to be like them and our mother.
‘Maria started keeping a food diary and would jot down everything we ate, our weight and how much exercise we’d done. We started skipping breakfast and exercising fanatically, doing 50 lengths of the pool in the morning and gymnastics after school.
‘We weren’t vomiting, just exercising a lot, but we never even felt faint. In fact, when we were losing weight so quickly, we got an incredible adrenaline high that made us want to lose even more.’
This pact saw the girls’ weight drop by more than a stone in 12 months.
Mother's side of the story:
Right from the start, the doctors explained that the girls were competing against one another to be the thinnest. Yet, any time we attempted to break their solidarity, they would both turn on us in fury.
I would plead with the girls, or find myself defending them against my increasingly exasperated husband, Christy.
Only the mother of another anorexic would understand how powerless I felt to halt the progress of a disease that was not only sapping the life from my daughters, but was also threatening to destroy my family.
It wasn’t until they were accepted to study medicine at the Royal Free Hospital in 1997 that they finally came to me for help. After searching for a specialist in anorexia, I took the girls to see the first of a long line of consultants, both private and NHS, who have since tried to help them.
For the next 14 years, it seemed that they were taking it in turns, see-sawing hideously between sickness and health.
Sometimes one twin’s weight would miraculously increase — and then, just as our hopes were rising, we would be brought crashing down to earth by another rapid bout of weight loss.
It is only now, listening to the girls speak out publicly, that I have a grain of hope. I have never heard both my daughters say together that they genuinely want to get well, and that this time it’s going to be different.
As their mother, that is, and always will be, my dearest wish.