From his position behind the ITV news desk, broadcasting veteran Mark Austin has calmly informed viewers at home about war, atrocity, famine, and natural disasters – and kept them up-to-date with breaking news bulletins.
Now, in an emotional interview on This Morning, Austin has revealed that his toughest ever job took place away from the cameras when his daughter, now 22, was diagnosed with anorexia in 2012.
Speaking to Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, Austin revealed: “She was there physically, but gone. She was just a hollowed out person.
“At 5am she wouldn’t be in bed because she’d be walking five miles, come rain or snow.”
He added: “I would see her footprints in the snow going up hills.
“It broke my heart.”
A visibly emotional Austin confessed to not seeing Maddy’s anorexia for what it was - a mental illness.
“I thought, ‘Pull yourself together, just eat.’ But it was a mental illness,” he said, before revealing that he told his daughter that if she wanted to “starve herself” she should “just get on with it”.
“I regret it now, but that was what I felt and that is what I said to her,” he said.
Austin added that he and his family still don’t know why Maddy developed anorexia, aaying: “She just said it was something about control, because she didn't feel worthy.
“One day we might find out, but all I know is we went through hell, but we found the help, and we're lucky.”
Austin previously opened up about his daughter’s eating disorder in an account for The Sunday Times.
In the piece, he explains that he first became aware of his daughter’s illness when his wife Catherine, an A&E doctor, phoned him to let him know that Maddy had been “skipping meals, counting calories, and becoming obsessive about the food she would eat”.
A week later, Maddy collapsed at school – and her parents were called in to meet with an eating disorder specialist, who confirmed that their daughter was suffering from anorexia.
Despite promising to start eating properly, Maddy’s condition quickly worsened; Austin was forced to watch as his daughter’s weight plummeted, changing her from a healthy and promising young athlete into an “emaciated, ghostlike figure”.
“She was bent on self-destruction,” he recalls. “She would lie about how much she had eaten and then explode with rage if we challenged her.”
Furious at his daughter’s “abusive” behaviour, Austin “decided to go on the attack” and told her that she was being ridiculous.
“I even remember saying, ‘If you really want to starve yourself to death, just get on with it’,” he writes. “And at least once, exasperated and at a loss, I think I actually meant it.”
The newsreader acknowledges that, as a father, he felt “excluded and hated” and, as such, found it difficult to speak with Maddy about issues of body image and weight control.
This issue was compounded further when, struggling to understand that his daughter was “seriously mentally ill”, Austin found himself believing her to be “crass, insensitive, and pathetic”.
“What I failed utterly to grasp was that she was seriously mentally ill and could not see a future for herself,” he writes.
Austin and his wife – who took time off work to monitor her daughter more carefully – were forced to watch as Maddy’s health deteriorated. She was weak from malnutrition, had developed bone marrow failure, and her skin was covered in sores. Yet, in spite of all this, there was very little help on offer from the NHS.
“Maddy’s GP was a lifeline, but the best we got early on were regular outpatient appointments that came and went with no real improvement,” writes Austin.
Finally, her parents were able to track down a local NHS day-patient unit at a Farnham Hospital. Each morning, an ambulance would be sent to pick Maddy up before breakfast and treat her throughout the day.
They monitored her mealtimes, and provided her with intensive counselling and other therapy sessions. After a year in their care, Maddy was finally able to recognise her anorexia for what it was – an illness – and slowly began regaining the weight she had lost.
Now Austin is urging people to take eating disorders more seriously, and is calling for “walk-in centres on the high street of every town and city in this country, manned by trained counsellors”.
He added: “As a country our response is bordering on the pathetic. It is a mental illness, but, almost uniquely, it is one that kills.”
Waiting times for outpatient treatment have risen by 120% in some areas over the past four years, with patients routinely waiting more than 100 days for a specialist.
Eating disorder charity Beat have said time and time again that early intervention is critical to a rapid, sustained, and full recovery.
“Right now, we are letting people with eating disorders down,” they explain. “They are turned away by the health system, told they aren’t ‘ill’ enough for treatment and are confused about where to turn.
“This can’t continue.”
One in 100 women aged between 15 and 30 are affected by anorexia and it is reckoned that one in five chronic anorexics will die as a result of the condition or because they take their own life.
The Beat helpline – on 0345 634 1414 – can help both young people and adults experiencing an eating disorder in the UK. Mental health charity Mind also offers information on anorexia causes, treatment available, and offers support for those going through it.
Maddy, meanwhile, will run the London Marathon on 23 April for children’s mental-health charity Place2Be, as part of Heads Together. That is a campaign fronted by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry that aims to change the conversation on mental health from fear and shame to one of confidence and support. You can sponsor her here.
Images: Rex pictures / Getty