Recovering anorexic Mandy Kaye made history this week as she graduated from Cambridge with starred first-class honours and a distinction — the only student in her geography faculty to do so.
But it could have all been so different for the 25-year-old, who, five years ago, was given just days to live.
Ms Kaye, from Southgate, North London, has been battling anorexia for nine years. At her lowest, she weighed just under five stone.
Now, hopeful of a making full recovery, she is determined to inspire others to do the same.
Ms Kaye began dieting at the age of 16. She said: “It was during my GCSEs that I began to cut things out. I think it came from being scared of going into the adult world and not being good enough. I wanted to stay a child.”
Though by her own admission she was always “Miss Average” at school, she went on to gain three As at A level, including a distinction in French, despite missing months of school due to ill health.
She started university in 2003, but was taken out by her family and doctors after a month. She weighed under five stone.
Ms Kaye was admitted to the Capio Nightingale hospital and was threatened with being sectioned under the Mental Health Act. “I wanted to die but my therapist, whom I met at Capio, helped save my life. She said she couldn’t treat me unless I ate with her and I began making progress.”
Ms Kaye returned to university in 2005. “My parents [Ros and Alan Kaye] were really worried and would drive up twice a week to see if I was OK.”
Never in her “wildest dreams” did she expect to gain a starred first-class degree. She thought she had failed.
She acknowledged that her boyfriend, Elliot Brent, 24, whom she met this year, and her parents, had a big part to play. “I am so grateful for all their support. I couldn’t have got through this without them.”
Ms Kaye now plans to become a child psychotherapist. “My therapist helped save my life and I want to do the same for someone else,” she said.
“I am still a bit scared of restaurants and am only now beginning to eat meals with my family — I only eat with them on Friday nights. But this is a completely new beginning for me and I can’t see myself turning back.”