Dear Victoria

A few words of advice for the countess in the clinic: never mind the tabloids, not to mention what the neighbours and relatives are probably saying behind your back
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Please, please don't let the tabloid intrusion in your life get you down. You are to be congratulated, not castigated, for enrolling at a clinic to treat your anorexia, booze addiction and whatever the other serious psychological problems your husband has referred to.

You have overcome a very great hurdle. You have recognised that you have a problem and admitted it to yourself and your family - which, as all anorexics will know, is the hardest obstacle of all. But you had an even tougher struggle on your hands: confronting your peers.

For, while the rest of the world understands the seriousness and validity of psychological illnesses, the British upper classes - especially the men - do not. To many of them, the word anorexia is a euphemism for self- indulgent or neurotic. It merely requires you, the sufferer, to pull yourself together. (At least that's the line that was being trotted out at most girls' private boarding schools 10 years ago, when you first became a sufferer.)

And the fact that you are a mother of four young children, of course, won't have helped. It's acceptable to get anorexia at school - heaps of teenage girls at single-sex private schools get it - but its not OK to have it at 29, when you are supposed to be too busy running a family and an estate to be worrying about your figure.

But worst of all must be the attitudes of your relations and neighbours - the 40-plus North-amptonshire county set, who would have expected you, as mistress of Althorp, to set local standards in decorum. They would have expected you to face the difficulties of your role as countess with as much grace and dignity as befits the status of a minor royal.

Like an anachronistic Jane Austen heroine, you would be expected to keep your torment to yourself. It would be taboo to mention at dinner parties the fact that you are lonely - Charles is often away on business - and frustrated - you used to be a well-known model living the high life in London; now you are stuck in the middle of the countryside, far away from other kindred spirits of your age in a house that is so large and expensive that it has become nothing other than an inescapable burden. Your duty was to smile graciously and keep stumm. No wonder you took to drink.

I'm not surprised, either, that it was with great reluctance that you enrolled for treatment. The idea of seeing a psychiatrist or staying at a clinic would be deemed completely absurd by most of your friends. (They think its fine for Sharon Stone & Co, but not for you, right?) You must have felt so ashamed; you must have thought that you would be stigmatised for ever.

At least though, Victoria, you have the support of your husband - which means a very great deal. It will go a long way to silencing those who might otherwise malign you behind your back. And who knows? Together, the pair of you may help alter the attitudes of the outdated "stiff upper lip" brigade, who, at least where I come from, comprise most of the landed gentry today.

Yours sincerely,

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