Nikki Grahame: who was the Big Brother contestant who died of anorexia - and what is the eating disorder?

Grahame previously dated Big Brother winner, Pete Bennett, who had visited the star in March and appealed for others to support a GoFundMe to raise money for her treatment

Nikki Grahame became well known for her various stints on Big Brother, she won Most Popular TV Contender Award for Big Brother at the National Television Awards 2006 (Picture: Getty Images)

Big Brother 2006 star Nikki Grahame has passed away aged 38, her friends confirmed on Saturday (10 April).

Grahame, who had battled eating disorders since childhood, relapsed during lockdown according to her mother.

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The reality star’s friends had set up a GoFundMe in March, to raise money for private treatment for her condition, but she sadly died on Friday, 9 March.

Following her death, we take a look back at Grahame’s life, career and her battle with anorexia.

Who was Nikki Grahame?

Nicola Rachele-Beth Grahame was born in April 1982, in Northwood, London.

The reality star grew up with her mother, Susan, following her parents’ split when she was eight years old - the same year her grandfather passed away from cancer.

Despite these upsets, Grahame described her childhood as the “happiest ever” and commented that she was a “daddy’s girl”.

Following her parents divorce and the death of her grandfather, she first developed anorexia and continued to battle the illness throughout her life.

She was an inpatient at various psychiatric and eating disorder units and received treatment at home until her death on 9 April 2021.

Why was she famous?

Grahame shot to fame in 2006, on the seventh series of Big Brother. While she came fifth and wasn’t a winner, she was well known for her bubbly personality and temper tantrums on the show, which led to her getting a spin-off series - ‘Princess Nikki’.

Following this, she made several other Big Brother appearances, as a guest housemate on the UK show as well as taking part in the Canadian version in 2015, in which she finished sixth.

The reality star won a National Television Award for Most Popular TV Contender, and came runner up on Ultimate Big Brother in 2010.

In August 2017, Grahame appeared on the Channel 5 documentary In Therapy, which saw her take part in intensive on-camera therapy sessions with psychotherapist Mandy Saligari, where she addressed her struggles with depression and anorexia.

In 2018, she re-entered the Big Brother house for the show’s final series.

In the BB house, she said: “There is something about this house where nothing else matters. Big Brother has played such a huge part of my life, it changed my life for the better.

“I don’t have one regret, not one. It will always have a place in my heart. Thank you Big Brother for everything. Literally, everything."

Grahame also released two autobiographies, ‘Dying To Be Thin’ in 2009 and ‘Fragile’ in 2012.

What is anorexia?

According to B-eat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, anorexia nervosa is “a serious mental illness where people are of low weight due to limiting how much they eat and drink.”

People who have anorexia may develop rules around what they feel they can and cannot eat, as well as things like when and where they’ll eat. Anorexia can affect anyone.

As well as limiting how much they eat, they may do lots of exercise, make themselves sick, or misuse laxatives to get rid of food eaten and some also experience bulimia.

Weight and shape may be a big factor in someone with anorexia’s sense of self-worth. This can lead to them checking their body regularly, or else trying to avoid scales and mirrors.

They experience a deep fear of gaining weight, and will usually challenge the idea that they should as their body perception is distorted.

Sometimes, someone’s symptoms may not exactly match everything a doctor checks for to diagnose anorexia – for example, they may be a weight considered “normal” for their age, sex, and expected development.

Depending on the exact symptoms, they might be diagnosed with atypical anorexia or another form of other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED). Treatment for OSFED can reduce the risk of anorexia.

How did anorexia affect Grahame?

As a child and teenager, Grahame spent time in various facilities - initially at Hillingdon Hospital, where she was force-fed through a nasal tube.

She continued to relapse and experience periods of time receiving inpatient treatment, including at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London where she was placed on a psychiatric and eating disorders ward. It was here that she attempted to take her own life for the first time, stealing and swallowing 22 paracetamol pills.

She later said she had refused treatment as she wanted to end her life. She told the Evening Express: "I was on a mission to starve myself to death...I was obsessed."

Her battle with the illness continued throughout her teens and she was once so ill she slipped into a coma. She told the Evening Express in 2012 how doctors feared she was minutes from death.

Aged 16, she said she woke one morning on the ward of Rhodes Farm eating disorder clinic in London, where she was receiving inpatient treatment, and thought to herself: "What are you doing to yourself?” She began gaining weight after this and was released but subsequently relapsed.

Her mental health worsened and she was additionally diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, with a chronic fear of germs.

In 2020, she deteriorated throughout the pandemic as she had been home alone and unable to be supported, resulting in a decline of her mental health.

When a second lockdown was announced in November in England, Grahame posted on Instagram that she “seriously can’t deal” with the impact on her life.

During an interview on This Morning in March, her 66-year-old mother, Susan, revealed that Grahame was struggling with the isolation periods and gym closures brought by the nationwide lockdowns.

Mrs Grahame said: 'COVID-19 really put the cap on it,” adding she was apprehensive about a public appeal to fund Nikki’s treatment.

How did lockdown affect Grahame?

Nikki’s mother Mrs Grahame told Philip Schofield on This Morning: “It sounds crazy but even stuff like gyms closing, which is quite important to Nikki as she needs to know she can exercise.

“The isolation, she couldn't see anyone. I offered to stay with her but she said ‘I need to stay in my own home’ . It's been really hard for her, really hard.

“She had terminal loneliness... she was cut off, spending too much time on her own, and nothing to think about other than food.”

Mrs Grahame added that Nikki had been getting better until the lockdown began before “It all came to a grinding halt.”

She said: “With Nikki, she would get through the year knowing she had friends abroad and would visit them, and she spent a lot of time last year cancelling all her holidays.”

When was the GoFundMe page set up?

A GoFundMe was set up by Nikki’s friends in March, in an attempt to pay for private treatment and to “give her the chance of kicking this illness to the curb once and for all.”

Mrs Grahame said she was “apprehensive” about the page. She said: “I was worried that through appeal, Nikki would come in for attack, saying she was attention seeking, people could be nasty and she doesn't need that.

“I spoke to her and she said, ‘please stress how overwhelmed I am by people's kindness, tell everyone I'm going to try my level best to beat this, I'm going to get my life back’.

“It's so frightening for an anorexic because if they start to eat normally, it's gonna go out of their control. She felt it was the one thing that she could keep control over with everything going around her.”

Her former boyfriend and long-term friend, Pete Benett, who won the 2006 series where he met Grahame had also appealed for people to support her. He visited her at her home in March and shared a snap of the pair together hugging, captioned: “Pete and Nikki March 2021 ♡ visiting my nikki and still cuddling to this day :).

“Remember the fundraiser to help get her into a specialist anorexia clinic is in my bio! #savenikkig.”

Nikki's death was confirmed on the GoFundMe page by her friend Leon Dee on Saturday, three weeks before her 39th birthday.

Her friends have stated that the funds (nearly £69,000) will be donated to an appropriate charity, an update will be given in due course.

If you are personally affected by anorexia, or are worried about someone else, help can be provided at B-eat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity.

You can also contact your local GP, NHS 24 on 101 or Mind, for general mental health support.