Gemma Oaten broke down as she paid tribute to Nikki Grahame following her ‘devastating’ death.
The Emmerdale star, 36, struggled to hold back tears as she discussed the Big Brother icon’s 30-year anorexia battle on Monday’s BBC Breakfast, after overcoming her own past 13-year struggle with the condition.
The TV legend died at the age 38 on Friday – just one month after her friends started a GoFundMe page to fund treatment for her eating disorder.
‘It’s devastating’: Gemma Oaten broke down as she paid tribute to Nikki Grahame on Monday’s BBC Breakfast following her death
Gemma, who has since co-founded charity SEED with her mother, grew emotional as she told host Louise Minchin: ‘I promised I wouldn’t get upset. It’s devastating…No, no, no. It is what it is and we’re all human.
‘I think that’s the point – a lot of people will be affected by this. 38 is too young and to die from an eating disorder in 2021 when I’m 37 this year and she was 38…it’s just so tragic but unfortunately this is happening.’
The actress touched on the power of recovery and treatment as she added: ‘We need better awareness and better support.
‘But I also want people to know that there will be a lot of people who will be triggered by this news. I’ve had – and I’m sure mum has too – so many messages and people are scared.
Tragic: The Big Brother icon died at the age 38 on Friday – just one month after her friends started a GoFundMe page to fund treatment for her eating disorder (pictured in 2018)
‘People are scared’: The Emmerdale star, 36, struggled to hold back tears as she discussed the TV legend’s 30-year anorexia battle, after overcoming her own past 13-year struggle
We need better awareness and better support’: The actress touched on the power of recovery and treatment
Important purpose: The thespian has since co-founded charity SEED with her mother,
Hard times: Gemma has discussed her anorexia battle in the past, revealing the eating disorder became so severe that she ended up in a psychiatric unit at 11 (old picture)
Best known as: Gemma pictured as Rachel Breckle and James Hooton as Sam Dingle in Emmerdale (pictured in 2015)
‘What I want people to know is that there is hope as well and there is recovery, and there is a life out there. They need to speak up and be brave and seek support early on.
Gemma has discussed her anorexia battle in the past, revealing the eating disorder became so severe that she ended up in a psychiatric unit when she was just 11 years old.
In the weeks before her tragic death, Nikki’s former boyfriend Pete Bennett, 39, who she met in the Big Brother house, visited the star amid her tough anorexia battle.
Still close: In the weeks before her tragic death, Nikki’s former boyfriend Pete Bennett, 39, who she met in the Big Brother house, visited her amid her tough anorexia battle
Struggles: The TV star complained about the UK entering another national lockdown back in November, as she told her followers that she ‘seriously can’t deal’ with it
The pair, who’ve maintained a friendship since their split, were seen sweetly cuddling in a snap.
Captioning the image shared on his Instagram Page, Pete wrote: ‘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.’
The pair fell for each other in the house and enjoyed a brief romance after leaving the show.
Happy times: The pair fell for each other in the house and enjoyed a brief romance after leaving the show (pictured in the BB house in 2006)
Big Brother winner Pete called off their romance after just a month, but the pair remained friends.
The Northwood native had previously admitted she was struggling to ‘deal’ with another coronavirus lockdown in what was to be her final social media post.
Alongside a video montage of some of her infamous tantrums in the Big Brother house, she wrote: ‘My reaction to the second national lockdown announcement.’
In her caption, she added: ‘Not this again….seriously can’t deal #lockdown #f**kcovid19 #fml.’
Pals: Big Brother winner 2006 Pete called off their romance after just a month, but the pair remained friends (pictured in 2006)
WHAT IS ANOREXIA?
Anorexia is a serious mental illness where a person restricts their food intake, which often causes them to be severely underweight.
Many also exercise excessively.
Some sufferers may experience periods of bingeing, followed by purging.
Sufferers often have a distorted view of themselves and think they are larger than they really are.
Untreated, patients can suffer loss of muscle and bone strength, as well as depression, low libido and menstruation ceasing in women.
In severe cases, patients can experience heart problems and organ damage.
Behavioural signs of anorexia include people saying they have already eaten or will do later, as well as counting calories, missing meals, hiding food and eating slowly.
As well as weight loss, sufferers may experience insomnia, constipation, bloating, feeling cold, hair loss, and swelling of the hands, face and feet.
Treatment focuses on therapy and self-help groups to encourage healthy eating and coping mechanisms.
Source: Beat Eating Disorders
Nikki’s sad death was confirmed online by her friend Leon Dee on Saturday.
A statement on the GoFundMe page read: ‘It is with great sadness, we have to let you know that our dear friend Nikki passed away in the early hours of Friday 9th April.
‘It breaks our hearts to know that someone who is so precious was taken from us at such a young age.
‘Nikki not only touched the lives of millions of people, but also her friends and family who will miss her immensely.
‘We would like to request privacy at this difficult time, while Nikki’s friends and family process the sad news. Full details will be released as and when we know them.
‘All donations have been greatly appreciated and it was heartwarming for everyone including Nikki to see how much she was loved.’
A statement from Nikki’s representative shared on Saturday said: ‘It is with immeasurable sadness that Nikki Grahame passed away in the early hours of Friday 9th April 2021. Please respect the privacy of Nikki’s friends and family at this tragic and difficult time.’
It is believed that the star was released from hospital in Devon a day before her tragic death.
Just last month Nikki’s pals had launched a fundraised to try and gather funds for her to receive specialist treatment, managing to reach a total of £65,539.
The original page read: ‘She has been battling for most of her life and as you can see, Nikki is now in a very bad way so we need to do something quickly.
‘Over the past years Nikkis family and friends have tried so desperately to get Nikki all the help possible through the NHS but unfortunately the treatments have failed and we have exhausted every avenue possible, and now Nik is unfortunately in a very bad way, this is now our last hope.
‘This is why we feel that getting her treatment in a specialist clinic is the only option left for her.
Nikki’s friend, TV presenter Rylan Clark-Neal, also appealed to his followers to help with donations.
‘Not a day will go by without missing your smile’: Nikki’s friend Leon Dee paid tribute to his late friend and revealed money raised on GoFundMe will be given to charity (pictured in 2017)
Statement: The Big Brother icon died at the age 38 on Friday – just one month after her friends started a GoFundMe page for anorexia treatment
Rylan, who won Celebrity Big Brother 11, said on Twitter: ‘This is v hard to read but sharing with permission. If some of the family could help in any way I know it would be greatly appreciated. Sending love x.’ (sic)
A further update revealed that Nikki was set to start treatment in mid-March.
A source told MailOnline at the time: ‘Nikki would like to thank each and every single person for their kind and generous donations.
‘She has seen the wonderful messages and wishes pouring in both personally and through her GoFundMe Page and has nothing but gratitude.
‘On hitting the GoFundMe target last weekend, those close to her started the long, and at times difficult, though always productive process of finding Nikki the best possible facility and care she requires.’
They added: ‘Due to the incredible donations received we’re pleased to report that a private facility which is able to admit her has been found and her road to recovery will begin from Monday (22 March).’
A Big Brother icon: Nikki Grahame’s best bits on the hit reality show
Get her some BOTTLED water!
Early on into her stay in the Big Brother house, Nikki was suffering from a migraine and only bottled water would help make it budge.
She said: ‘I need water, I’m not drinking that tap stuff, it’s absolutely disgusting, I actually haven’t got energy to talk to you I feel so dehydrated.’
Despite being reassured the water had been filtered twice in the house, Nikki was still not having any of it and burst into tears.
She said: ‘I’m not enjoying it, I’m not. I hate it, I f*****g hate it!’
Memorable: Nikki was accompanied by housemate Dawn Blake to the diary room when she launched into a meltdown over bottled water
The stolen bed
A tipsy Nikki also ensured to command attention after repeating ‘that’s my bed’ several times when she found another contestant in her bed.
Sitting in the infamous gold chair she told BB: ‘Someones stolen Nikki’s bed, it’s my bed I don’t like it and I just don’t like it’
During the rant, Nikki was dressed in suspenders following a challenge the housemates were set.
Air con woes
The star always seemed to be cold in the Big Brother house and arguing with others over the temperature setting on the air con.
After wrapping up as well as she could, Nikki asked BB: ‘How are we supposed to get out of bed in the morning with the f*****g air con?
‘It’s a blizzard, I’m going to catch a cold’
Made the show: The star would often throw her arms around while reclining in the gold diary room chair and making her epic rants
Nikki was left very unimpressed after housemate Richard Newman finished off the cornflakes – and told her there was porridge oats she could have instead.
She explained: ‘He’s had four bowls of Cornflakes yesterday! Four! And they’re not just normal bowls, they’re f*****g mountains of Cornflakes!
‘Like a mountain, and a whole bag of sugar. We’re going to run out of sugar.’
Who is SHE?
Perhaps Nikki’s most iconic moment came after housemate Susie Verrico put her up for eviction and the star stormed into the diary room.
Arriving in her bikini, Nikki fumed about Susie decision despite ‘not even knowing her’, telling BB that she was feeling ‘very venomous and angry’.
Nikki’s next line cemented her in reality show history – and provided plenty of memes in years to come – as she said: ‘Who is she? Who is she? Who is she? Where did you find her?
And Nikki ended the rant with: ‘I can feel the venom pouring out of me as I breathe. I hate her, I tell you now. I’m going to find it very difficult to be pleasant to it. I don’t even want to look at it.’
Iconic: Perhaps Nikki’s most memorable moment came when she declared: ‘Who is she? Who is she? Who is she? Where did you find her?’
The TV star began suffering from anorexia aged eight, and has never had a period or produced eggs which would allow her to conceive due to her condition.
After first being admitted to an eating disorder unit at the age of eight, she was force-fed through a tube, and has caused long-term damage to her oesophagus from years of purging.
The TV star was always incredibly open about her anorexia, often appearing on TV to speak about her experiences as well as chronicling them in her books.
Speaking with the Daily Mail in 2008, Nikki revealed that she spent the majority of her childhood in different institutions including the Maudsley, Hillingdon Hospital and children’s psychiatric unit Collingham Gardens in London.
Wow: Her pals, Carly Cunningham and Leon Dee, exceeded their £50,000 goal on their GoFundMe page in March, which was set up to cover the costs of Nikki’s therapy
She was then admitted to Great Ormond Street and treated there for two tears before being placed into care.
Nikki detailed how she during one stay at an unnamed unit she was: ‘shoved in a cubicle’.
She said: ‘I had to use a bed pan, have bed baths and it was just awful. I just sat in a cubicle for 24 hours a day with no stimulation. I sat there like that for three months.’
She also detailed how she was force-fed by nurses and by a tube inserted into her stomach which she would rip out.
Reflecting on a low point in her teenage years ahead of being admitted to Huntercombe Hospital in Maidenhead, Nikki said: ‘I was a walking skeleton. I was 15 years old and weighed 4st 3½lb.’
She was there for eight months and put on 6½lb before trying to overdose, reports the paper.
In 2011, Nikki suffered a relapse after reducing her daily intake to just 400 calories.
In the wake of the news, a host of names, including BB hosts Davina McCall and Rylan Clark-Neal, took to social media to share their sadness over Nikki’s death.
Nikki appeared on the seventh series of Big Brother UK in 2006, finishing in fifth place. She returned to the show in 2010 for the Ultimate Big Brother series.
After entering the house dressed as a Playboy bunny, she quickly became known for her temper tantrums and Diary Room histrionics, including the now infamous ‘who is she?’ rant.
Nikki was evicted on day 58, but went back into the house after the remaining contestants picked her to return.
After Big Brother, she bagged her own reality show, Princess Nikki, which saw her attempt to keep various jobs.
She also appeared on a slew of shows including Celebrity Scissorhands, 8 Out Of 10 Cats and The Weakest Link, and a Channel 4 poll named her the 12th most ‘written about’ person of 2006 in the UK.
‘I am so desperately sad’: Former BB host Davina McCall sent her condolences to Nikki’s loved ones in a heartfelt tweet
Devastated: Fellow housemate Glyn Wise, who came runner-up in their series, shared a photo of himself and Nikki as he declared he was ‘beyond upset’ at her passing
Tragic: Rylan Clark-Neal called his late pal a ‘Big Brother icon’ and added that he was thinking of Nikki’s friends and family in a touching tribute shared to Twitter
‘I can’t breathe’: Nikki’s fellow Big Brother 7 star Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace shared her complete shock at the news
Prior to Big Brother, Nikki, then an aspiring actress, appeared as an extra in the BBC soap opera EastEnders and played a footballer’s wife in Sky One’s Dream Team.
She also appeared as a contestant on ITV dating show Blind Date and competed in the 2004 Miss Hertfordshire pageant.
Nikki also won a National Television Award for most popular TV contender and published two books, the autobiographies Dying To Be Thin and Fragile.
For help and support with eating disorders contact SEED on (01482) 718130 or visit www.seedeatingdisorders.org.uk
History: The TV legend pictured with Davina in 2010 on Ultimate Big Brother