Karen Carpenter’s death from anorexia was the first time a celebrity had died after developing the disease.

The Carpenters singer scored 12 top ten US singles in the family duo with her brother Richard.

She was only 32 when she died in 1983, and is still the most high-profile star to have suffered from the eating disorder.

In 1996 journalist Rob Hoerburger reflected on Karen Carpenter’s difficulties in a New York Times Magazine feature: “If anorexia has classically been defined as a young woman’s struggle for control, then Karen was a prime candidate, for the two things she valued most in the world – her voice and her mother’s love – were exclusively the property of her brother Richard. At least she would control the size of her own body.”

That search for control is something shared by Jennie Eggleton, a 23-year-old playwright who was diagnosed with the disease aged 17.

At the time Eggleton was in her final year at the all-girls private South Hampstead High School (SHHS) in north-west London.

“It was a pressured environment and there were other personal things going on in my family,” she explains.

“I was head girl. I was a huge perfectionist. At that point I couldn’t handle everything that was going on. To me the thing that made things OK, the thing that made things controllable, was controlling how much I ate.”

After leaving SHHS, Eggleton went to the University of Leeds and later to drama school in London. At the latter she penned a character study about Karen Carpenter.

“I had been thinking for a while about writing about my experiences of anorexia and after seeing Caroline Horton’s play Mess at Edinburgh it made me consider it seriously.

“It has got to be discussed. Apart from Mess [an Argus Angel-winner at the 2013 Brighton Fringe], I’ve not seen any depiction of eating disorders. I have to be careful because I don’t want to trigger people who have it in the audience, but at the same time I wanted to be honest about my experience.”

Her mum often played The Carpenters when Eggleton was growing up.

“I grew up listening to [Karen’s] music. My mum had told me all about what had happened to her. She was the first public figure, in celebrity magazines in America in the 1970s, who had anorexia, but no one my age knew of her story and how tragic it was.”

Eggleton penned a series of imagined monologues – with Carpenter’s mother Agnes, her best friend Itchy Ramone and one of Karen herself – and put them together with Carpenters’ music in the background.

Her former tutor, Sonia Fraser, said it had the legs to be a full show.

“I decided it would be a great way to talk about my experiences and develop it into a full play with stories from my own life and stories from friends and family.

“This girl Jennifer idolises Karen Carpenter.

She is her inspiration as a performer and person and someone who is thin and successful.

“It is quite funny because the disease is ridiculous in terms of what you put yourself through.”

Eggleton never wanted to look thin or stopped eat-ing to “look good”. The dietary control began to creep up on her from the age of 15. It became a “fixation”.

“I had started to be weird with food but never had full-on control until the last year at school.

I became isolated from my friends and I didn’t go out with them.

“I didn’t want to go out for dinner or to the pub, so it became an isolated, lonely existence.”

She started having panic attacks and had to have a doctor’s note in case she didn’t get the three As she had been predicted.

“A lot of other girls there were suffering from some sort of eating disorder, if not a fully-fledged disorder.

“We were encouraged to be competitive with each other but no one talked about anorexia. It was a taboo subject. It was never touched upon when other girls got ill with it. There was never a time when a teacher sat us down and said let’s talk about it. It was brushed under the carpet.”

It’s a problem for lots of girls in private schools in north-west London, thinks Eggleton, who in the past six years has seen a nutritionist, a psychotherapist and continues to see a cognitive behavioural therapist.

She says her old school has tried to address the problem since she left, but because it is a personal issue with a huge mix of causes it is difficult to treat.

  • Close To You is at The Warren, Russell Place, Brighton, on Saturday, May 17, and Sunday, May 18. Starts 2pm, tickets £8. Call 01273 917272