FOR more than 30 years, Mark Austin has covered some of the biggest news stories in the world and witnessed first-hand some of the most significant events of our times while working as a foreign correspondent.

The award-winning reporter - who studied at Bournemouth Grammar School, and spent many of his younger years in Dorset (he also worked on this paper for a few years) - has covered the Iraq War (during which his friend and colleague, Terry Lloyd, was killed by American gunfire), South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy under Nelson Mandela and the Rwandan genocide, as well as natural disasters such as the Haiti earthquake and the Mozambique floods.

But the 60-year-old father-of-three, who lays bare his experiences on and off-screen in his autobiography, And Thank You For Watching: A Memoir, reveals his most traumatic experience was far removed from war zones.

It took place at home, watching his eldest daughter, Maddy, battle to survive the eating disorder and mental illness anorexia nervosa. At her lowest point, she weighed only five-and-a-half stone.

"It nearly killed her. Her illness began in 2012 when she was 17 and lasted three years. At one point, I was convinced I was watching her slow, inexorable death.

“You experience a lot of terrifying moments when you cover wars, but that was the most shocking personally because it involved someone so close to me.

“I still feel guilty that I didn’t understand what was happening, or that it was a mental illness. At first, I thought it was just a teenage fad and kept telling her to ‘grow up’ and to eat.

“It was very difficult for several years and almost tore our family apart. I worked, because it gave some sense of normality in the middle of a nightmare and was a distraction, but I don’t know if that was the right thing to do. I didn’t know how to handle it all.

“You couldn’t communicate with Maddy, because anorexia had its hold over her, controlled her, and was like a sort of demon within her. I feel so guilty for telling her at one point: ‘If you really want to starve yourself to death, get on with it’. That came from complete desperation, frustration, being at my wits’ end and just wanting the whole situation to go away.

“It’s a great relief that she’s now at university, healthy and happy, and I’m incredibly proud of her for talking publicly about the illness. We made a documentary together to help other parents and highlight the lack of mental health resources needed to treat a condition which costs lives. We’re so lucky to still have our daughter.”

* And Thank You For Watching: A Memoir by Mark Austin is published by Atlantic Books, priced £20. Available now.