The theft of Min Kym’s violin caused the return of a childhood eating disorder. She tells Audrey Ward how she battled her demons.
Min Kym is 38 years old, small, slim, articulate, a former child prodigy — and a recovering anorexic. Between the ages of 13 and 19, the illness had her tightly in its grip. When we meet, she is clutching her Amati violin. She places it on a chair behind her, out of sight. This small act seems to suggest that she has unshackled herself from the burden of one brief unguarded moment six years ago.
After her beloved Stradivarius was stolen in 2010 she was distraught. “There were days I couldn’t function properly,” she says, adding that at times she wasn’t able to get out of bed. “I was staring into this darkness.” She cancelled concerts and her career came to a sudden halt. The anorexia she had suffered from in her teens loomed large. She says the theft triggered it. “Whenever I’m stressed, I stop eating. It’s not a control thing, it’s the anxiety, but because I’m an adult now I can force myself to have something light. But as a child I was so overwhelmed.”
She speaks gravely and calmly as she describes her 11-year-old self’s unhealthy relationship with food. “I was performing from such a young age. I started becoming conscious of this need to stay a child. It gave me a sense of control. The eating disorder was a barometer of how I felt in general. If I felt I wasn’t good enough, I would deprive myself. It [food] almost became a substitute for love, which is very sad when I look back.”
At 13, as her career was taking off, she was plagued by the notion that people only cared about her worth as a musician. The eating disorder began to take hold. “I felt that people weren’t interested in me as a person. I didn’t want to trouble anybody by talking about how I have a problem with food,” she says, tears pooling in her eyes. “In retrospect I realise how much pressure I was under, the expectation to be perfect and to perform on a world stage … Even as an adult that’s a lot of pressure, let alone for a child.”
She started to eat only every other day and made a diary of her weekly intake. As the weight fell off, she hid her illness — she stopped going swimming, wore extra layers of clothing. Shockingly, a piano tutor warned her: “Don’t let people know you’re ill. It will kill your career.” The school could tell something was wrong and wrote to her mother. In her book, Kym describes her mother as being “scared and out of her depth”.
In the end it was her first boyfriend, an “inappropriate boy” five years older, who helped spark her recovery. “What got me out of it was falling in love. When you fall in love, you love yourself again. That was a massive realisation.” She says she feels fortunate to have recovered, then she does an about-turn. “You never fully recover, but you learn to live with it. I don’t have any issues with food now, but I’m very conscious of that illness.”
The Strad was auctioned and Kym’s share was £441,000. After capital gains tax and paying off other liabilities, she was left with £80,000. Writing the book has helped her to move on. She recently gave her first performance as a soloist since the violin was stolen. She played a Brahms concerto. “I hadn’t played it for the best part of seven years.” The low-key event, which took place in St James’s Church in Piccadilly, had huge significance for the woman who first appeared on a world stage with her violin aged 11. “It made me remember how much I love playing, being on stage and keeping music alive,” she says. “I’ve rediscovered music.”