LIKE many people, Brenda Flanagan-Davies put on weight over Christmas. ‘Piled it on,’ is how she puts it. ‘I’m not proud of it. It’s just a fact.’

It’s a common enough phenomenon, except there is nothing commonplace about 42-year-old Brenda’s circumstances, given that as 2011 drew to a close she was already tipping the scales at close to 40st.

Two months later, she no longer knows what she weighs, except that today the figure probably corresponds - at least - to a stone for every year of her life.  It’s a barely fathomable number, and one which now affords Brenda the dubious distinction of being Britain’s fattest woman.  It’s a title previously held by Sharon Mevsimler, who weighed in at 45st before her death two years ago of a heart attack, aged 41. She had, effectively, eaten herself to death.

So now we have Brenda, a year older, but weighing much the same and heading the same way - an extreme case even in a country battling growing levels of obesity.  Brenda’s weight is so limiting that she has not been outside her overheated two-bedroomed bungalow home in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, for four years, and she requires a team of carers seven days a week to help her with basic functions such as washing and eating.

Most days, she barely leaves her bed, eking out her hours watching television amid piles of clutter, playing on her laptop and, of course, consuming the chocolate bars and pop that make up the lion’s share of her 6,000 calorie-a-day diet. –MOL

With its commode, safety rail and buzzers to call for help, her bungalow looks as if it has been equipped for a frail pensioner, not a woman who should be in the prime of her life.

It is a profoundly depressing situation - not least if you are a taxpayer and therefore footing the bill for Brenda’s care. She receives £300 in weekly benefits and it costs her local council an additional £400 a week to fund the twice-daily visits by her carers.

But Brenda’s plight is also highly distressing, and baffling too.

How, you wonder, can anyone live like this, day in day out? How can things have got this far? How can Brenda not want to change?

The answers to these questions can probably be found in her blighted childhood, together with her ability to luxuriate too readily in self-denial and weakness.

As Brenda puts it: ‘I do want to change, I want to have a normal life, but at the same time it scares me. My weight is my shield against the world. It’s who I am. Take it away and what do I have left?’

What a terrible question for anyone to ask - and what a terrible situation she now finds herself in. Lying on her specially-reinforced bed, surrounded by discarded chocolate wrappers and empty bottles of fizzy drinks, even Brenda seems to struggle to comprehend how she arrived here.

‘I’m not blaming anyone else for this, it’s my doing and I take responsibility,’ she says. ‘I don’t like what I see in the mirror - in fact, I don’t look in the mirror. But I can’t really explain why it’s happened.’

The clue, one suspects, seems to lie in her childhood, an unhappy affair which saw Brenda placed in a children’s home between the ages of three and ten.

The youngest of four children born in Edinburgh to Margaret, a hospital cleaner, and Joe, a bus driver, her move into care came following her parents’ divorce which left her mother unable to cope.

Brenda claims to remember little of that undoubtedly traumatic time, although it’s clear that this unhappy little girl was comfort-eating at a very young age: by the time she was eight she weighed 7st - the average for a 13-year-old. ‘The little pocket money I got, I spent on bags of sweets,’ she recalls. ‘I didn’t like sport and didn’t do anything active.’

Although she dimly recalls being taken to see a specialist, nothing seems to have been done about her burgeoning weight. Meanwhile, she was already being called the names which have followed her ever since: ‘Fatty’ and ‘Big Brenda’.

At ten, she returned home to the house her mother by then shared with her stepfather - a man who, Brenda says, abused her as a teenager. She does not want to go into details, but says her weight was her armour against him. ‘Part of me thought if I kept getting fatter he’d leave me alone,’ she says. ‘I was too scared to talk to anyone about it.’