A British woman who went missing nearly two years ago has been found alive in Milan.
Cambridge graduate Ariane Lak was last known to be staying in a hotel in the Italian city in January 2016.
Upon the closure of the hotel, a relative was told Lak had moved to another one nearby, but the 50-year-old was not heard from again.
Now 21 months on, Matt Searle, the chief executive of missing persons charity The Lucie Blackman Trust confirmed to HuffPost UK that Iran-born Lak has been found.
He added: “We hope that Ariane and her family are afforded the peace and privacy they need following such a difficult time.”
Lak was reportedly located after her sister hired a private detective from a Milan agency, which found the former London socialite sleeping rough and scavenging in rubbish.
According to Italian daily newspaper Corriere Della Sera, when she was found, Lak insisted: “I chose to live on the street.”
She had no documents or money and was sleeping on a corner in Piazza Beccaria, staying warm via hot air raising from grates in the ground.
Lak’s Facebook page lists her has having attended Cheltenham Ladies College, University College London and Cambridge University.
Her posts would talk of enjoying a socialite’s life of coffees on London’s Sloane Street, pedicures in Notting Hill and lunches in exclusive French restaurants. She also described champagne sojourns to luxury department store Harvey Nichols, business class flights and evenings in private members clubs.
Her sister Laila, who has flown to Milan to be with her, told The Times: “She was so proud that when the Red Cross offered her food she would refuse. Then, if food ended up in the bin, she would retrieve it from there. Her situation was tragic.”
The newspaper added Lak had begun to suffer from schizoaffective disorder in her mid-20s and was cared for by her parents until they both died five years ago. It adds that Lak would often refuse her medication in the belief it was poisoning her.
Signs of her illness apparently began to manifest in 2011 when she opened a new Facebook profile calling herself Princess Ariane Lak.
She claimed to be a descendant of the Iranian royal dynasty the Qajar Monarchy and “the Royal Highness of Caucasia and a Frank Princess to Europe with millions of followers worldwide.”
Mental Health charity Mind lists some of the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder as delusions that one is “very powerful” and has “special insight, divine experiences or magic powers.” The Royal College of Psychiatrists adds sufferers can experience episodes that are combinations of both psychotic and bipolar symptoms.
According to the NHS, it may occur just once in a person’s life, or come and go and be triggered by stress.
Lak is currently believed to be in the care of her sister.
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