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Monday, 26 April, 1999, 19:52 GMT 20:52 UK
The 'Golden Girl' of TV
Jill Dando and Nicholas Witchell
Jill Dando presenting Breakfast News in 1989 with Nicholas Witchell
Described as the "Golden Girl of television", Jill Dando was one of a small handful of presenters able to turn her hand almost effortlessly to light entertainment or news.

She rose to become a household name, fronting BBC programmes such as the Six O'Clock News, Breakfast News, Crimewatch and Holiday.

She was even featured on the front of this week's Radio Times magazine, talking about her new Sunday evening show Antiques Detectives.

In a recent interview, Miss Dando, who in February announced her engagement to be married, said she had never been happier.

Despite her star status, friends and colleagues, shocked by her death, sought to convey her homely, humble nature.

Jill Dando fronting Holiday
Effortless transition: Jill Dando fronting Holiday
BBC Director General, Sir John Birt, said her "public and private persona were one and the same thing".

"She was an unusually modest person for our industry. She mucked in and was a normal member of the team."

Newsreader Jennie Bond paid tribute to her colleague of 10 years.

"She had a very good and astute brain, was able to ask all the right questions and to have that serious, proper professional face as well as be seen on a beach in a bikini," said Ms Bond.

"She would always laugh at herself. She did not think a lot of herself."

Miss Dando cut her teeth as a newspaper journalist in her home town of Weston-super-Mare, in south west England, after training in south Wales.

She developed a passion for acting, as a member of the local amateur dramatic society - skills which would stand her in good stead for her future television career.

She broke into broadcasting with a move to BBC Radio Devon, where she presented news bulletins. The rising star soon progressed to television, fronting the regional news magazine programme Spotlight.

National fame

Her big break came in 1988, at the age of 26, when she moved to the BBC's national news operation in London.

But Miss Dando maintained close ties with her native South West, taking time out of her busy schedule to become a patron of a hospice appeal in Weston-super-Mare. The fund raised 100,000 during 1997 towards a new in-patient unit, which she officially opened in November of that year.

As a host of BBC One's Breakfast News, Miss Dando's unassuming and relaxed presentation manner gained wide recognition.

By the early 1990s she replaced Anneka Rice on the BBC Holiday programme.

Slowing down

By 1995 she had added the monthly BBC One Crimewatch show to her roster of programmes, teaming up with Nick Ross after Sue Cook decided to leave.

As she looked forward to married life - she became engaged to gynaecologist Alan Farthing after they met on a blind date - Miss Dando announced her desire for a less frantic life.

"I have been determined for the past couple of years to move away from all those Holiday programmes," said the former BBC personality of the year in an interview shortly before her death.

"All this time I have been packing my bags and going off to Heathrow 20 times a year, for at least a week if it was a long haul location.

Looking forward to marriage

"Friends are very understanding when you tell them in April that you can see them next September, but there is a limit to how long you can go on like that.

"And getting married this autumn was certainly an additional incentive to spend rather more time in England."

She publicly ruled herself out of the race to present a revamped Six O'Clock News. She was however a front-runner for one of the BBC's most ambitious programmes - New Year's Eve millennium night broadcast.

Miss Dando, who announced her engagement at a party attended by Sir Cliff Richard and BBC colleagues Anna Ford, Martyn Lewis and Michael Buerk, had said she was looking forward to having children.

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