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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December, 2003, 17:51 GMT
Fiona Bruce's wild days

By Lucy Wallis
BBC News Online

Fiona Bruce is known across the nation for her ability to deliver breaking news stories with a mixture of sparkle and authority.

As a Ten O'Clock News presenter, she is cool, calm and collected under pressure.

Less well known, though, is her secret wild side.

With a sparkle in the eye, she confesses: "When I was at university, I sang in rock bands and dyed my hair blue."

Not quite the behaviour you'd expect from a student reading French and Italian at Hertford College, Oxford.

Having taken the comprehensive and not the public school route to Oxford, she also admits to having been quite a serious student.

Unhappy

This ability to strike the right balance between formality and affability sits at the heart of her personality, a style that sums up her universal appeal.

Despite her interest in news, politics and current affairs, Fiona, did not choose to go immediately into journalism after leaving university.

She worked for a year in management consultancy for one of the top firms.

And she hated it.

"I dreaded the meetings, the tedium, the fact that I was in the wrong job."

"I was so unhappy. I used to cry in the loos at lunchtime."

Stroke of luck

She escaped into the fast, frantic and fun world of advertising where she worked for a couple of years before joining the BBC as a researcher for Panorama in 1989.

A stroke of luck landed her the job when she met the editor of Panorama, Tim Gardam, now Director of Programmes for Channel 4, at a wedding.

She pestered him continually for months until he eventually gave her an interview.

But it was worth the perseverance.

She found herself being sent to locations throughout Europe, the Gulf, Kurdistan and the US.

"I was sent here, there and everywhere, given what seemed to be at the time enormous responsibilities."

"It taught me how to investigate and there aren't many programmes where you can learn how to do proper investigations."

Shaky start

After rising to the position of assistant producer at Panorama, it became apparent to her that she wanted to work on the other side of the camera.

She decided to join BBC Breakfast News, a programme renowned for acting as a launch pad for fresh faces, including the likes of Sue Lawley and the late Jill Dando.

As the new girl on the block, or set so to speak, Fiona was determined to make the right impression.

"I persuaded them on one of my days off to let me go up to Yorkshire and do a report on the decline of the mining industry.

"It was a couple of minutes long and it took me six days to write!"

Her determination and commitment paid off and Fiona was soon offered a job as reporter for Breakfast News in 1992.

Nervous tension

A move to BBC Elstree as a reporter on the regional current affairs programme, First Sight, enabled her to sidestep into presenting - on the daily regional news magazine Newsroom South East.

These days, she doesn't get nervous about reading the news, but back then she remembers feeling anxious about her first time as a news anchor.

"I thought of all these terrible words that I could say that would end my career instantly before it had been begun."

"Fortunately, I managed not to say any of those things."

Tragedy struck

As it turned out, she was a natural and she went on to report for BBC Two's Newsnight and a weekly current affairs programme called Public Eye before joining BBC One's Six O'Clock News in 1999.

The same year, tragedy struck at the BBC.

Jill Dando, Fiona's amiable TV colleague, was found shot dead on the steps of her home in Fulham, south west London.

As the nation mourned, Fiona was given the daunting task of being asked to step into her shoes as a presenter on BBC One's Crimewatch UK.

Fiona is frank about the anxiety she felt when asked to take over the role.

She feared there would be a media backlash over the fact Jill had been "so fantastic" at the job, but was also concerned for her personal safety.

"I would have been foolish if I hadn't had some conversations with the BBC about the risks."

No going back

However, in the end she decided to be philosophical about the potential danger of being in the public eye.

"You cross a Rubicon when you put yourself in a position of broadcasting into people's sitting rooms, be it Crimewatch UK, news or anything.

"Presenters can get unwanted attention from all sorts of quarters on all sorts of programmes."

The lack of privacy and intrusion into her private life remains the worst part of her job today but she admits that she would struggle to find the same range of opportunities in any other career.

One of her many achievements includes the honour of being the first woman presenter to be part of the BBC's election team in 2001.

She is also a member of the BBC's events team and has presented programmes as diverse as the popular magazine series The Antiques Show to the current affairs show, 4x4 Reports.

Hazards of live TV

Despite her expertise, she has not escaped her fair share of live television disasters.

Take the time she spilt orange juice over herself on Breakfast with Frost, as Sir David unexpectedly turned to her for a news update.

"I was just taking a sip of orange juice and I tried not to look as I was putting it down."

"I completely missed the table. It went all over me and you heard it smash on the floor.

"Yet I still had to carry on."

Her biggest achievement to date, though, is presenting the BBC's flagship news programme.

How does it feel to add this prestigious job title to her list of achievements?

"To be honest I never thought I'd end up being a news presenter at all and now I'm presenting the Ten, but it's great.

"It's hard to believe really."

Family first

Critics might question why she has been given the number two job on the Ten, only presenting the programme on Fridays and weekends.

For Fiona, who has made the conscious decision to work part-time, the new setup fits in perfectly with her other job - raising two small children, Sam, five and Mia, one.

Days off are spent on hands and knees mucking about and chasing the kids around the playroom.

"I'm quite disciplined, when I'm not working it is family time."

So what's next in the pipeline for her?

"The BBC is such a large organisation, there is occasionally the scope to do something completely bonkers.

"So watch this space because I might just do that."

How about University Rock Band Challenge, Fiona?

Photographs by Phil Coomes

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