Monday, 30 November -0001

National Treasure

Sarah Chalmers reveals just what is so special about Fiona Bruce… with apologies to Michael Aspel

Written by Sarah Chalmers
Strutting purposefully across our television screens with never a hair out of place or a word mispronounced, newsreader and presenter Fiona Bruce has become a fixture of Sunday-night viewing. Currently she is on the trail of lost works by great artists in the BBC One show Fake Or Fortune, with Philip Mould. She also fronts Antiques Roadshow, the BBC One programme that first graced our screens in 1979 with Arthur Negus, in which ordinary members of the public bring along their prized possessions to be valued by experts.

But what is fast becoming apparent is that 51-year-old Bruce herself is becoming something of a national treasure. Poised, informed and enthusiastic, she has managed to pull off that rare combination of utter professionalism with just the merest hint of humour and mischief. Little wonder she has become the go-to presenter for a certain type of quintessentially British entertainment. And she has done it at an age when other women in broadcasting – such as Miriam O’Reilly – begin to lament their diminishing opportunities.

Yet just six years ago when she took over the helm of Antiques Roadshow from Michael Aspel, he dismissed her newsreading style as ‘overdramatic’ and said she reminded him of ‘a gossiping housewife’. Undaunted, Bruce went on to stamp her own mark on Roadshow, and adding to it with oneoffs such as The Queen’s Palaces and Victoria: A Royal Love Story, just as the nation’s appetite for nostalgia and monarchy was reaching its zenith.

For male viewers at least, it probably didn’t harm her that she was awarded Rear of the Year in 2010 after her bottom was regularly pictured in tight trousers during the making of Victoria. Along with her famously arching eyebrow, Bruce’s bottom has become one of her premier assets.

As if further proof were needed, comedienne Jan Ravens used to do a mean impersonation of her, declaring ‘I’m Fiona Bruce and I’m sitting on the luckiest chair in Britain’. But just how did the comprehensive-educated woman who describes herself as ‘no great beauty’ succeed where so many others have failed – and do so without succumbing to total parody?

Born in Singapore to an English mother and Scottish father (who worked his way up from postboy to director of a division of Unilever), Bruce and her two brothers spent much of their early childhood abroad.

Always confident and groomed, the teenage Bruce modelled for teen magazine Jackie before going to Oxford to read Modern Languages. After graduating she worked for a management consultancy, then an advertising agency and only joined the BBC in 1989 after meeting the head of Panorama at a wedding and pestering him into giving her a job as a researcher.

Her sharp brain and unflappable nature soon led to a reporting stint on Newsnight and within a decade of joining the Corporation, Britain’s favourite head girl was presenting the news. Soon she was being offered roles outside the conventional newsroom – famously replacing the late Jill Dando on Crimewatch after the shock of her murder rocked the nation.

Along the way she acquired a husband, Nigel Sharrocks, whom she met during her brief flirtation with advertising – and gave birth to Sam, now 17, and Mia, 14. With typical Bruce directness she told Sharrocks at the age of 29: ‘I’d rather like to be married by the time I’m 30 but I’d rather like you to ask me; I don’t want to ask you.’

The same matter-of-fact approach to life and responsibility saw her return to work just 16 days after the birth of Mia – whose arrival was watched by a group of medical students, one of whom interrupted the throes of labour to tell her she was his favourite presenter! But beneath the effortlessly cool exterior, Bruce is as susceptible to working-parent guilt as the next woman.

Her mother, Rosemary, died of cancer in 2011 and father, John, died just 18 months later. Their deaths in Devon came just as she was at the peak of her professional career in London and inevitably required a degree of juggling. ‘I was in a constant state of guilt. Was I there enough for my mother? Was I there enough for my children? I was trying to do my job at the same time and also I had a husband to think of.’

Describing working motherhood as ‘difficult’ she told an interviewer last year: ‘What kind of mother am I? One that falls short – every day.’

On screen she has rarely fallen short, however. The only real controversy she has ever courted was when she was one of several BBC employees who were criticised for being paid through private service companies, which meant they could avoid higher tax rates. Bruce told a journalist from The Independent she paid the top rate of tax and said it was in fact the BBC that had insisted on the companies.

She has always been equally upfront about the part looks play in employment, saying: ‘If you look like the back end of a bus as a woman, you won’t get the job. If you look like the back end of a bus as a bloke, you might get the job. T’was ever thus.’

While her looks have not hindered her career, the 5ft 11in presenter has no immediate plans to dip her toe further into entertainment. She joined a clutch of other newsreaders to perform a medley from Chicago in aid of Children In Need in 2007, but she has vowed ‘never again’ to repeat a disastrous foray into reality television. In 2006 she took part in Just The Two Of Us, a BBC programme that paired singing stars with celebrities, and was voted off in an early round. She will not, she insists, try the medium again – and that even includes primetime favourite Strictly.

Should she change her mind, fabulous Fiona, with her penchant for leather jackets and knee-high boots, could light up Saturday evening viewings, just as she does on Sundays. 

Fake Or Fortune is on BBC One on Sunday at 8pm.

Fake or Fortune

Anna Price takes a look back at some of the big hits of the series, and discovers whether the experts were right, or wrong.  


A Sea Beach Brighton and Yarmouth Jetty are two different paintings attributed to John Constable. While A Sea Beach Brighton is considered to be a genuine Constable, the former is deemed to most likely be by the painter, but heavily overpainted by an alternative artist.

Danseuse Bleue et Contrebasses was bought in 1948 with a supposed signature by Edgar Degas and had an outline provenance tracing back to the artist’s studio. It was established after scientific analysis that the painting was consistent with the 1890s. Further research confirmed this and the painting was accepted as a genuine Degas and added to the Catalogue Raisonné.

Two paintings from the Your Paintings website, Imaginary Landscape and Portrait Of Joseph Gape, were investigated in an attempt to show that they were painted by Thomas Gainsborough. After Hugh Belsey originally deemed Imagined Landscape as a Gainsborough drawing reworked in the 19th century, the team managed to convince him that it was an original, and that the portrait was also a lost Gainsborough painting.

Bords de la Seine a Argenteuil depicts a serene moment along the River Seine with what appears to be a Monet signature in the corner. Through discussion, exploration and discovery, Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould became convinced that this picture was genuine, only to be disappointed by the Wildenstein Institute’s final decision that this painting was actually a fake. The deception lay in the dealer’s stamps on the back of the painting, which proved that the work had existed in Monet’s era, one of the most important criteria for it to be accepted as genuine.

The painting Man In An Oriental Costume, was spotted for sale in South Africa at an auction and radiated the typical scent of being a ‘sleeper’ picture – an important picture gone unnoticed and offered at a low price. Investigations revealed, however, that this was a wanted painting after having been stolen by the Nazis in the Second World War. It was considered to be a German national treasure, once thought to have been painted by Rembrandt. It was reattributed to Isaac de Jouderville, a pupil of Rembrandt. Turner Three paintings attributed to Turner – The Beacon Light, Off Margate and Margate Jetty – had been owned by two sisters, Gwendoline and Margaret Davies, before they were judged to be fake. However, as a result of the programme’s research and to the sisters’ delight, these three Turners are now accepted as genuine

A Leeds property developer bought Nude (1909-10) under the impression that it was a genuine, but unauthenticated, painting by Marc Chagall. However, forensic tests proved that it was painted with materials and pigments that were not available at the time, and the Chagal Committee officially ruled it a fake and ordered its destruction.  

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