Fiona Bruce is unflappable. The BBC six and ten o’clock news anchor takes failing autocues and unpredictable interviewees in her long-legged stride as she delivers the day’s events to the nation, so a trip up to Glasgow wearing her Antiques Roadshow hat should be a breeze.
Any surprises in store should be pleasant, unless of course you’re the man who paid a grand for an antique glass bottle only to be told by a specialist it was, in fact, a supermarket olive oil bottle worth pennies.
So what is Bruce expecting to turn up at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum as the nation raids its attics and carts along heirlooms, treasures and bargains to be valued? The last Scottish outing to Edinburgh in 2013 produced rare 19th-century bagpipes and an inherited two-foot statue of a woman valued at £10,000.
“You never know what’s going to turn up, that’s part of the pleasure of working on the programme, the joy of the unexpected. I assume Scottish things will turn up, it would be odd if they didn’t – but then I’m surprised every week at the roadshow,” she says.
Bruce watched the show as a child and was thrilled to be asked to present it six years ago. Modestly denying any expertise, she admits that over the years she’s picked up a little about many things. “And also learnt how little I know about a lot of things.”
One of the things she does know about is Victorian samplers and has amassed quite a collection to date.
“They were embroidered usually by girls in the Victorian workhouses to teach them a useful skill if they should go into service. They are always exquisitely embroidered, often with biblical tracts and illustrations, usually by children who are heartbreakingly young, some as young as six. The thought of such young children bending over these samplers hour after hour in such bleak surroundings is desperately sad – but they are incredibly beautiful and they deserve to be cherished and displayed as a wonderful example of craftsmanship. I feel conflicted whenever I look at them but I think they should be preserved.”
Antiques Roadshow is light relief for Bruce whose daily diet of news covers everything from famine to war to natural disasters, and over 15 years there haven’t been many stories she hasn’t covered.
“The stories that stick are always the terrible ones I’m afraid. Most recently, the disabled child abandoned by the roadside by his desperate parents as they fled Syria and IS. He was later found extremely dehydrated with his corneas burnt out by the sun, was taken to hospital and died. When his parents eventually tracked him down it was too late. I will never forget their despair,” she says.
You wouldn’t be human if the news didn’t get you down, admits 50-year-old Bruce, who has two children, Mia, age 12, and Sam, 16, with her husband Nigel Sharrocks, non-executive chairman of Digital Cinema Media and chairman of the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board.
“Particularly this summer with all the news about the plane going down over Ukraine, IS and Israel/Gaza. I would challenge anyone thinking about that stuff day after day not to be depressed by what people are capable of.”
On a lighter note, however, the news can also make her smile, and she’s relaxed and confident enough on air to go with it.
“If a piece makes me laugh, I’ll show it, within reason,” she says. “Like a piece the other night that featured an interviewee who wished to remain anonymous so appeared with an enormous fake cassette hiding his entire head. Surreal.”
Bruce also takes a light-hearted approach to the likes of Jeremy Clarkson who, during her appearance on Top Gear commented to camera about a retreating Bruce: “She does have quite a nice bottom.” How does she feel about his comments? “I’ve never been tempted to comment on his,” she bats back.
Similarly, she took her Rear of the Year award in 2010 in good part, despite calling the title “hypocritical and demeaning”.
“It’s not the award I aspired to win when I came into journalism. But I told my girlfriends about being offered it and once they’d managed to stop laughing they told me to accept it as that would make them laugh even more. It’s utterly hypocritical to call myself a feminist and accept an award like that, no question.”
Bruce is complex and not afraid to have opinions and declare herself a feminist, challenging Alan Sugar on the Money Programme over his belief that women should have to discuss their childcare arrangements, given that men never do. And back in 2004, Fathers for Justice accused her of bias in a BBC programme. Her response is clear and unequivocal. “Domestic violence is against the law and I condemn it. If that makes me biased or political, I fail to see how. I have never been hit but I know plenty of women who have.”
As a student at Oxford where she studied French and Italian, sported blue hair for a while and rocked to indie bands such as New Order, Magazine, Bauhaus and the Buzzcocks, she was every bit as opinionated, visiting Greenham Common and running an anti-porn campaign.
“I was trying to show the link between underwear ads and porn. I didn’t realise that my campaign – which featured lots of illustrations – would be quite the runaway success it was. Until I twigged that most of the boys coming were just ogling the naked women. Talk about naive.”
While the six and ten o’clock news might seem synonymous with Bruce’s honeyed tones, and she’s in no rush to give up presenting or the BBC, she has given thought to alternative careers, rather fancying being a magistrate.
“Eight years presenting Crimewatch certainly affected me plus all of the current affairs programmes I’ve made over the years about different types of offending. I’ve now publicly said I’d like to be a magistrate so I’d better get on with it in the not too distant future. I think it would be fascinating and I hope I could make myself useful as someone who has spent a lot to time talking to offenders and victims.”
In the meantime, Bruce, who has Scottish roots stretching all the way up to Hopeman on the Moray Firth where her father John was born, is on her way to Glasgow. It’s time to search those attics and dig out the unexpected.
• The Antiques Roadshow valuation day is at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, this Thursday, 9:30am to 4:30pm, entrance free; the latest episode of Antiques Roadshow, tomorrow, BBC1, 8pm, is from Scone Palace, Perthshire