Jill Dando: A rising star soon to wed. Then the unthinkable happened
Published 02/08/2008 | 11:18
On 26 April 1999, Jill Dando made breakfast for her fiancé, Dr Alan Farthing, at his home, where they had spent the previous evening writing out invitations to their wedding.
She drove to a photographer's shop to pick up pictures, and as she made her way home in the heavy London traffic she exchanged a smile with a woman driver who then excitedly phoned a friend to tell her she had just spotted television's golden girl.
Seventeen minutes later Jill Dando was dead – shot in the head as she walked up to her front door in Gowan Avenue.
Aged 37, she was at the peak of a journalistic career but lacked the consuming obsession with herself that is celebrity's frequent companion. She dressed in sensible suits and did not attempt to flaunt her sexuality, even when she made her national television debut, aged 26.
Ms Dando did her stint as head girl of Broadoak Sixth Form Centre in Weston-super-Mare in 1979-80, then joined the Weston Mercury as a reporter. After five years she moved to Radio Devon to present the breakfast news show, and later to BBC TV South West to present the regional evening news. In 1988, aged 26, she made a high-profile move to stand in for Kirsty Wark on BBC's Breakfast Time.
She was on peak-time television for most of the 1990s, presenting the Holiday series and co-presenting Crimewatch. The exposure to huge audiences made her an unlikely national sex symbol, though it was the sexiness that comes with efficiency and authority – more a ward sister than a catwalk model.
When Tony Blair expressed his deep shock at her death, he was speaking for a nation which regarded her as an adopted and adored sister. Though some colleagues are said to have referred to her as bland, her Crimewatch co-presenter, Nick Ross, said: "You will only ever hear kind things about Jill, because there were only ever kind things to say about her."
The week she was murdered Ms Dando's photo appeared on the front of the Radio Times, marking a move from the Holiday programme to her new series, Antiques Inspectors. She had put in 80,000 air miles a year with the Holiday programme and the move was in part because of her imminent marriage. She told the magazine that "getting married this autumn was certainly an additional incentive to spend rather more time in England".
In 1998, it was rumoured that Ms Dando was to be promoted within the BBC news department, but as a reporter she had never progressed beyond the Weston Mercury, and reports of her imminent elevation were not well received some reporters. She said: "Just because I've got blonde hair and haven't been to Bosnia doesn't mean I'm a bimbo. I am still a serious journalist."
The BBC dithered over the appointment and she signed a contract for another season of Crimewatch. To demonstrate she was, indeed, serious, she also made a highly publicised appeal on 6 April 1999 on behalf of Kosovan refugees.
Of all the conspiracy theories thrown up, the only one the police took seriously was a theory that after the Nato bombing of a television station in Belgrade, the Serbian warlord Arkan decided to take revenge on someone prominently connected with British television, and dispatched a professional assassin to kill Ms Dando. But whoever the killer was that morning – a Serbian hitman, a criminal with a grudge against Crimewatch, or a plain lunatic – he was not Barry George.