Before Fiona Bruce and her team of experts from the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow descend on Ightham Mote, near Sevenoaks, on June 16 she tells Eileen Leahy what makes the much-loved Sunday teatime show a success and reveals why thousands of people queue for hours to have a chance to appear on it. She also talks about how she unearthed a baroque masterpiece, her love of French literature and why she ended up sleeping in a castle…
Have you always loved Antiques Roadshow?
Yes, I used to enjoy watching it with my parents and then again in the years before I was asked to present it. It was definitely a fixture of my Sunday evenings.
Do you have any special antiques at home which you are fond of?
I don’t have any valuable antiques, but I do collect samplers. They are pieces of skilfully stitched embroidery and I have a late 18th century one portraying a map of Britain of which I’m particularly fond. The colours are jewel-bright and it’s in excellent condition.
You’ve been presenting Antiques Roadshow since 2008, what do you enjoy most about it?
I love working on it for so many reasons. I’m with a great bunch of people, some of whom are now close friends. I very much enjoy meeting the people who come along to the show and talking to them about their objects and their stories. I relish the challenge of making television with no script, just spontaneity. And I am lucky enough to visit some of the most beautiful places in the country – who wouldn’t love a job like that?
What has been the most extraordinary or touching find you have come across since your time on the show?
By a country mile the most extraordinary thing has to be an Anthony van Dyck painting that I was fortunate enough to spot. And the most touching? Well, there have been so many. The coat buttons that were really gold coins stitched into a coat by an anxious mother for her daughter at the outbreak of World War Two was special. They were Jews living in Austria and the mother sent her teenage daughter into the unknown with only the secret coin coat and the hospitality of strangers to survive. She did, but sadly her mother didn’t.
Were you surprised when you started on the programme at how early people start queuing and by what they bring?
I am constantly taken aback by the amount of time people queue for and by the variety of items the public take to the shows – and how they do so. One couple turned up with a painting in a rowing boat, which is why we put that sequence into the opening titles.
Where is the most interesting Antiques Roadshow venue you have visited?
They have all been fascinating in different ways, but perhaps the most fabulous venue was Leeds Castle in Kent. After the show we were given the keys to the castle and were able to stay in it that night. Usually we have to stay in a cheap hotel by the motorway!
Do you have any memorable tales of unique finds by members of the general public?
Someone brought along a chamber pot dating from World War Two. It had a picture of Hitler on the bottom of it and also played a patriotic tune. It was surprisingly valuable.
How many different locations have you visited during your time on the show?
I would estimate it at well over a hundred.
Have you visited Ightham Mote before?
No, but I am very much looking forward to it.
There are a lot of literary finds that are featured on the show. Do you have any favourite authors?
I read a lot but I don’t have a particular favourite. I’d say a truly great book is Eugenie Grandet by Honoré de Balzac. It is a work of understated brilliance.
After a busy filming schedule how do you unwind?
By being outdoors – on horseback ideally, or even just walking the dog. I used to run quite a bit but I have injured my foot and I can’t do it any more.
What kind of response do you get from the public when you’re out and about?
Sometimes people think they know me when they don’t. One woman insisted I was in her swimming group, despite my protestations to the contrary.
Your career has brought you a lot of success. Do you give back by supporting any charities?
Yes I do: Refuge and Women’s Aid. Domestic violence is a depressingly recurrent feature of our society. Why some men think it’s OK to hit or intimidate a woman escapes me but it continues to happen, with often horrifying consequences for the woman and her children.
What are your ambitions for the next few years? Are there any places that you would like to visit?
I’d love to go to Australia – I bet there are some great Pom antiques out there!
Antiques Roadshow will be filming at Ightham Mote on Thursday June 16 from 9.30am-4.30pm. Entrance is free and everyone is welcome to come along. You don’t need tickets or to pre-register, just turn up on the day with your car boot sale finds and family treasures.
#AntiquesRoadshow trends every Sunday when the programme transmits.