She’s famous for maintaining ice-cool composure, regardless of the chaos happening around her. And on this July day, despite hobbling on a broken foot and trying to film cheery pieces to camera in a windswept and very noisy Carlisle station, Fiona Bruce is deploying that trademark unflappable grace and charm to great effect.
The 52-year-old journalist and presenter is here with the Antiques Roadshow team, producing an ambitious golden age of travel special. Hundreds of viewers applied to bring along their rail, air, sea and motoring memorabilia but only a handful were selected to take a very special journey aboard a train pulled by the most famous locomotive in Britain, the Flying Scotsman. As antique mannequins are unpacked, ancient trunks photographed and historic posters unfurled it’s clear that this has taken some planning. Throw in some seriously squally weather and it could be a TV presenter’s nightmare.
But, wrapped up in a pink woollen coat, Fiona seems to be taking it all in her stride. “Just look at this station – it’s all rather beautiful, isn’t it? This was an age when travelling really was very glamorous. When you add in the Flying Scotsman, well, it’s the perfect way to bring it all together.”
At which point she swaps her smart wedge heeled shoes for a pair of incongruous white Nike trainers. These are the shoes that caused a social media storm back in May, when she was spotted wearing them to read the 10 o’Clock News.
The trainers that broke the internet
It earned her the title of “Style Crush of the Week” in Grazia (something she finds “hilarious”) but the reason for the footwear was less amusing. She broke her foot trampolining with daughter Mia, and had to undergo emergency surgery. “I was about ten feet up, then I landed and smashed my heel and dislocated the bone above it. I actually heard it. I was meant to go skiing three weeks later so I was hoping I hadn’t broken it but it was very painful and it swelled up to the size of my thigh… so I realised I needed help.
“I’ve now got a five-inch metal screw and a metal bracket in my foot. I was in a cast for nine weeks and an air boot for six. My surgeon said it will take a year to fully recover and it will never be the same.”
Back in July Fiona said she was still walking with a limp and could only wear proper shoes for short periods, hence the trainers. Three months on – and nearly a year after the original accident – she is back to normal footwear, is walking without pain, and has even started running again, though, she says, “at a snail’s pace!”
It’s testament to her hard-working nature that she carried on regardless. Juggling Antiques Roadshow with her other TV commitments has always been a pleasure rather than a chore. Does Roadshow provide some respite from the gloom of the news agenda?
“Someone once said to me it’s the TV equivalent of a warm bath on a Sunday evening and there is an element of that. I hope we’re slightly more exciting than a warm bath, but there is something reassuring about a programme that’s been around for so long. I used to watch it with my mum and dad. It’s connecting us with our past and social history.
“I don’t feel like the new girl any more but when I started on Roadshow I was astonished by how many people said, ‘I love it when people think they’ve got something really valuable and it turns out they haven’t’ – they watch it for this moment of schadenfreude.”
As we chug through the North Yorkshire countryside en route to York, she reveals that presenting the show has turned her into something of a collector.
“I’d go to an auction every week if I could and that’s a result of the Roadshow. I furnished my house from auction rooms and eBay; I find that much more enjoyable than getting stuff from a department store. “I collect samplers now and I love them. They have a real charm. I’ve got about a dozen – my best one is probably late 1700s. It’s silk and as fresh as if it was done yesterday. It’s absolutely beautiful – a little piece of history.”
Several more valuations later – including the tale of a historic Flying Scotsman boilerplate and a detailed account of one man’s life as a merchant seaman – we are pulling into York station, filming finished for the day. While Fiona dashes off to make her London train, the collectors disembark too – each one happy to have experienced at least a few hours of the golden age of travel, each with their own little piece of history tucked safely away.