Sex, lies and hospital dramas; Crimewatch's Fiona Bruce confesses to a little white lie that had painful repercussions.
Today, recounting the bizarre tale of how she came to part company with her appendix, the 36-year-old Crimewatch presenter can laugh about it. But at the time she was nearer to tears.
It happened when Fiona was 20, taking a year out of university to live in Paris and become fluent in French. It was a wild, fun-filled year during which she sang in a band and fell in love with a young Frenchman. Then, with just one week to go before she returned to England, they had a huge row. Rather than argue, she tried to change the subject by feigning illness.
"I thought I just had period pains but I made out they were far worse than they really were, only so that we wouldn't row any more," smiles Fiona, sitting in the BBC's West London offices.
"But he over-reacted and took me to this private hospital to check it out. Before I knew it a doctor was asking what was wrong and prodding me. I told him that I'd been sick and had sharp pains in my abdomen - which I hadn't, but I couldn't lose face and go back on what I'd said. After he'd examined me he said, 'You have acute appendicitis, we have to operate tonight'.
"I couldn't believe what I'd got myself into. I lay there thinking, 'This is divine intervention. This is God punishing me for telling lies'. I begged the doctors to wait until the morning. Not only had my health insurance run out but I was trying to work out how to get out of going through with an operation when there was nothing wrong with me.
"I phoned my parents, who were living in Singapore at the time, and told them the truth. I was hysterical. But they both agreed that if the doctors thought I had appendicitis then I probably did."
Events were beyond her control and the next morning Fiona found herself being wheeled down to theatre to have her appendix removed. "As I felt the anaesthetic steeling up my arm, I just lay there thinking, 'This is all my fault'," she recalls.
In a final twist to the saga, she came round on a ward in a bed next to her boyfriend's ex. "When he came in to see me he looked really shocked because I was sitting up talking with her and comparing notes," she laughs, then adds on a more serious note, "That was the most foolish episode of my entire life.
"The stupid thing was, I never saw my boyfriend again. And I'll never know whether I had appendicitis or not. I later spoke to a doctor here and she said the symptoms are very obvious. You have a coating on your tongue and there's a specific place in your abdomen which convulses when you touch it, which was the case with me. So maybe they were right after all."
Fiona is currently enjoying her fame as a bright new face on the BBC, especially since replacing Jill Dando on Crimewatch, but her rise to the top has hardly happened overnight.
Growing up, Fiona and her two older brothers, Neil and Alasdair, enjoyed a jetset lifestyle thanks to her father John's job as a managing director of Unilever. There was never any question of the family, including mum Rosemary, not coming along wherever he was posted. The family lived in Singapore, where Fiona was born, Milan and the Wirral in Merseyside
"Dad started off as the post boy for Unilever and worked his way up," says Fiona, who is fiercely proud of her father's working-class roots. "When he went to meetings at the head office in London he was brilliant at finding his way around - he knew all the short cuts through different departments because he'd learned them as a post boy.
"My parents could have sent us to boarding school, but no one had ever done anything like that in our family. It just wasn't an option," she adds. "So in Milan we went to an international school, where the children were from all over the world. My best friend was Norwegian - in fact all my friends were different nationalities. It was a fantastic, carefree time. I still go back to Italy every year, I have such fond memories."
The family finally settled in South London where Fiona attended an all-girls comprehensive in New Cross until she sat her A-levels. Although she had no idea of what she wanted to do with her life, Fiona was keen to continue her studies. To her parents' delight she won a place at Oxford University's Hertford College to read French and Italian.
"I was very earnest at Oxford," she says. "I threw myself into various women's groups and went on marches and things. Looking back, I was a bit po-faced and probably could have lightened up about the whole thing. I was just very conscious that I was the first person from my family to go to university."
In her spare time she manned a Rape Crisis helpline. She also enjoyed singing and joined several bands, including the New Romantic group Chez Nous. Although never very serious about her abilities as a vocalist, she was still performing when she won a scholarship to study for a year in Paris.
"I abandoned my studies and spent a year singing in a band in Paris. We were totally untalented, but we had a little following who used to come to our gigs. I had a good time," she recalls.
After graduating, she worked as a management consultant, then became an account manager for advertising agency BMP in London where she met her future husband Nigel, who is now 43.
"It was an office romance, which was scandalous at the time," she says with a giggle. "Nigel was a director of the company - he wasn't actually my boss, he was in a different department, but he was much senior to me. When I met him there were instant sparks."
During a drunken Christmas party, in front of all their colleagues, the couple enjoyed their first kiss. "I can't remember that much about it except that we were snogging in public and Nigel says I was all over him like a rash," she admits.
"After a couple of weeks of dating him I thought, 'This is the man I want to marry'. I remember being quite surprised at myself. After about six months we started living together."
However it was another six years before they actually tied the knot.
"I suppose we weren't ready before then," she admits. "We were both cautious, but I very much wanted to have a child. I did that classic thing when you hit 29 and think, 'I want to get cracking'. So on my 29th birthday I said, 'Are we going to get married?' and he said we would. I said, 'Right, because I'd like to have children so I want to get married by the time I'm 30!'
"It was silly because we owned a house, we were living as common law husband and wife. All that year he never asked me. He made me wait until my 30th birthday when we were in Berlin for a weekend away. He proposed in a bar and I was surprised at how emotional I felt. Neither of us spoke any German and we wanted to celebrate with some champagne, but all we knew what to ask for was two beers, so we toasted it with that.
"We got married a month later in July 1994," adds Fiona, who wore her late grandmother's engagement ring. "I didn't want to wait until the next year and I wanted to get married in summer, so I arranged it in about four weeks. It was difficult trying to find a venue at such short notice, I can tell you.
"We had about 40 people at our wedding. We got married in a register office on a Friday and had our reception in the gardens of London Zoo. It was the happiest day of my life. I wore a shortish shift dress and a huge hat, like in the film Breakfast At Tiffanys. It was a fantastic day. Nigel is my best friend, I tell him everything. He's the stable anchor for me."
Two years later Fiona became pregnant with their son Sam, now two. By this time she was a reporter on BBC2's current affairs programme Newsnight.
"I wasn't worried that it took that long, it just happened that way," she says. "But when I discovered I was pregnant I was really proud of myself, and so pleased. I just went round really happy all the time, smiling away. My parents were delighted. There had never been any pressure on us to give them grandchildren because they already had one - one of my brothers has a little boy."
Fiona carried on working until two weeks before she was due to give birth and afterwards spent seven months at home with her baby son.
"I had him at University College Hospital in London and from the word go I told the hospital staff, 'I'd like an epidural pretty damn quickly!' I had one of those mobile ones where you can walk around, but I didn't want to. I just wanted to lie there like a beached whale. I was in labour for 12 hours and I have to say I was a coward. I was just not into that natural childbirth thing at all.
"The baby went into distress at one stage and it suddenly felt like it was going horribly wrong. I was crying and panicking. I thought, 'I'm going to lose this baby'. That was a horrible, nasty shock. In the end I managed to push him out. He weighed just under 9lbs. Afterwards I was so tired, it was an exhaustion like I'd never known. I'm quite short-sighted and I remember looking at the midwife bathing Sam and saying things like, 'Now this is how you wash your baby'. I was thinking, 'What? I'm far too tired to stay awake for this'.
"There was bright strip-lighting on the ward and the woman in the next bed had about ten visitors, so I couldn't sleep. I remember crying because I was all over the place. I had no idea what time of day it was. Eventually I got some sleep and when they brought Sammy to me he slept in my bed. It was the best thing ever, his tiny body sleeping next to me in this horrible hospital bed. I felt overwhelmed. Having a child has made me think so much more about family and what it means to me."
Although Fiona spends as much time with Sam as possible it is not always easy juggling work and motherhood - especially since her career has really taken off - so she and Nigel employ a full-time nanny to help look after him at their London home. As well as presenting the BBC's Six O'Clock News, she co-hosts Crimewatch with Nick Ross and last week appeared on The Search, which helped reunite missing people and their families. She is also in demand as part of the commentary team during Royal occasions, such as the Queen Mother's birthday.
"My hours vary hugely because I'm freelance," she explains. "Sometimes I'll work ten to 14 days in a row then at other times it's just a couple of days. But if I was offered the best-paid job in the world that meant I had to work all the hours God sent, I wouldn't do it. I've got a son and I want to see him. When I get time off my nanny has time off too, so it works well.
"I'd like to have more children, it's just working out when the right time is. At the moment I'm just very happy with the way everything in my life is going."
Crimewatch Solved, August 23, BBC1.Picture: TONY WARD/SCOPE
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Aug 5, 2000|
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