Dando, Jill Wendy
- Nick Ross
Dando, Jill Wendy (1961–1999), journalist and television broadcaster, was born on 9 November 1961 in Weston-super-Mare, the only daughter and younger child of (Herbert) Jack Dando (b. 1918), a compositor on the Weston Mercury, and his wife, Jean, née Hockey (1927–1986). She was ten years younger than her brother, Nigel (later chief reporter of the Bristol Evening Post and then a reporter for the BBC in Bristol). She was a sickly infant and at eighteen months was found to have a hole in the heart. The condition was rectified during surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary when she was three, after which her health improved dramatically. She had an unremarkable school career at Worle comprehensive school, Weston-super-Mare, until the age of sixteen, and looking back described herself as, 'rather an ugly little girl, with canine teeth, glasses, and an extremely old-fashioned dress sense' (Daily Telegraph, 27 April 1999). Perhaps she was being characteristically modest, for at Broadoak sixth-form college, Weston-super-Mare, she became head girl.
Dando also had early flair for performance. She joined the Weston-super-Mare Amateur Dramatic Society, and as a teenager yearned for a job in television, writing to the Jim'll Fix it children's show asking for a break. If not television, then she would follow her father, and her older brother, Nigel, into newspapers. In 1980 she applied for a job on the Weston Mercury. As part of the selection process she was required to write an essay called 'My Thoughts on the Year 2000', and though the predictions she made for herself—of married life with children—were not fulfilled she won herself a place as a junior reporter. Six years later, in 1986, her mother died of leukaemia. The two had been especially close, and for a while the bereavement shook Jill's faith. She had been brought up a Baptist, and though in later life not outwardly religious she always retained her quiet Christian convictions.
In that same year Dando applied for a job with BBC Radio Devon and moved into broadcasting. She showed a natural aptitude for the medium, and soon presented the breakfast show. After two years she moved to television, briefly to the local commercial station Westward TV, and thence to the south-west BBC news programme Spotlight. Her good looks and ease in front of the camera quickly identified her as a potential presenter of national television. Her break came when the BBC's Breakfast Time needed a stand-in. She made such an impression that when the programme was revamped in the following year, 1988, she was taken on as a newsreader full time.
Over the next six years on Breakfast Time Dando grew in stature and popularity. She was a televisual natural, extremely capable, unflappable, equally at ease with serious news and lightweight features—a 'professional chameleon', as she put it herself—and with a radiating screen presence. She often presented The Six O'Clock News and became the 'Golden Girl' of British television (The Times, 27 April 1999), though one of her attractions was that she retained her modesty, was unfailingly generous to colleagues, and seemed genuinely surprised that she should be so popular and successful. In the early 1990s one of the BBC's top-rated series, Holiday, needed a new presenter and Dando quickly made the show her own, full of fun and sunshine, flattering and flattered by the camera, building audiences of up to 9 million. Her gruelling travel schedule was at a far remove from the limited horizons of her childhood, and was equally remote from the superficial glamour of the series.
Dando always admired one show in particular and hoped one day to work on it: the live appeals programme Crimewatch UK. In 1995 Sue Cook, who had presented Crimewatch with Nick Ross since it had started ten years earlier, decided to leave, and Dando was the natural choice as her successor. She played her part in solving several notorious crimes, finding interviews with victims the most gruelling part of her career. She coaxed the best out of them, not merely because she was good at her job but because she related to them personally, seamlessly combining professionalism and empathy. She also presented the most successful television appeal of its time, raising money for victims of the civil war in Kosovo for an alliance of disaster response charities. She supported many other charities, among them the British Heart Foundation (who named an honorarium after her), Weston Hospicecare (who funded a consultant in her name), the Royal British Legion, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Children in Need, and Chain of Hope.
Two years after joining Crimewatch, Dando had been introduced to a surgeon, Alan Farthing, a relationship that over eighteen months blossomed into plans for marriage. In the early months of 1999 she was at the peak of her profession, planning a host of new programmes, and excitedly making arrangements for her wedding. She was always diffident about her popularity, and remained unaffected by fame, but her iconic status turned out to be fatal. On a Monday morning, 26 April 1999, she was shot in the head by a lone assailant at point-blank range on the front doorstep of her home, 29 Gowan Avenue, Fulham, London. Her body was cremated at Worle crematorium in Weston-super-Mare on 21 May.
Dando's murder provoked huge news coverage, in Britain and abroad, and public grief. In the wake of her death Nick Ross and Alan Farthing created the Jill Dando Fund to raise money for the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, with a mission to find new ways to reduce crime. The institute was formally inaugurated on 26 April 2001 at University College, London, on the second anniversary of her death. Barry George, unemployed, of Fulham, was convicted of her murder on 2 July 2001, but was acquitted on 1 August 2008 after a retrial.
- The Times (27 April 1999)
- The Guardian (27 April 1999)
- The Independent (27 April 1999)
- Daily Telegraph (27 April 1999)
- personal knowledge (2004)
- private information (2004) [Nigel Dando, brother; A. Farthing]
- BBC, London
- BBC, London
- photograph, repro. in The Times
- photograph, repro. in The Guardian
- photograph, repro. in The Independent
- photograph, repro. in Daily Telegraph
- photographs, BBC Publicity, London
- photographs, Press Association, London
Wealth at Death
£1,181,207: administration, 1999