“A senseless murder that leaves this newsroom in which she worked a darker place and makes a lot poorer the medium which she graced.” – Peter Sissons
On the 20th April 1999, the monthly factual BBC show Crimewatch UK aired. For reasons that are now apparent, I actually remember watching this particular episode. When I was younger, the show did often scare me with it’s explicit crime reconstructions and presenter Nick Ross’s catchphrase at the end of each episode: “Don’t have nightmares, do sleep well”, – that never helped much to ease my fears just before bedtime. But what did, as always, stand out was the show’s other front-runner and also at the time, one of the nation’s most famous television presenters; Jill Dando. Looking sharp, elegant and sophisticated in a pale green suit and without sounding corny, the camera loving her. Looking back over the footage of that episode (curtesy of YouTube), Jill was reporting on the brutal murder of a young woman in London and appealing for witnesses to come forward who maybe able to help shed some light on the investigation. How ironic and foreboding that just six days later, on 26th April 1999, Jill became a victim of murder herself.
I grew up in the 1990s as a teenager so Jill Dando to me was a familiar face on television. Whether she was presenting on The Six O’Clock News or visiting some exotic place around the world on the Holiday show or fighting crimes on Crimewatch UK, Jill was in mine and millions of others living rooms across the UK several times a week. Even though I had never met Jill, she was so familiar it was as if I knew her. Being a plane-geek, I had never forgotten Jill training and becoming an air stewardess in less than a week in 1997 for Britannia Airways in a one-off Holiday show called Fasten Your Seat-Belts. From what I can remember she did a pretty good job on a long-haul flight from the UK to Orlando, Florida and most certainly looked the part in the Britannia uniform. I can recall in another one-off show Jill trained as a holiday rep too – again throwing herself seamlessly in to the role.
As the years go by, memories seem to fade of certain historical events so recently when the BBC aired The Murder of Jill Dando, to mark twenty years of the presenter’s passing, the memories of this shockingly horrendous crime came flooding back and even more shockingly, the realisation that it has been twenty years.
So many questions unanswered; for what possible reason could anyone want to murder Jill? Was it a professional hit-man? A crazed stalker? A revenge attack after NATO bombed a television station in Serbia, killing 16 innocent people? Or something else entirely? Twenty years on and everyone is still completely lost as to who the culprit was/is. But whoever it was and whatever the motive – someone, somewhere knows the truth about the murder of Jill Dando.
Over the years, the name “Jill Dando” and the word “murder” are synonymous with each other – which is a shame. She was first and foremost, a journalist who read the news and presented consumer programmes with great talent and passion which shone through our television screens. She had a relaxed style which was, easy-going and never in-your-face. People felt they knew her. People liked her. People could relate to her. She was dubbed “the girl next door”. Without a doubt, if she was still with us today, she would have risen higher and higher within the BBC and prime time television. Fronting Strictly on a Saturday night with the late Bruce Forsyth would have almost been a certain. As a close friend of hers said in a recent interview: “She was on a journey and only half way up that mountain.”
Then somebody shot her dead on her own doorstep. As her fiancé Alan Farthing once said, “It’s bizarre”. It teaches us nothing. It’s a tragic curio. And as time passes, and explanations defy discovery, it becomes only more so and sadly remains a tragic mystery.
Jill Dando 1961-1999