Mercury staff past and present pay tribute to Jill Dando
PUBLISHED: 08:55 27 April 2019
Jill Dando started her reporting career at the Weston Mercury before moving on to present shows such as Crimewatch, Holiday and the BBC news.
Past and present staff from the Weston Mercury remember her as a 'happy' person who was lovely to be around.
Photographer Mark Atherton worked with Jill for just six months in 1985 when he started at the company as a darkroom technician.
He said: “She was a really bubbly, happy person and great to have around. She was very hardworking and just a really nice person.
“As a journalist, you've got to be able to talk and connect with people right from the start and Jill was really good at that.
“People immediately felt a connection with her.
“Her dad worked at the Mercury at the same time and he was also an extremely kind man and very kind to me when I first started.
“Jill was a special part of the team.
“When she moved on, she didn't change or let her success go to her head. When she came back to Weston, I met her at various functions, and she was still the same Jill.”
Jill Dando had left the paper before Judi Kisiel – former Weston Mercury editor – joined.
But Judi, who is the chair of trustees for Weston Hospicecare, got to know Jill and her family when she became a patron for the charity.
She said: “Jill left years before I joined the Mercury.
“The former chief reporter of the Mercury, who worked with Jill Dando, approached me after he retired and asked if he and I could make a joint approach to Jill to become patron of Weston Hospicecare.
“That was in 1996 and she readily agreed.
“In 1996, she spearheaded the Mercury campaign to open a small inpatient unit at Branton House, Montpelier, where the hospice was based.
“Weeks before she died we had talked and agreed to launch another hospice campaign to raise up to £100,000 to fund a palliative care specialist consultant.
“Her death came at the very start of this initiative but the Mercury carried on and raised the necessary funds within 12 months.”
Judi organised a huge fundraising event which brought a host of celebrities to Weston to raise money for Weston Hospicecare in memory of Jill.
It was also Judi's idea to bring the Ground Force team to the town to set up Jill's Garden as a lasting tribute to her.
She said: “After she died I found a picture of Jill sitting at her desk in the Mercury newsroom with a Cliff Richard calendar pinned on the wall.
“Her brother Nigel confirmed she had always been a big fan and by that time had become a friend of Cliff.
“I wrote to him, enclosing the photo, asking if he could do anything to help raise the cash we needed for a consultant.
“He phoned the next day, said he would come to Weston and bring a guitar, if I organised an event.
“We held it at the Winter Gardens on February 26, 2000.
“Local businesses sponsored most of the food, wine and venue and we collected a massive number of auction prizes, including holidays donated because Jill had fronted the BBC's Holiday.
“Jack, Nigel and Vanessa Dando headed the guest list with Alan Farthing, Nick Ross and Gloria Hunniford.
“Bobby Davro did a 15-minute spot and Jeffrey Archer ran the successful auction.
“A short time later I was asked to a meeting at Branton House because the hospice board was discussing a permanent memorial garden for Jill in the town.
“To be honest, we agreed that their suggestions did not do Jill justice so I rang Nick Ross, who, in conversation at the ball had told me he was friends with Peter Bazalgette of Endemol which launched the BBC's Ground Force.
“I met members of the team in Grove Park, liased with the council, but we had to keep the whole thing under wraps – that was the toughest part – or the programme would not have been made.
“The Ground Force Team came down and created Jill's Garden in 2001.”