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Alive and presenting

Francine Stock returns to the screen tonight, after an absence caused by breast cancer. She tells Ann Treneman of her battle, her hopes and her new antiques show
Francine Stock is a serious kind of journalist and so it may come as something of a surprise this evening to hear her say "Welcome to The Antiques Show". She laughs at my raised eyebrows over this rather sumptuous new role: "Just because I've tackled news doesn't mean I don't have other interests, you know. I'm not an entirely serious person."

The CV tells another story. Weighty is too light a word to describe one with the likes of Newsnight, The Money Programme and The World at One on it. The fluff, such as it is, is provided by Panorama. And yet, tonight, Francine Stock can be seen presenting a programme that includes a profile on the Queen of Clutter, contains the hot tip that the Excalibur lavatory brush could be an antique of the future and tells us how to get wax off candlesticks (put them in the freezer). It is fun, interesting and almost as compulsive as the Roadshow. It is, however, a far cry from the serious (and male) world of politics and finance.

"Well, I don't think it would be called women's broadcasting or anything like that!" she says. I ask another, similar question. "You want to know if I am taking the soft option, don't you? I don't see it that way. There is something very interesting about people talking about objects. It is fascinating. There is a sort of fetishistic quality to it. But I'm still doing some serious stuff too. These days it is a question of doing things that I enjoy."

The word "enjoy" is one that Ms Stock uses with precision and care. "When you spend a lot of time in a hospital bed, you think about a lot of things," she says. She did that in 1995 when, with her second child just five months old, she was diagnosed as having breast cancer. "The disease was fairly advanced because it had been misdiagnosed twice before that."

Within days she was in hospital, having a mastectomy, and then conventional chemotherapy. Later on she had a radical treatment of high-dose chemotherapy non-stop for four days. "The idea is that it is like Dyno-rod, it completely flushes out the system." It is also deadly enough to kill your own bone marrow. "You have no immune system so you have to be kept in isolation until they can put your original bone marrow back in."

Ms Stock says this all very matter-of-factly with a lightness that must have taken some time to master. The entire treatment took a year and she has been clear for another year. She is 39 and married to the owner of a design and investment company. They live in south-west London with their two children and a black Lab named Lottie. Since the chemo her hair has grown back a darker shade of brown and "all of this business" means she could not care less about the odd wrinkle or two. "Let them come!" she exclaims.

It is only when she talks of her children that her voice becomes anything other than brisk. "It was very difficult. Rebecca was three-and-a-half and Eleanor five months. It was the stuff of, oh, like the worst sort of made-for-television whatever and suddenly it is happening to you."

Another decision made from the hospital bed was to ditch the book she had been working on for 18 months - a non-fiction study of the politics of marriage - and have a go at a novel that is now almost finished. "You do eyeball your own mortality in a way that you would never choose to do otherwise and nothing is for granted. There are no guarantees. I do something now because I'll enjoy it or I might be good at it or get satisfaction from it, but I don't do things out of duty any more."

The Antiques Show comes in the "enjoy" category. Her mother had a share in an antiques shop and so Francine has more than just a passing interest. But where are her own objects of fascination? I glance around the front room dominated by a rather surreal turquoise Conran sofa that would not look out of place at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. "Yes that is becoming an antique rather quickly," she says.

"So do you have any real antiques?"I ask, looking in vain for even the odd loo brush on display.

"Well," she says also looking around, "in the other rooms, but they do tend to be family things. I'm afraid I'm interested in smaller rather than grand antiques." Further questioning unearths one old and large favourite: a Georgian dining table that she bought from her mother for pounds 50 many moons ago.

But she then makes up lost ground by reciting entire scenes from the Roadshow. Ms Stock says that she thinks a good name for the show would have been "Fetishes" and she is right. Not least this week is the case of the toasting fork. It is purchased by one John Biggs, a dealer known as "Mr Bubble Wrap" for his prolific selling. He buys the fork while on a 10,000-mile shopping trip before a trade fair. He paid pounds 400 for it and was selling it for pounds 650. You'll have to watch to see its final price - but it was a steal.

Ms Stock presents and reports for the programme and it is clear that she is much happier asking the questions than answering them. She has said very little in public about her illness before. "I can see that some people might be interested. I'm not ashamed of it and if it does help other people to know about it, then that's fine," she says.

I ask if she ever wonders "why me?" and she does not pause for an instant before saying no. From the beginning she knew other women her age with breast cancer. Now she knows a lot more. Not all of them made it, "Plus, in the twist of it all somebody I knew was killed in a freak accident. You know the fragility of life comes home to you rather than the awfulness of this particular thing."

I wonder out loud if she might do a programme on breast cancer. "There have been a few offers, I haven't shut myself off from it. I do feel strongly about it but I don't want to make a career out of it, frankly. I mean I am still the same person as before".

'The Antiques Show' begins tonight at 8.30pm on BBC2.