Fiona Bruce has revealed that a BBC boss once told her she did not need a wage rise because her boyfriend would pay her bills.
The Question Time and Antiques Roadshow host said the incident happened early in her career, when she asked for a ‘desultory’ salary increase.
Miss Bruce, now one of the BBC’s biggest female stars, told Vogue magazine that instead of assessing her work performance, her manager quizzed her about her living arrangements, her boyfriend’s job and who paid the bills.
‘My boss said, ‘Do you really need it? What does your boyfriend do? You live with him, don’t you? Doesn’t he pay for most things?’,’ she said.
To her consternation, Miss Bruce replied: ‘Well, I do most of the supermarket shopping so I need to pay for that.’
The presenter, who worked in advertising before joining the BBC in 1989, did not reveal who her boyfriend was at that time.
But it is thought to be her now husband, former advertising executive Nigel Sharrocks, whom she met at an office party.
Miss Bruce, 54 – who was photographed for Vogue wearing subtle make-up, her hair tied back and dressed in a £1,000 white cashmere polo neck from Ralph Lauren – now regards the row over her modest pay rise as ‘ludicrous’.
But it appears to be in keeping with the way the BBC was run at that time.
‘It was a terrible atmosphere – dog-eat-dog – bitchy, not a nice place to be,’ Miss Bruce said.
The revelations will heap fresh embarrassment on the corporation, which is still battling to shed a reputation for sexism.
The BBC was forced to publish the salary details of its highest-paid earners two years ago, exposing a yawning gender pay gap.
Miss Bruce, who also hosts Fake Or Fortune? and the BBC news, was revealed as one of the highest-paid women, on between £350,000 and £400,000 a year.
That will have soared since, after she landed the coveted Question Time job this year – fending off competition from Emily Maitlis and Kirsty Wark to replace David Dimbleby.
According to insiders, Miss Bruce is paid at least as much for the job as her predecessor, putting her overall BBC pay packet at around £800,000.
Miss Bruce admitted that she still does not know how she will juggle her new job with the rest of her commitments on screen.
‘I did have doubts about how I’m going to fit everything in. Because I’m still doing news, though less of it, and Fake Or Fortune? and Antiques Roadshow will start in May,’ she said.
‘Accompanying the thrill of being asked was, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to make all that work?’ ‘
Miss Bruce said she usually thrives on the drama of a ‘really hairy’ broadcast. But she admitted that she was nervous before her Question Time debut.
‘It was a rather unpleasant shock. For the first ten minutes I thought, what is happening?’ she said.
Afterwards, she drank champagne and watched the show with her husband and their children, aged 17 and 21.
‘I am the least cool person they know. The fact they all stayed to be there for me, it just meant everything.’
See the full feature in the May issue of British Vogue, available on digital download and newsstands on Friday 5th April.