how to be a child star

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The Independent Culture
You've seen them in the commercials - glossy blonde hair, porcelain skin, wide eyes, pouting lips. No, I'm not talking about supermodels. I mean the stars of the nappy ads. Infant prodigies can earn around pounds 220 a day for television commercials, or around pounds 150 a day for magazine ads. So, is it time to give up your day job and market your little cherub instead?

The answer is a resounding "no", if you listen to those in the business. Any parent who seems to be in it for the money is invariably shown the door by reputable child model agencies. Besides, the chances of making this sort of money are slight. And, in any case, the cheque is almost always made out to the child, and often takes around nine months to materialise, so you can forget instant boosts to your bank account.

But, if you're not simply in it for the money, but genuinely believe your infant is blessed with star quality, how do you get it recognised? Classic cherubic looks help, but they're not everything. Sylvia Young, who runs a theatre school and agency for children, explains: "They need to be bright enough to understand and take direction. And they need tremendous willingness and stamina, especially if they are doing a long-running show like Oliver."

She has got a lot of children into this particular show so she obviously knows something about giving her children a head start. At the Saturday school, there are all kinds of classes on offer and I took my own budding star along to see if he would flourish in a luvvie environment.

In fact, it was surprisingly un-luvvie and the children appeared quite unprecocious. We started in the speech class, where diction is polished - "There are 30,000 feathers on that there thrush's throat. Not firty fouzand fevvers, please note." Many of the children collapsed into giggles and refused to speak at all. Christian, on the other hand, wouldn't stop talking (10 out of 10 for stamina, 0 out of 10 for taking direction). On to the tap class, which I couldn't count as an outstanding success either. Well, if you don't have tap shoes, it probably is more fun rubbing out the chalk line the teacher has drawn across the floor, rather than joining in the dancing.

Seeing little future for myself as a stage mother, I turned my thoughts to photographic modelling. After all, Jodie Foster and Bonnie Langford (above right) started that way, so perhaps I could be a film star's mother instead. The first thing to do (isn't it always?) is get a good agent. Ones that demand pounds 100 before they've even clapped eyes on your child are definitely to be avoided. On the basis of a few of your own snaps, the agency will offer you an interview if they think your child is right. However, don't even think about it if you're over-sensitive. The overwhelming majority of applicants (200 to 300 a week per agency) get turned down before they've set foot through the door.

Heather Morton, who runs the Bubblegum Agency, has a 90 to 95 per cent rejection rate. "You can usually tell if they're going to get a lot of work, but it's not always the chocolate-box pretty ones who get it. 'character'- type children can get a lot of work."

If they do take your child on, you will then have to have some professional pictures done and pay to get into the model book (up to pounds 200 all told).

Fiona Pragoff, a top children's photographer, has seen a lot of gorgeous children. "The client usually has a very specific image in mind. If your child is dark and they want a blonde it doesn't matter how beautiful he is, he won't get the job."

Even at this age, professionalism counts. If the mother is sensible, calm and comes equipped with extra clothes and hairpins, then she's much the best option for the professionals. Obnoxious prima-donna children and pushy, neurotic mothers definitely need not apply.

However, the top children get work over and over again and can become international jetsetters. Even those who don't make it to these dizzy heights often get a lot of fun out of it. So, perhaps we'll give it one more try. After me, "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper".

ANNA SELBY

Sylvia Young Theatre School, 6 Rossmore Rd, London NW1 (0171-402 0673). Heather Morton, Bubblegum (0181-450 6151)

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