Focus: Babies mean big bucks

If you are famous, your infant can earn a million - if you're not, but he (or she) is cute, that can make you rich too

She is a week old. She weighs less than six pounds. Yet her diminutive image is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. Before Spice Girl Mel B's newborn daughter, Phoenix Chi, drew her first breath she was more of a fully fledged photographic goldmine than her mother.

There are supermodels and pop stars. Then there are babies. Phoenix Chi, if she did but know, would not have to get out of her cot and gurgle for less than pounds 10,000. Born last weekend, she is already a "showbiz" commodity with rights to the first family pictures being negotiated by a glossy magazine. If the photographs are agreed, there will probably be run-on deals with other newspapers and magazines after the initial exclusive. Then there is the hefty trade in paparazzi shots. Mother and baby caught off guard; Phoenix's first smile (Smiley Spice) and her first tantrum (Scary Baby). The only rival to her charms will be the next Spice Baby: Baby Beckham. The child begotten by Posh Spice Victoria Adams, and her fiance, Manchester United footballer David, is due in a few weeks. The first picture of the happy family trio will not just be one for the family album: it will be one for the front covers of the kinds of publication whose slogan is "money no object".

It is not just the offspring of superstars that are prized by marketing men. More than ever before, they are in search of the perfect baby, complete with dimples, a tuft of hair and big blue eyes. If there is one thing that sells today, it is a baby. Even an unknown, sweet, innocent bundle, can sell anything from nappies to insurance (Standard Life), cars (Vauxhall), utilities (British Nuclear Fuels and British Gas) and, best of all, the next century.

Maybe it is inevitable that a culture obsessed with youth would finally come to invest so much value - economic and emotional - in the image of a baby. Perhaps it is a case of being in the right place at the right time; renewal, hope and birth are predictable marketing themes that will run well into the next century. Commercially, it is a good time to be a baby. Even more so to be a parent.

With the right sponsors, Millennium Baby's first words will be either "Gucci" or "offshore account". Kodak could be there to snap its first steps; Nike, to make sure it is in trainers and Nat West to offer him - or her - a first credit card, platinum probably.

Even Max Clifford, PR guru, sounds uncharacteristically animated when he speculates about the riches the first baby born next January will generate. "I could get the parents hundreds of thousands of pounds. First I'd get a house built by a big building company. That would be pounds 200,000 or so and they'd get their name in there. Then there's sponsors; nappies, baby foods, toys. There's the media, of course. Photographs. Magazines and deals. The amounts of money would be huge. And everyone would get a cut." Even the baby, if it's lucky.

But babies sell something else too. If they are famous, the product they unwittingly promote, even before they are born, is their parents. After, what are the Spice Girls famous for at the moment save their ubiquitous Spice Bumps? Wearing clingy clothes and revealing their final pregnancy curves seems to have filled the ponderous gap that was once their musical career. Madonna played the baby publicity card to best advantage when she was photographed, weeks before Lourdes's birth, in Versace pushing a large old-fashioned pram. The Spice Girls seem to be learning fast.

Martin Townsend, editor of OK! magazine, is among the major players who vie for the superstar-with-sprog shots. "You can put in the bids while they're still pregnant although parents are usually reluctant to deal with us until the child's born - it's like a superstitious thing really," he said.

"But we'll contact people as soon as we can. In our market, babies and weddings are the biggest events." OK! paid around pounds 2m for exclusive photographic rights of Michael Jackson and his baby - a record at the time. It paid substantially less for Jerry Hall and her fourth offspring. "First babies are always going to be much more. Once you've seen X with a baby you're not so interested in the second or third," said Townsend.

Alone, though, babies are worth nothing at all. It is what they are draped over and next to that raises their currency. Townsend said: "The only way a famous baby is valuable is if it's romping around with its famous mother. All babies look like Winston Churchill, so they need a parent in there to show us who they are." Townsend is very much aware of how a baby can cement celebrity allure: "Increasingly there are less traditional families and stars have the time and money to project the ideal of that `happy family' thing. We can look at their marvellous nurseries and great clothes. It's an ideal of parenthood. The key word is aspirational." Simple curiosity plays a part; how do famous people dress their babies? Do beautiful people automatically have beautiful babies?

For similar reasons, the triumph-over-tragedy (TOT) baby can command dizzying sums. Magazines and newspapers pay huge amounts to feature parents who have overcome dramatic obstacles. "You peak people's interest if there's a great story around the birth. Anne Diamond, for example," said Townsend. Max Clifford agrees: "If there are horrendous events and the baby's survived against all odds, it sells." The media jackpot is obviously the celebrity TOT; see Anne Diamond and Patricia Hodge.

But there are also those healthy, anonymous babies who, instead of endorsing their parents' image or adverse experiences, simply sell products. Alfie Barker, eight months old, with an angelic round face and large blue eyes, has not stopped working since he joined the child model agency Rascals three months ago. In that time, he has appeared in commercials for LWT Electric and Comfort Easy Iron plus photographic work. His earning power so far is around pounds 1,000 a month.

According to Rascals' owner Vivien Little, advertising agencies will pay around pounds 160 for a baby to model in commercials. Then there is an extra pounds 60 for the parent to chaperone. If the baby is featured in the shot with the product there is a one-off "usage" fee of pounds 480; if the rights to the commercial are sold worldwide they can expect more than pounds 10,000. Little said: "They need to be `pretty' babies or `character' babies. Sometimes they need nice big blue eyes and dark hair. Sometimes they need to be quirky with sticking out ears." A photogenic baby who fits that bill could turn over pounds 20,000 a year before it is out of nappies. Even newborn ones are potentially profitable commodities. Little said: "Babies can be taken from the day they're born for work. If the client wants to film a birth they'll choose a newborn and cover it in gel to look realistic."

Jane Imray's three-month-old daughter Elise was on the books at model agency Kids Unlimited when she was born. Since then Elise has appeared in a Sky promotion, a British Gas ad and a British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) commercial. Mrs Imray said: "It's quick and always done properly. It's also interesting to see how the media works." And then there is the money, around pounds 3,000 to date. "I put it all in an investment account for her. And I'm very careful what work I choose for her."

BNFL would not be everyone's ideal for their new baby to endorse but these parents would argue that the child is oblivious and can enjoy the money later on. The fact that the baby has no choice or control over its image doesn't seem to perturb them at all. Nor, presumably, will it bother Millennium Mum and Dad when the sponsors roll in on 1 January 2000.

BABYLOVE

A photographers' celebrity-parent wish-list:

n Gordon Brown and Sarah Macaulay.

n Anthea Turner and Grant Bovey.

n Luciana Gimenez and Mick Jagger - depending on the DNA tests.

n Sophie Rhys Jones and Prince Edward.

n Liz Hurley and Hugh Grant.

n Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis.

n William Hague and Ffion Jenkins.

n Emma Noble and James Major.

n Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.

n Sharon Stone and Phil Bronstein.

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