Focus: Still Mummy's little angel

Embarrassed by your doting parents who tell everyone what a wonderful baby you were? Then pity the rich and famous
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Indy Lifestyle Online
A PHOTOGRAPH last week under other circumstances might have suggested a charming family gathering. But the Bacons, mum, dad and daughters, couldn't have looked gloomier.

The reason for the studiedly tragic expressions: an attempt to reflect their feelings about the disgrace of the young man missing from the photograph - Richard Bacon, ignominiously sacked from Blue Peter for taking cocaine. "This has been devastating news but we love him and we'll support him," his mother told the nation. "I just want to put my arms round him and say, 'You'll be all right'."

Yuck. This kind of public maternal display would leave most sons red- faced, squirming with embarrassment, hissing "Shut up, mum! Shut up!" - and quite right, too.

Richard Bacon is a 22-year-old adult who will not be helped by his parents proclaiming what a good boy he is really and how much they lurve him.

His father Paul, a solicitor who helped to promote an anti-drugs campaign in the family's home county of Nottinghamshire, also felt moved to give voice to his thoughts. "We are totally demoralised and disappointed. It has all been a bit much to take in and we will need a bit of time before any of us starts planning. Richard very much regrets what has happened and I think he is just trying to be as stoic as possible." We shall, he might have added, be stopping his pocket money and grounding him for a month.

Few parents can resist the urge to go on at embarrassing length about their offspring, but most are confined to inflicting this on the neighbours over coffee or by the Sainsbury's cheese counter, and then only when the children are still children. But one of the consequences of life in the limelight is the possibility that, even as an adult, one's parents are liable to start sounding off in public.

Mrs Bacon is not the only contender for the Most Supportive Mother title. When Jonathan Aitken, the former Cabinet minister, found himself mired in sleaze earlier this year, his mother, Lady Aitken, rushed to mount a stalwart defence. "He is paying such a terrible price for such a small mistake, all over a silly hotel bill," she said. "Jonathan was a wonderful child, who grew up into a brilliant man who has many friends. He has made one terrible mistake, which he will regret for the rest of his life."

JUST AS Lady Aitken still fondly remembers her son's childhood days, so do a host of other proud mammas whose sons might wish they were rather less vocal about years long past. Hilda Howard, mum of Michael, charmingly revealed her anxieties about the pressures of work on her famous son, then Home Secretary. "They get him up at five in the morning, sometimes. I do worry about him. He had such asthma as a child, and his poor chest is still weak. He gets these terrible colds and can't shake them off."

Rob Andrew may be a toughie on the rugby field, but his mum still sees a little boy who's "always had that angelic face" and says she wouldn't allow him to be big-headed. "We don't have any nonsense."

Then there's Jarvis Cocker - a sex symbol to his fans, but his mother has other ideas. "Of course he's talented. But sexy? He's not built like Rock Hudson or Steve McQueen. He is dead nice, though." After the Michael Jackson incident at the Brit awards, she further revealed that notoriety cuts no ice with mums. "He's still my little boy. He was such an awkward gangly sort of youth. No matter what he was dressed in, he looked like John Cleese. Part of the problem was he couldn't see a thing without his glasses." And Lola Archer, mother of Jeffrey, wrote a newspaper column in the Fifties on her little boy's doings; Lord Archer was disguised under the pseudonym of "Tuppence".

Even the greatest in the land are not immune to the mother who knows best. Norman Lamont's mother leaked the news about his resignation as Chancellor of the Exchequer to the local newspaper in Grimsby, because she was sure friends who knew Norman at school would be interested. Francis Maude's mother was an indefatigable, if eccentric, canvasser for her son. "Once you've been canvassed by my mother," he once observed ruefully, "you stay canvassed."

Gareth Southgate's mother famously asked, "Why didn't you just belt it in?" straight after the England footballer's missed penalty cost his side their Euro 96 semi-final against Germany. (Helpfully, she added that it was some years since Gareth had taken a penalty kick and he'd missed with that, too.)

FEW WOULD care to tangle with chef Gordon Ramsay after he ejected food critic Adrian Gill and guest Joan Collins from Ramsay's new restaurant: apart from his mother, who was straight on t0he phone. "I took a lot of flak from my mother over Joan," said Ramsay.

The British don't hold the monopoly on larger-than-life mothers. When the rugby union star and human wardrobe Jonah Lomu married in secret, his mum hit the roof. Hepi Lomu said she was not sure she could ever make it up with him. He appeared on national television in floods of tears, apologised profusely and scheduled a second wedding. The two-year marriage hit the rocks a couple of weeks ago.

Kathleen Gingrich stunned the US when she confided to the television interviewer Connie Chung that her son Newt thought Hillary Clinton was "a bitch". Mrs Gingrich also said Mrs Clinton's attempts to take over meetings were annoying her boy, but "Newty" was standing his ground. All this livened the start of Newty's stint as Speaker of the House of Representatives no end.

Suzie Hayman is the author of You Just Don't Listen (Vermilion, pounds 8.99), a handbook for parents that aims to help them communicate with their offspring. Embarrassing parents that just won't butt out are, she says, a perennial problem. "The final exam of being a good parent is letting go," she says. The trouble is that evidently it's an exam which many parents fail.

"It's very hard," says Ms Hayman. "Women, in particular, are so often brought up to see their job in life as being a mother, so when they give it up they are effectively making themselves redundant."

Fathers, she explains, tend to be less demonstrative because they have a better defined role outside the home. "Women's identities are bound up with their children. There is also the biological connection: they still feel their children are somehow part of themselves." Parents, she says, have to acknowledge that children will break away. "While the love is still there, the link has to be severed. It is quite important for parents and children to get the issue out in the open before it becomes an argument, to discuss the boundaries and for the children to be able to say, 'This isn't your business or your responsibility. You don't have the right to make comments'."

For the truly obdurate, she suggests a polite but firm response to interference along the lines of, "Thank you very much for your comment". This, she says, "implies you'll deal with the situation in your own way".

A reasonable strategy, though it's not hard to imagine stronger-minded parents blowing such discussion aside like so much chaff. It's hard to imagine the alarming Jackie Stallone responding kindly to such an approach. Very little is good enough for her son Sylvester. She has never approved of any of his girlfriends or wives. "The only woman good enough for my son is Princess Diana," she has said.

Her red-faced offspring says perplexedly: "She's the worst. I'd tell her she was embarrassing me, but it just made no difference."

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