Deborah Ross talks to Mandy Allwood and Paul Hudson
When Mandy announced that she was pregnant with octuplets and was determined to keep them, a tabloid paid her and partner pounds 350,000 for their story. She eventually lost them all. Were they decent people caught in a media feast, or a couple on the make? They were happy to explain ...with lunch and taxis provided, of course

Mandy "Eight Babies" Allwood and her boyfriend, Paul Hudson, have an agent called Kizzy who says, yes, I can meet Mandy and Paul. Good, I say, because I really do want to find out what they are actually like. "You'll find they're just a decent, ordinary, working-class couple," he says. I hope so, I say.

"Now, down to the arrangements." Yes, the arrangements. Well, he says, they want you to pick them up, take them for lunch at Chez Nico, then drop them home again. Oh no, I say, not that ordinary, decent, working- class, Michelin-starred caff on Park Lane run by celebrity chef Nico Landenis again! What a bore. "Their favourite restaurant," I am told, rebukingly. Sometimes I can be very snotty, I know. And without good reason, because frankly a Harvester is usually enough of a treat for me. I am instantly very sorry.

So sorry, in fact, that I do go to pick them up at their house, which is just an ordinary decent Grade II listed cottage (worth around pounds 300,000, I would say) on the edge of Wimbledon Common in south-west London. Paul isn't there, because Paul's gone into central London for a business meeting. He'll meet us at the restaurant. "What sort of business does Paul get up to these days?" I ask in a just-making-conversation sort of way. "That's a very personal question," she replies crossly.

Many says she has learnt to be guarded, what with "the way the press always twist everything". She and Paul also have their book to think of, which is due out next year.

We get into a taxi. Mandy is heavily pregnant. The baby is due around Christmas - and yes, she conceived naturally. She and Paul are very happy about it, of course.

She doesn't want to answer any of the Big Questions until she is with Paul. So it's a slow journey, during which we have one of those conversations you have with the trainee at the hairdressers. "You been on holiday?" she asks. "You getting time off for Christmas?"

These issues dealt with, I ask her what Chez Nico is like, having never been there. She confesses she's never been there either. But I was told it was your favourite restaurant, I cry. No, she says, the restaurant at The Dorchester is her favourite restaurant, but she and Paul had heard a lot about Chez Nico and "we thought we would give it a try". I'm beginning to feel I'm being had.

Whatever, I must say Mandy is pretty to look at. Yes, her mascara is so thick her eyelashes look almost crunchy, but she has good bones and lovely green eyes. It's a face that became famous during the latter half of last year, splashed over newspapers, magazines and the telly: "Hi. I'm Mandy Allwood. I'm pregnant. But I'm pregnant with a difference. I'm going to have eight babies. You can read my story exclusively in the News of the World."

The story seemed to run and run, not only because it was the largest multiple pregnancy recorded in Britain, but also because of the moral and ethical dimensions. Should Mandy have been awarded fertility treatment? Did she decide against selective reduction because the newspaper payments would not have been so great if, say, she'd cut down the number of embryos to two or three? When do your ovaries stop being your ovaries and become a kind of handy cashpoint? And Mandy and Paul: were they basically decent people caught up in an out-of-control media feast, or a couple on the make?

Oh look, we're drawing up outside Chez Nico. I've put on lipstick especially, you know.

Paul meets us. He is wearing something sharp and Italian and is handsome in a flashy, mobile-phone-always-at-the-ready kind of way. He's the sort of bloke who thinks he is Jack Nicholson but is possibly more Essex Girl, actually.

Mandy is besotted with him, I think. "The thing about Paul is that he looks after himself. He would never let himself go," she says admiringly at one point.

Paul isn't faithful to Mandy. Never has been, never will be. "I'm a womaniser," he later boasts. "I like to go out and come home with four different women's phone numbers on bits of paper." Does Mandy ever find the numbers? "Yes." And? "She just goes `Oh', then chucks them in the bin. She accepts me for who I am."

It's not unusual for women to fall in love with men who aren't very good for them, and maybe aren't as clever as they think they are. Often, though, the sex is very good.

We go in. Selina Scott is ensconced in a corner with someone. Nico is pottering about in his portly, bearded, starry way. He and Selina exchange air-kisses. He doesn't seem to want to exchange air-kisses with me, I don't know why. When you put on a bit of lipstick to go down the Harvester, they're all over you.

Nobody air-kisses Mandy either, for that matter, even though she claims she is still recognised a lot. And what's the reaction usually like? "The public have always been supportive. They say to me, `Mandy, we think you are very brave,'" she says. "We got a good luck card from OJ Simpson," adds Paul. "And Adam Faith," adds Mandy. "We met Oprah," concludes Paul.

They don't do interviews as often as they might. Paul: "We've slowed down, even though we still get requests every day. We don't want the attention any more." Mandy: "We were asked on Through the Keyhole, but refused." Paul: "But we are on an American show Prime Time this Wednesday. It's a huge show. Barbara Walters. Audience of 40 million."

I note I must ask them why they agreed to this interview today, but then the menu comes. We can order from the pounds 32, three-course luncheon menu or the pounds 50, two-course, a la carte menu. Paul and Mandy both go for the pounds 50 jobs, which is possibly answer enough. I am given the wine list but pass it to Paul because, as I tell him, the only thing I know about wine is that sometimes it is pounds 2.99 and sometimes it is pounds 3.99 and sometimes it comes with a nun on it. He says it's my lucky day, "because I know about wine". He chooses a pounds 50 bottle of red. Mandy hasn't been drinking, because of the pregnancy, but she thinks she'll make an exception today.

I wonder, first off, if they can see why their story became so huge? Mandy: "It was just a good human interest story." Paul: "And a world first, had the babies survived." Mandy: "Yes, and a world first, although when I was first told I was expecting eight I didn't think, Oh, a world first. I just wanted to have my babies." Paul: "We were never in it for the money." Mandy: "The suggestion we were in it for the money was sickening. Sickening." Paul: "The multinationals. They would all have sponsored us, had the babies lived. And what they offered us made the newspapers' offers look like chicken feed. Chicken feed! If you are top of the tree, you don't have to look for business. It finds you."

They are said to have made around pounds 350,000 from the News of the World, plus subsequent syndication deals, enough for that nice house in Wimbledon and their BMWs, to be sure. And neither seem to have jobs as such. But when I put this to them, they get shirty. They had the BMWs before. They could have afforded the house anyway. They're professional, well-to-do people. Yes, the papers said Mandy was on income support when she first went up for the fertility treatment, but that was rubbish, she says. Yes, Paul's a bankrupt, but it was never his fault. A partner did the dirty on him.

As I understand things, the facts go something like this:

Mandy and Paul meet in Solihull in 1992 while Mandy, the daughter of fairly well-off people who own their own electrical company, is working for General Property Services. Paul, who runs his own lettings company, is one of her clients. They are both in other relationships. Mandy is married to Simon Pugh, a plasterer, by whom she has a son, Charles, now six. (Mandy, where does Charles live now? "It's none of your business.")

Mandy had married Simon at 21 ("because I was frightened of being left on the shelf".). Eight years later, she is bored rigid. ("He was hopeless. He took me for granted. I was like his mother.")

Later, Simon would go to the press to say that, after Charles, Mandy became pregnant again but had that pregnancy terminated.

Mandy: "Simon's immature."

Paul: "And weak."

Mandy: "And pathetic. He was still in love with me when I left him. He's very bitter."

Paul: "And sad."

Paul, meanwhile, is living with Maria, by whom he has a son and daughter. The son of Jamaican immigrants, he is the epitome of the flash yuppie, a flamboyant young businessman who cruises nightclubs in his gold BMW, wears designer suits and has a reputation as a ladies' man. Mandy finds him exciting. ("I was desperate for some fun. Paul was a breath of fresh air.")

It's 1994. Mandy leaves her husband and moves into one of Paul's flats. Their relationship begins in earnest, even though he doesn't leave Maria.

(He still hasn't left Maria. He spends Monday to Thursday with Mandy, and Friday to Sunday with Maria. If you are in love with a man, this must be galling.)

Anyway, Mandy becomes desperate to have his baby, perhaps as a way of tying him to her more surely. In October 1995, she becomes pregnant, but miscarries at Christmas. Four months later, and unbeknown to Paul, she asks her GP for fertility drugs, and is awarded them even though she has conceived naturally a number of times before.

The drugs work by stimulating the ovaries to produce eggs. In some cases, the drugs overstimulate the ovaries, producing large numbers of eggs, which greatly increases the risk of multiple pregnancy. Patients are advised to abstain from full sexual relations for some time after starting the drugs. Mandy does not abstain.

I wonder, does she think she should have received the treatment? And why did she then go on to abuse it? "I didn't," she says. Sorry? "I didn't. You don't know the truth." What is the truth? I naturally ask. "I'm not going to tell you," she says. "We're saving all that for our book," adds Paul.

Their version of events differs. Anyway, Mandy says she'd decided to keep all eight before the media even became involved, and here I do believe her.

"When I went to see Professor Nicolaides [the multiple birth specialist at London's King's College hospital] I said to him: `Is there a chance of me having eight healthy babies?' He said yes, there was. If he hadn't, I wouldn't have gone ahead, obviously. I am not stupid."

Selective reduction was never an option. "Which one would you have murdered?" she asks.

She has no regrets about her decision, she says. She lost the babies at 19 weeks, three weeks before they would have been viable. It was "a water infection" that bought on her labour, she says. All eight were born alive, but could not be ventilated because their lungs were too immature. It took her three days to have them all. "All I could do was hold them in my hand and watch them die. They were all 11 or 12 inches. They had lovely cheekbones."

Mandy starts to cry. I am minded to put an arm around her. Paul gets on with his Grilled Baby Dover Sole. He looks meaningfully at the empty wine bottle. I am beginning to think, don't push it, me old duck.

He then says that at 19 weeks Mandy was as big as most pregnant women at 40 weeks, "but she never got any stretch marks". Mandy says there were never any moral or ethical dimensions for her. "It was only about my children." As it was, I reckon.

It is tempting to extract some kind of morality tale from this business, but I don't think there is one. At the heart of it, all you have is a woman so besotted with a man she'll do anything to keep a hold of him. A baby might do it. Eight babies might do it better. Eight dead babies was just the unfortunate consequence. It is all very sad.

Anyway, after I pay the very decent, ordinary, working-class bill of pounds 315, we gather outside on Park Lane. I tell them I won't see them home, if they don't mind, because I'm going in the opposite direction, which is as convenient as it is true. Paul says that's OK because his car is parked at Victoria, "which is just a fiver in a cab away". That's all right then, I say. "A fiver in a cab," he repeats, requestingly.

I don't have a fiver, so end up giving him a tenner. I'm expecting my change to come though the post any day now.

Mandy Allwood and Paul Hudson were not paid for this interview. Chez Nico very much lived up to their expectations, though.