Deborah Ross talks to professor ian craft
7am. A chic little house just off Harley Street, home of Professor Ian Craft, the foremost fertility expert whose private clinic, the London Gynaecology & Fertility Centre, successfully and controversially treated 60-year-old Elizabeth Buttle.

I arrive in a mini-cab. Professor Craft, dapper in a suede waistcoat and half-moon glasses, with something quite camp going on around his hips and wrists, bounds out. "Hello, dear. Come in, come in."

Then, to the driver, who is black: "You must like reggae, hmm?"

"I like opera, actually," says the driver.

"Oh? Yes, well. Good man. Jolly good. So do I. Now, dear, come in ..."

Up the stairs, past the busts of his parents, Reginald and Mary, on the landing - "lovely, lovely people, although I'm not a mummy's or daddy's boy" - then into the kitchen. "Now, I'm not sure what you want from me, dear, but whatever you write it's bound to make all of my colleagues jealous because I have always been so much further ahead of them. I am an innovator, dear, a pioneer if you like. Mine were the first test tube twins. I was the first to successfully do Gift [Gamma Intrafallopian Transfer, where the egg is fertilised in the fallopian tube] in this country. Lord Winston said Gift was one of the biggest con-tricks purveyed on women. But now? He does it all the time, dear. Same with sister to sister egg donation. I got a lot of criticism when I first did that 10 years ago, but now it's routine practice."

"Professor Craft," I interrupt, "I wonder if ..."

"I'm afraid I can't tell you whether or not I treated Elizabeth Buttle personally. It would be a breach of confidence. I was actually in America at a conference when the story broke. I spent pounds 880 on phone calls. The Daily Mail wrote a very vicious piece about me. Appalling. They even said I was slightly balding. Tell me dear, where am a going bald, hmm?

"Anyway, Mrs Buttle lied to us about her age and circumstances, so what could we do? We are not obliged to authenticate these things. We are not a court of law. How far does society want us to be guardian of morals, hmm? When a woman has an operation for blocked fallopian tubes on the NHS, is she asked whether she is fit to bring up a child? No, I'm not saying anything goes. We could get a 75-year-old woman pregnant but it would be silly to do so ..."

"Professor Craft, I'm just wondering ..."

"I know I'm garrulous, dear, but I have so much to say, hmm? I've even gone so far as to prepare a few notes for you. I've written you out a list of my qualities." He hands me the list. It covers two sides of paper. "Sensitive" is first. "Sensitive. That's me. Now what's next. Compassionate. I am very compassionate. Driven. Yes, but not by money. Money is not my God. Creative. Absolutely. I am a very creative man. And creating babies is such a happy thing. Oh yes, it's very sad when people re-mortgage their houses for treatment and get no result, but what can you do?"

"Professor Craft, I'm wondering IF I MIGHT USE YOUR TOILET." "Yes, dear. Go ahead." I do go ahead. It's lovely and peaceful in his loo. I am minded to never come out but I do, which is a mistake. Professor Craft is waiting for me on the landing in an old tweed cap, with tears in his eyes. "My father's old cap. He died last year, on the 20th July. Lovely man. I am sentimental, yes. See, it's on my list. Sentimental. Would you like to see my father's old glasses. I keep them by my bed. There's even a bit of shaving foam on one of the arms."

I'm beginning to think Professor Craft is the last person I'd want poking about in my insides, old tweed cap or no old tweed cap. But people come to him because they want babies. May even be desperate to have babies. He doesn't have to be likeable or nice or modest or in it for anything other than self-glorification. He is very successful at what he does. The top man, if you can afford it. Conventional IVF costs about pounds 4,000 a go. More sophisticated techniques, like Gift, are costlier. "Am I rich? I am comfortable, dear."

9am. We go over the road to the clinic. On our way, I ask him what I've always wanted to ask a gynaecologist. Doesn't looking at women's bits and bobs all day put you off, you know, sex with your wife or whatever? "Oh no. The women you see professionally ... well, it's just plumbing, isn't it? Although of course I treat the whole woman. Yes, yes. I treat all my patients as individuals. Treating patients as individuals is Ian Craft all over." He then says I must see his new laser machine from Switzerland. It'll be used to assist the hatching of embryos. "It's the first in the country!" He then confides that he and Jackie, his wife of 40 years, have just separated. "A sad life, a doctor's life. One is always so busy."

The clinic is all nice and marble inside, with lots of classical statues of women holding babies. The waiting room is already full of white-faced couples holding hands. Professor Craft has 40 doctors and nurses working for him here. "We are very much a team, although I, of course, am the inspiration, the leader, hmm?"

His first patient consultation is with a couple who received ICSI here last August. ICSI, a relatively new form of treatment, represents an advance on conventional IVF in that it involves directly injecting a sperm into the egg. The treatment resulted in a twin pregnancy, but both babies were lost a fortnight ago when the waters broke at 24 weeks, just a week before they would have been viable. (The couple later tell me the babies were born alive, but died in their arms after about an hour.) The husband is English while the wife is Japanese. "Ah, ah, my nice Japanese lady," he cries as they come in. "I must do my little thing." He gets up and bows. Sensitive, like he said.

"Now, very sad news, hmm? But we'll get you pregnant dear, don't you worry." His secretary interrupts over the intercom: "Prof? Dr Jackson just called, he's got two tickets for Cymbeline tonight which he can't use. Do you want them?"

"What time and where?"

"I don't know Prof." "Well call him back and ASK! ASK!" He thinks he'll go, yes. "I do love the opera," he says. I thought Cymbeline was Shakespeare, I say. "And Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare, too. I love anything live. I don't like things on celluloid. I don't like films. I like reality. I like making people's dreams a reality." He turns to the couple: "I want to make your dream a reality!"

The husband says that before the waters broke his wife had a very "tight" feeling. Could it have been some kind of accumulation of fluid? "Might have been, but we can't be sure and there's no way of being sure. Now, I see we've frozen some of your embryos. We could begin transferring them next month ..."

"I think my wife would like to wait a bit, to recover," says the husband. "Yes, yes. Of course. She must recover mentally as well as physically. Such sad news."

The intercom again: "Prof? It's 7.15pm at the Barbican. Plus Radio Leeds want to interview you at 10.20."

Prof makes a phone call. "Hello, Sheila. I've got two tickets for Cymbeline tonight - you're busy? Never mind." Prof makes another phone call. "Jenny. I've got these two tickets ... you're going out with Sheila? Never mind." Prof seems to be looking to the nurses for a date. Prof might even be quite lonely. Prof suddenly remembers he's promised another newspaper he'll do a photograph today of himself with one of his "pregnant" patients.

Sorry, but he just must phone Ruth, an IVF patient who is very pregnant indeed. "Hello, Ruth? Could you get yourself and your lovely, big, pregnant belly over here by 1pm? There's a big bunch of flowers in it for you." There are tears in the Japanese woman's eyes. Considerate? Absolutely. The couple decide to go away and have a think about things. "Can we resume sexual intercourse?" asks the husband on their way out. "So long as the wife's vaginally clear, hmm? Now, Julie, I've got these tickets

Ian Craft, now 60, was born in Essex, the first of three sons to Reginald Craft, a clerk at Barclays Bank. He had a twin sister, but she was still- born. "She came out dead, then I come out alive. I would love to have had a sister." He was bright at school, but useless at exams. He only got 2 O-levels the first time round. But then he met his wife, Jackie. "I was 16 and she was 13. We met in Epping Forest. I was there bird-watching while she was out walking with her friend, Veronica."

Jackie gave him belief in himself, he says. He got good O-levels the second time, then enough A-levels to get him into medical school. He wanted to be a doctor, he says, "because I wanted to bring happiness to people". His first job was on a radiotherapy ward at Westminster hospital. Not pleasant. Basically, a lot of old people dying. He transferred to obstetrics. Much better. A baby at the end of it. Proof, even, that he was worth something. Yes, his father - "such a lovely, gorgeous, humble, honest man" - had been "saddened" by his poor exam performance at school. Now, he was bringing babies forth. What could be more important?

He took further degrees in gynaecology and obstetrics, was a professor at the Royal Free Hospital, then director of gynaecology at the Cromwell Hospital, then a director at the Humana Wellington Hospital before setting up for himself in 1990. He got sick of the NHS ("inadequate funds for research"). His clinic attracts a lot of older women because whereas the NHS rules out treatment to women over 37, he will treat women up to 55. "So long as she can give a child 20 good, loving years then so what, hmm?" He has two sons himself. Simon, who's a Spanish master at Westminster School, and Adrian, who has a degree in history of art and lives with Jackie. "Do us a favour and find him a job, hmm?"

10am. Next consultation, this time it's with a Greek couple who've been trying for a baby for four years. Tests have revealed that the husband's sperm quality is very poor. "Let's see, only 10 per cent of your sperm were alive after 24 hours, all dead by 48hours. That is very sad sperm. You know smoking has an effect on sperm, don't you? And, as a Greek man, I'm sure you smoke. Hang on ... hello, Jenny ... I've got these two tickets ... you're going out with Sheila and Julie ... OK."

Professor Craft recommends the couple have a go at ICSI. The woman is not so sure. It's newer and more invasive than conventional IVF. What are the long-term effects? "Well, you can try IVF, dear, but I can tell you now it won't lead to fertilisations. I have no worries about ICSI. I would do it on my own family. Which reminds me, I operated on my sister- in-law on Wednesday night. Did her hysterectomy. Must call her. Hello Irene? It's Ian. How are you. You've had a bath? Just 36 hours after the op and you've had a bath. You must have a very good surgeon, hmm?"

He then phones Simon, to see if he is free for the theatre tonight. Simon's not in. The couple agree to start the drugs which will prepare them for ICSI. Professor Craft has to work out what sort of dose she needs. "If you don't mind me saying so, dear, but you are quite big and fat ..."

He pops out the room to do something for Radio Leeds. I talk to the couple. Yes, they would have liked to have had treatment on the NHS, "but there's a three-year waiting list". Yes, they would prefer to have all of Professor Craft's attention. "He costs pounds 100 per half-hour." But that said, "50 per cent of his attention might be worth 100 per cent of someone else's". He does have excellent success rates: 29 per cent of all IVF treatments result in a birth, as do 31 per cent of all ICSI treatments. So, not compassionate or sensitive or altruistic but good at his job, yes.

Professor Craft returns. I ask him if he always tends to do so many things at once. "Yes. I have a lot of energy. I'm like a clown, juggling balls. I do love the circus. It makes children happy. I think I might be late for my own funeral. Turner was. The horses got stuck in the mud at the bottom of Ludgate hill. I don't know why I know that but I do.

"Another doctor said to me recently: `Ian, just looking at you makes me exhausted.' Yes, I am quiet sometimes, especially in the evening when I'm reading about Regency furniture."

11am. Consultation with Singaporean woman and her English husband. They've spent pounds 12,000 on fertility treatment over the past 10 years to no effect. He has good sperm. She has polycystic ovaries. He thinks it's about time she started thinking about an egg donor. "But where are we going to find a nice Singaporean donor, hmm?"

Hello, June, I've got these tickets ..."

Noon. "Have you seen Cymbeline, Debbie?" Time to go, methinks. Time to go.

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