Race begins to make first baby of 2000

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THE FIRST bandwagon of the new millennium is already starting to look crowded thanks to newspapers, radio stations and television channels jump-starting the race for the first British baby of 2000.

Next week sees the start of a conception countdown. If couples conceive between 17 March and the end of April they have the best chance of bringing in the new year with a new baby.

To exploit the hype and get couples in the mood, Classic FM radio station plans an evening of "smooth classics" on 20 March. And on 10 April, ITV will devote an entire evening of programmes to the subject of sex and conception.

The BBC is planning a Tomorrow's World special in April which will forecast the future lives of those born next year. And later in the year both the BBC and ITV will be looking for expectant couples and single mothers who have a 1 January due date to follow through their pregnancy.

"A lot of people are looking for the next Seven-Up," said a BBC insider, referring to the long-running Michael Apted documentary series that has followed a generation of children since 1964. "Babies we can go back to and follow throughout their lives from their birth at the start of the millennium."

ITV is calling its series Birthrace 2000 in acknowledgement that there is likely to be a winner from all the bedroom activity taking place over the next six weeks, for the first born will be the recipient of media interest and, of course, money.

"The first baby will be set up for life," said the celebrity publicist Max Clifford. "The newspapers and magazines are already interested in it and if you manage it correctly the family could get themselves a new house, a house filled with sponsors' free gifts and a great deal of money over a long period of time. You could sell the family's story and photographs to magazines and newspapers and have follow-up documentaries every year. In the first year, the money could range from pounds 200,000 to pounds 1m."

Piers Morgan, editor of The Mirror, agrees that the first baby's story will be attractive to newspapers: "It will be massive. It's like the best name drop in history to be able to say `I was the first person born this millennium'. I honestly think the family could make pounds 1m easily."

But as usual the combination of money and media is not trouble-free. "The first story will be the row over which baby is actually the first,"Mr Morgan said. "If you can find a surgeon to give you an elective Caesarean on the stroke of midnight it could all get horribly distasteful and we'll all run stories on the competing claims and rows about who was doing the timing and all sorts of sinister methods."

The Royal College of Obstetricians said yesterday it would be advising doctors against performing Caesareans at night. "There are common-sense grounds as well as ethical problems. Elective Caesareans are most successful when performed during ordinary working hours," said Professor James Drife of the college. "There would be staffing problems at midnight and even some concerns about the effect of the millennium bug on equipment. We would definitely discourage it."

The media might be encouraging a new-year baby-boom, but no amount of sexy music or money can guarantee a winner. Only 5 per cent of mothers give birth on their due date.