It was in New York on 9 March 1959 that Barbie first saw the light of day. Yesterday, the US embassy in London threw open its doors for her birthday party under the auspices of Mattel UK, and this was clearly Barbie going British. Like the Princess of Wales, Barbie is expected to do her bit for the British car industry: Barbie UK had swapped her red Ferrari for a pink Jaguar XJS. Not without its problems: when the life-size Barb-mobile pulled up in front of the embassy, a cluster of traffic wardens gathered. A worried PR chief muttered: 'They're not going to give it a bloody ticket, are they?'
At the party were 30 British girls and one boy, all sharing the 9 March birthday, who had won a competition to attend. Merryn, 5, who had come from Cornwall the night before, had more Barbie dolls than her mother could count, and was now going to Hamley's to get another one, probably of the talking variety. 'It's a kind of escapism,' her mother said. 'It seems to be becoming an ever younger phase. These days it begins at three and ends by nine or 10.' The truism that girls grow up early nowadays would seem to include Barbie's younger sister, Skipper. I remember her from the 1960s as a distinctly tomboy shape. Yesterday, she was sporting a small bosom.
The impression that Barbie intends to take over the UK market was strengthened recently when she forced her British rival, Sindy, to go under the plastic surgeon's scalpel. Sindy's features had begun to look all too much like Barbie's, and Mattel agreed to settle out of court provided Sindy's face was resculpted. A company spokesman declared: 'This little lady just goes from strength to strength.'
A star attraction was the only boy - Greg, eight, from Burton-on-Trent, whose winning entry quickly made the rounds. 'I wanted to make my sisters jealous.' He did not think much of Barbie and her friends. 'I think they're all show-offs.' A grown-up male said he had come with his mate, one of the clowns entertaining the troops. 'When they said it was for girls who shared the same birthday as Barbie, I thought there would be a lot of 34-year-old women here. That's why I turned up.'
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