Grimsby sextuplets are signed up for stardom: Babies make good progress as the sponsorship talks begin

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The Independent Online
THE SEXTUPLETS born in Leeds on Wednesday were signed up to superstardom weeks before their birth, in a deal that should generate much of an estimated pounds 800,000 needed to care for them until age 16.

If the babies - five girls and a boy - survive, they will be only the third set in Britain and the sixth in the world. Without help, they pose a financial and logistical nightmare for their parents, Jean and Jan Vince from Grimbsy. To baby food and clothing companies their birth is a marketing dream.

Like the Walton sisters, the country's first surviving sextuplets, the Grimsby Six have an agent to negotiate every photograph and interview.

Philip Ettinger, managing director of a public relations firm based in Penny Lane, Liverpool, refused to comment on any deals struck so far. 'We really aren't thinking about that. It is early days and I am here to protect the family from the press.' The first photo-call is expected within a week, he added.

The babies, who were delivered by Caesarean section at 29 weeks and weighed from 2lb 12oz to 3lb 15oz, were last night said to be 'stable and healthy' in the special care baby unit at St James University Hospital. Their parents were described as 'over the moon'. Mr Vince, 36, a computer analyst, said that only one baby had been named so far: the smallest is to be Katy.

Dr Simon Newell, director of the unit, said the babies were in 'remarkable' condition. 'All six came out pink, wriggling and showing good efforts to breathe on their own. It was an amazing birth. You could have heard a pin drop in the operating theatre before the section was made. I am very happy with their progress so far.'

The chances of a woman having sextuplets naturally are put at 200,000 billion to one. Mrs Vince, 29, who had been trying for a family for seven years, underwent fertility drug treatment, with which multiple births are common.

Fertility treatment has trebled triplet births since 1980, and many parents have received sponsorship from local firms or shops. Sextuplets, however, represent the 'big time,' and Mr Ettinger spent yesterday fending off the international press interest in the office allocated to him by the hospital.

He has cornered the market in sextuplets, and developed an expertise in their promotion, rep resenting both the Waltons, born in 1983 in Liverpool, and the Colemans, three girls and three boys born in London in 1986. For the Waltons, Mr Ettin ger negotiated deals with a chemists' wholesaler, a baby food manufacturer, and a car firm. On their second birthday a photograph by Lord Lichfield was reproduced world-wide, but Mr Ettinger's real coup was a contract for a yearly television documentary on them.

Jane Denton, nursing director of the Multiple Births Foundation, said that the negative side of sextuplet marketing was the 'massive intrusion and interference' with normal family life. 'I suppose we have to look at the positive aspects, the financial implications for the family. There is no doubt that it will be extremely difficult for them. There is no statutory help for anyone who has a multiple birth; in most European countries there is a lot more on offer.'