When success is in their genes

Cricketing triumph of Beefy's boy shows how talent breeds talent. Report by Rebecca Fowler
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The Independent Online
EVEN when he was playing ball in the garden as a small boy, his father would never let him win.

Ian Botham's lack of compromise with his son apparently paid off this week as Liam, 19, made a stunning debut for Hampshire and joined the gallery of anointed offspring following in the footsteps of famous parents.

The "like father, like son" Bothams have emerged as the latest example of how extraordinary aptitude can be passed from one generation to the next, creating talent dynasties in sports, arts, music, and academia. So far it is also among the happiest images of filial bonds bringing out the best.

"Beefy's boy", as Liam has been dubbed, showed from an early age that he shared the sporting aptitude of his father, excelling at all games, including rugby and football, according to his family.

He also displayed his father's fierce competitive spirit.

When Liam won his first plaudits at Hampshire he said: "I learned to compete from about the age of nine or 10. Everything I took Dad on at was for real, whether it was Monopoly, poker, snooker, fishing or golf. We both wanted to win. Bothams don't come second."

Others who have succeeded at the parental calling include Damon Hill, the racing driver whose father Graham was a world champion and Vanessa Redgrave's daughters Joely and Natasha who have both followed her on to the stage. Toby Stephens, the rising Shakespearean star, is the son of Dame Maggie Smith and the late Sir Robert Stephens, and Sir Rocco Forte took over the family hotel empire from his father Lord (Charles) Forte; Dominic Lawson edited the Spectator in the footsteps of Nigel Lawson while Kim Wilde achieved fame as a pop star, as her father Marty Wilde had done.

The experts suggest that for the most part the offspring of the famous stand a much better chance of succeeding, particularly in areas such as sport and music, as well as intellectual pursuits which flourish with a combination of good genes and a supportive environment.

Dr Petruska Clarkson, a consultant psychologist, said: "There's quite a simple equation: the genetic endowment will set the ceiling and the environment will determine whether it comes out or not."

But she added: "The one little twist is that, sometimes to be the child of someone who is really outstanding goes badly wrong.

"This involves having difficulty living up to parents - and parents sometimes not letting their children live up to them." The late Graham Hill took the cautious approach with his son.

He warned: "I can't believe that any parents want their son to go steaming into motor racing. Damon is far too intelligent for that."

But Damon, when given the chance to follow in his father's wheel tracks, cited him as the greatest force behind his own phenomenal success.

"He was my inspiration, and my guiding light was seeing how he made it from nothing," Damon said. "He never had help from anyone, but he got where he wanted to go."

However, there have been almost as many casualties as successes among the children of the famous, especially in Hollywood.

Marlon Brando's son Christian served five years for murder, and his daughter Cheyenne committed suicide. Victoria Sellers, the daughter of Britt Ekland and Peter Sellers, also ended up in jail, through drug addiction.

In the sharp world of business the task of taking on an empire built up from nothing by a parent, only to watch the light pall must also be a burden. Sir Rocco Forte failed to beat off an aggressive Granada buy- out earlier this year, and held a party afterwards in the Cafe Royal where his father once had his private offices when he still commanded the chain he had created.

Generally, the sons and daughters of the talent dynasties of Britain are stoical about their position.

Richard Olivier, son of the Late Lord Olivier, who directed his sisters and Joan Plowright, his mother, in the West End, said at the outset of his career: "There is no way I would make out that the burden of the name has been greater than the opportunity of being an apprentice at the feet of the masters."

His father also gave Toby Stephens the first test of his mettle when at 15 he was taken to Lord Olivier's for tea by his stepfather.

He recalled: "He asked my stepdad if I wanted to be an actor, and his response as he looked at me was, 'You know what they say: It always misses a generation.' I was crushed."

For the Bothams at least there was some good old-fashioned family pride yesterday.

Marie Botham, Liam's grandmother, said: "His father is very proud. He was the first person to ring me and tell me to look at the result on Teletext. When it's in the family people tend to expect it. It's always been the same for Liam, but we are all really proud of him."