The Kilshaws: stars in a soap opera of their own making

You couldn't make it up if you tried. The family has swapped dignity for celebrity
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Is it unduly flippant to see the story of the Kilshaws and their attempt to adopt twin girls through an internet agency as an example of how the media can, with the right materials, create something that is part news story, part soap opera? And then keep it running with almost daily instalments?

Is it unduly flippant to see the story of the Kilshaws and their attempt to adopt twin girls through an internet agency as an example of how the media can, with the right materials, create something that is part news story, part soap opera? And then keep it running with almost daily instalments?

I know it is also a serious matter. Two tiny tots have already had three different sets of "parents" during their short lives. Two systems of social security, the American and the British, have failed them. They have been traded as if they were just another consumer item.

An unregulated market in babies up for adoption has developed because, in Britain at least, the official arrangements are a bureaucratic nightmare. For whenever unsatisfied demand exists, sooner or later, extra supply is created and transactions take place, legally or illegally.

But that said, there is the other, striking aspect. For three weeks now, Alan and Judith Kilshaw have provided almost non-stop entertainment for TV and newspapers. You couldn't make it up if you tried. They have swapped dignity for celebrity. Part of the fascination of the story is this middle-aged, middle-class couple against the world. They remind me of the Neil Hamiltons. The husband may be the cleverer of the two, but the wife is the braver fighter.

For a docu-soap narrative, this is a pretty good start. What you need next is saints and sinners. The six-month-old twins, Belinda and Kimberley, effortlessly play the parts of innocence incarnate. They are the "good", the victims, against whom a series of "villains" can be contrasted.

First up for vilification was the "baby broker", Tina Johnson of San Diego, who obligingly asserted: "I am not a baby-seller." Ms Johnson says she merely charges for her services and her administrative costs. Apprehensive, no doubt, about the role being prepared for her, Ms Johnson was quick to appoint her own spokesman.

Mrs Kilshaw, however, has had to deny a series of monstrous charges. "I am not a witch...I haven't cast black-magic spells in revenge for my babies being taken into care."

Nonetheless, we get the general picture. The Kilshaw household is said to contain six dogs, 18 cats, two ferrets, several goldfish, a horse, a Shetland pony and two pot-bellied pigs. Goodness know what goes on there. Photographs are published of the Kilshaws' allegedly "dirty and unkempt" home. Mrs Kilshaw vigorously denies this. Whose house isn't in a bit of a mess from time to time, especially if there are children at home? But worse was still to come.

"My internet mother wanted to rent my womb - daughter's nightmare with parents who bought twins." Louisa Richardson, Mrs Kilshaw's daughter by her first marriage, had given the Daily Mail an exclusive interview. In it she claimed that her mother had offered her £3,000 to act as a surrogate mother, having already advertised for an egg donor in a local paper.

The characters have been assembled. Now for some action. Luckily there is plenty. For a skulduggery episode, we meet new members of the cast, the American couple, the Allens, who first adopted the children. They had allegedly agreed to pay the internet adoption agency £4,000 for the twins. But it seems the Kilshaws were prepared to pay twice that. Next thing, the Allens were told that the natural mother wanted to see her daughters one more time for a final goodbye. The kids were taken to a nearby hotel, where the Kilshaws were waiting, and handed over.

You wouldn't perhaps expect a car chase, but there is one. The Kilshaws drove the twins to Little Rock, capital of Arkansas, to get the legal paperwork completed, closely followed by the Allens. The 4,000-mile trip took seven days. It must have been a bit like Humbert fleeing across America with Lolita in Nabokov's novel, pursued by the mysterious Aztec Red convertible.

Then came the ambush scene, not on the road but in a television studio last week. The Kilshaws and Allens appeared together on the Oprah Winfrey show. But just minutes after recording had been completed, the Allens succeeded in having the Kilshaws served with a writ ordering them to appear before an Arkansas judge.

What will the Kilshaws do now? Well, they are planning to do a few more TV interviews. It seems that they only feel truly alive when answering reporters' questions and seeing themselves on screen or in print. Mr Kilshaw has said that Hollywood producers have been in contact with him to discuss a possible film version of his story. This was taken by some as a sign that he had lost touch with reality.

In one sense, that is surely true. But the couple are plugged into another reality, a soap opera about baby twins, bought through the internet and then lost, two more household members to go alongside the six dogs, 18 cats, two ferrets, several goldfish, etc, that await the Kilshaws' return.

aws@globalnet.co.uk

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