kid cachet

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The Independent Online
Question: What do Peter Snow, Clare Short, Imran Khan and Bill Cosby have in common? Answer: They have all been approached by this season's latest fashion accessory - someone claiming to be their love child.

For the celebrity de nos jours, a love child is necessary, a more flattering accompaniment than a handbag and less likely to insult you in public than a girlfriend. (Some style guru should tell Dodi Fayed that a sobbing ex- fiancee is just so last year; in fact, it's surprising that his media- sassy squeeze hasn't set up a charity for love children or adopted one).

This week, Peter Snow provided an object lesson in dealing with unexpected offspring. The Sultan of Swing (we were previously unaware how much he swung it) is said to be delighted at the discovery of his son Matthieu, the result of a liaison 33 years ago. When Matthieu rang up, Mr Snow said: "Don't tell me you're my son. Let's find out ... Are you tall, dark and handsome?''' Luckily for both he was.

Clare Short was similarly ecstatic when reunited with her son Toby, whom she had given up for adoption. "I want everyone to know. I want to show him off. It's just a happy story," she said.

These cases contrast starkly with Bill Cosby and Imran Khan, both of whom deny they fathered their alleged daughters. Cosby has just taken a DNA test to see if he is the father of Autumn Jackson, who was recently convicted for threatening to reveal she was his love child unless he paid her $40m. And earlier this month Imran Khan challenged Sita White, mother of five-year-old Tyrian, to take him to court in Pakistan after Los Angeles Superior Court ruled "by default" that he was the father.

But handled carefully a love child offers obvious advantages for both parties. First, they are likely to get on because the natural parent never had to be the one to say, "No we're not going to the shops today ... Have you done your homework? ... I'm putting a lock on the phone ... I've asked you three times will you turn that rubbish down, I can't hear myself think."

Children on the other hand can be grateful their new parents never knew of their secret addiction to Duran Duran, their bizarre clothes taste as a sixth former, or the epic sulk they went through which lasted from their thirteenth birthday to sixteen and a half.

Second, it seems to be a positive career boost. Would Toby Graham have been a solicitor in the City if he'd stayed with Clare, or Matthieu a rich French banker? No, poor Toby would have spent his teens furtively handing out Labour posters praying his mates didn't spot him, and Matthieu would have been on swingometer polishing duty while struggling to pronounce psephologist.

But there are some rules. Love child, impress on your mother not to give you a silly name. Toby and Matthieu get on well with their parents; Tyrian and Autumn do not. No one is going to believe you if you ring up and say, "Hello, I'm Fantasia and I'm your love child".

Parent, don't try to emulate Peter Snow. The man has done it with panache, you won't live up. The thought of the Prince of Wales confronted by a child claiming to be his saying: "Are you er not very tall with a - well you know, sort of, ears?" is too excruciating to be borne. Similarly Peter Stringfellow: "Hi, are you a sex god with a long blond mane and a propensity for younger and younger girlfriends?"; "Only the first two," his alleged daughter might reply.

Instead acknowledge your child gracefully, open your heart to the newspapers (Hello! if you're really lucky) and you're guaranteed to win Caring Parent of the Year.

Although there is a cautionary tale when praying for some past indiscretion to come to light. The late Hughie Green may have made it back on to every front page but would you really want everyone to think your love child is Paula Yates?