Let's play fantasy secret love child

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If you set your mind to playing "fantasy secret love child", the possibilities are endless. Prince Charles's jutting-out ears could be explained by a private assignation between the Queen and Mr Spock, for instance, with rumours that the Duke of Edinburgh is a bit of a rake providing a cunning cover.

Yet this weekend's headline-stealing claim that Paula Yates, television presenter and professional pop star groupie, is the secret love child of Hughie Green - aka Mr Opportunity Knocks, the talent show host - would have to be filed under You-Couldn't-Make-It-Up. The thought that the man responsible for inflicting Freddie Starr, Little and Large and Lena Zavaroni on the poor British nation had also played his part in producing Paula is almost inconceivable.

Until yesterday, Miss Yates's family tree ran like this. She was the daughter of Heller Toren, a beautiful actress, and Jess Yates, the religious broadcaster known as The Bishop until a dramatic fall from grace. (He had an affair with an actress 31 years his junior, and had to be smuggled out of a television studio in a car boot.)

But at Hughie Green's funeral on Friday, his long-time friend Noel Botham used a farewell address to claim that dear Hughie had a love child, whom Mr Botham has now identified as Paula Yates. Yesterday, however, Ms Toren vehemently denied Mr Botham's allegation, stating that Paula was conceived with Jess Yates a month after their marriage and "born the following year in peace and harmony".

Celebrity love stories are, however, always good for a gossip. Hence the mileage in another of this weekend's allegations: the story of a baby Beatle. An ordinary young man who had spent the whole of his 33-year- old life in blissful anonymity as Philip Paul Howarth of Uxbridge, Middlesex, was "revealed" by his mum, Anita Cochrane, as the secret son of Sir Paul McCartney, with whom she enjoyed a brief affair. The truth is known only to the two of them; Sir Paul has denied the allegations. Yet what is amazing is public surprise that the rich and famous may have secret liaisons and secret offspring.

Money may not buy you love, but the combination of fame and fortune is an asset when it comes to fornication. Martin Amis was already the acclaimed author of The Rachel Papers and Dead Babies when he enjoyed a fling with the writer Lamorna Heath in 1975. He was revealed last year as the father of her daughter Delilah, now 21.

Of course, ordinary people do it too. Some estimates put the number of children not sired by the mother's partner as high as one in 10. The thought is an encouraging one. For those who squirm at the parentage they have been allotted, the option is there to play "fantasy secret love child" and choose their own.

The Independent's diarist, Bridget Jones, could take comfort from the thought that her nightmare mother might really be someone else's. Pop star Michael Jackson could take the delusion that he is white even further. And Paula Yates' daughters, Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches, Pixie and Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily, could renounce all kinship with their mother. With names like that, who could blame them?