02 June 2007
The abduction of Madeleine McCann has sparked an unprecedented global campaign. Esther Addley reports on the family's desperate efforts to keep her in the headlines
By Esther Addley
Saturday June 2, 2007
On Wednesday, it was the Vatican. Yesterday it was Madrid, next will be Berlin, then Amsterdam, then most likely Morocco. Tomorrow will mark a month since Madeleine McCann, nine days shy of her fourth birthday, vanished from a holiday apartment in southern Portugal, and this week her parents, still clasping treasured photographs and her increasingly dog-eared cuddly toy, have taken the search to the rest of Europe and beyond. After their audience with the Pope, they spent yesterday meeting the Spanish interior minister and local journalists, before appearing on the country's version of Crimewatch to make another emotional appeal to whoever is holding their daughter. Further ministerial meetings and press appearances are planned. After that, according to those close to the couple, the schedule has not been finalised; what is certain is that it will be far from quiet.
Until the evening of Thursday May 3, Kate and Gerry McCann were an anonymous couple from a small East Midlands town. Today they are at the centre of what has become an international publicity hurricane of quite unprecedented scale. Their daughter's face, screened at the FA Cup final, was seen by an estimated 500 million people; a short video about the toddler was also shown at the Uefa and Heineken cup finals, while Liverpool players posed before their unsuccessful Champion's League bid behind a banner that read: Bring Maddie Home. Gordon Brown, while campaigning to become Labour leader, has worn a yellow ribbon to show solidarity with the McCanns; many of his colleagues did the same, along with David Beckham, countless premiership and SPL football teams and the England cricket team.
JK Rowling, Sir Richard Branson, the theatre impresario Bill Kenwright, the philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter and Jacqueline Gold of the Ann Summers sex shop chain, have each pledged hundreds of thousands of pounds for information leading to Madeleine's safe return; one Scottish businessman offered a million. Sir Philip Green loaned his private jet, which took the couple to the Vatican and brought them back in time to tuck Madeleine's twin siblings into bed. BP, Exxon, McDonald's, Carrefour, the French bank Crédit Agricole and the Spanish Banco Santander are displaying her poster around Europe; Vodafone, O2 and the Spanish Telefonica network have sent text messages to their subscribers. In the US, Madeleine's face has appeared on the cover of People magazine, and Oprah Winfrey has invited the family on to her talk show.
A month on, this much we know about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. At about 9.30pm on the second to last evening of the family's holiday, she was asleep in their rented apartment alongside the twins, Sean and Amelie. At 10pm, when Kate McCann went to check on her children, she was not. Nothing else is certain. The police search of the area surrounding Praia da Luz, the resort from which she vanished, was wound up after a week having yielded "zero results", police said, and despite the designation of a British man in the town as an official "suspect", he has not been arrested. The only piece of information that is known came from a friend of the McCanns who was rushing to meet the couple for dinner at about 9.30pm on the night of Madeleine's disappearance when she saw a man carrying away a child in pink pyjamas.
A beautiful child, snatched from her bed while two babies slept alongside, will always be headline news. Yet rarely has the world's media had so much to say - daily, inexhaustible, blanket coverage - about so very little hard information. The McCanns themselves, say friends, have been bewildered at the scale of the coverage, while at the same time feeling a compulsion to ramp it up, convinced that someone will be stung into coming forward. They can scarcely have imagined that, a month on, the perfect media storm would appear very far from blowing itself out.
The McCanns were immediately certain that their daughter had been kidnapped and determined to publicise her disappearance as widely as possible, ensuring that, from the very first moments, the hunt for Madeleine was as much about the media coverage as it was the police investigation. Jill Renwick has known the couple since they all worked together at a Glasgow hospital more than a decade ago. She spoke to Kate at 7am on the morning after Madeleine vanished: "She just said, 'Help me, please help me'. She said, 'We've been searching all night until 4.30am, and then everybody left us'. At that stage there was only one police officer at the door. They didn't know what to do. So I phoned GMTV."
She also phoned the McCanns' wider circle of friends, who mobilised to phone anyone they could think of to beg for help. Renwick's sister called someone she knew in CID, someone had a connection with Des Browne, the defence secretary. One friend lives close to the Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark, said Renwick: "She knocked on her door and said, 'I know you must think I'm mad but my friend's wee girl is missing, can you do anything to help?' Though they are not friends, Gordon Brown's brother John lives in the same street as Renwick: "I stopped him in the street the day afterwards and said, 'These are my friends. Do you think you could speak to Gordon about it?' And he said of course. I don't know if anything came about that way."
In Praia da Luz, meanwhile, the couple rapidly found themselves the beneficiaries of high-level media advice. The holiday firm Mark Warner reacted with admirable speed to the kidnap. By Saturday morning its managing director and UK operations director were in the resort, along with two trauma counsellors and Alex Woolfall, a PR specialist contracted by the firm. Woolfall, head of crisis management at leading PR agency Bell Pottinger, who advised Monsanto during the storm over GM food, would become for a fortnight the family's adviser and press go-between. He is probably one of the people in Britain best placed to manage such a situation, and it showed. Very swiftly, the storm of TV and print journalists camped outside the family's apartment had established a number of informal rules of engagement: Kate and Gerry would be left largely alone to take their twins to playgroup, for instance; TV cameras would remain fixed. It was made known to reporters that the family wanted their daughter to be referred to as Madeleine rather than the tabloid-coined Maddy.
"We were aware from the outset that there was a huge amount of media interest," said Woolfall, "and they in all the conversations I had with them were very keen to see the media as a partner."
Thus began a carefully scheduled round of interviews, photo-opportunities and press conferences. Helped by the wider family at home, additional photographs were released of Madeleine: a picture of the toddler in an Everton top mobilised the club and Kenwright, its chairman, to their own gestures of support. A holiday snap of the family in Donegal was splashed across the Irish papers. Vigils in Scotland and Leicestershire ensured the presence of their local media in Praia da Luz.
Back in the UK, relatives launched a website and fund to handle some of the many thousands of offers of support they had received; in the first 48 hours the site had received 75m hits, becoming the fastest-growing website on the internet. But however much access the family offer, they cannot hope to meet a demand that remains, a month on, apparently insatiable. Some 62% of all traffic on the Google news website last week consisted of searches about Madeleine.
Woolfall said that, despite their determination to appear before the press as much as possible, the couple have been amazed at the interest in their story. "This couple don't suddenly see themselves as celebrities. If you had actually met them, sat in their apartment and seen them with the twins, they are just like any other couple. But they find themselves having to ask themselves: what can we possibly do that means we will be able to sleep tonight, knowing that we have done everything today that we could have done?"
Brian Kennedy, Kate McCann's uncle, is also chair of the Find Madeleine fund. "There have been a number of sizeable donations but there have also been a huge number of very small ones. It's been very moving. We're incredibly grateful." Part of the money raised - £581,000 by yesterday afternoon - will be used to support the wider family in their campaigning, he said.
Woolfall left Praia da Luz after a fortnight; the McCanns are now being advised on behalf of the Foreign Office by Clarence Mitchell, a former BBC reporter. He organised, in association with British embassies around Europe, the current publicity tour. If anything, say members of the still sizeable press pack accompanying the McCanns, the media operation has become even more professional.
Despite the couple's remarkable drive, Renwick said the tour was taking its toll on her friend. "I think she finds the nights the hardest," she said. "They are busy during the day, they have quite a lot going on, but once the twins have gone to bed and its just the pair of them ... of course it will hit you then."
They are also terribly nervous of overkill. "Although it seems as though Kate and I are in the media all the time, that is not the case," Gerry McCann said yesterday in Madrid. "I can assure you that Kate and I are getting a lot of quality time with Sean and Amelie. Spending time with them helps us cope with the fact that Madeleine is missing."
Team McCann, as the family campaign calls itself, shows little sign of running out of ideas. Assuming Madeleine has not been found, they plan to target the Tour de France, golf tournaments, Grand Prix events, the Isle of Man TT, perhaps even the publishers of the new Harry Potter novel. Leicester hospital has planned a summer ball in aid of the fund; Squirrel Hayes first school in Biddulph, Staffordshire, will be doing their bit on Wednesday with a fashion show.
Meanwhile back in Portugal the investigation continues. Earlier this week it was revealed that the police's latest approach is to check through hundreds of messages from clairvoyants claiming to have information about Madeleine.
"I can assure you that Kate and I are getting a lot of quality time with Sean and Amelie."
Picking up the kids from the creche, or having lunch with them is not included in quality time, it seems.
"And if Madeleine had hurt herself inside the apartment, why would that be our fault?" Gerry
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I haven`t checked the statements of individual witnesses outside the Tapas group to see whether there are any explicit references to the number of people who arrived and started the meal together.