Wednesday, May 20, 2009

UK's youngest dad, how not to play the press

Fish and chips, late night Friday booze binges, MPs on the expenses take, Buckingham Palace, the weather. Oh and Wimbledon.

Take your pic, but the complexities of British culture, as with many other countries is wrapped up not by any one singularity.

Occasionally, just occasionally, a new Britain emerges to fight its place.

Months back it was the shocking ( Did I say shocking!) story of a 13 year old becoming the UK's youngest dad.

In what became a freak circus show, the media staked out Alfie Patten's home, feeding curiosity news to frankly what might at times be termed a hypocritical news hungry public.

Hypocritical because for all the moral outrage, you sneaked, even devoured the news of this saga tut tutting as matters unfolded.

And the news sold well. Great ratings hits for The Sun

Was he the dad? For the perceived view fed by the media was that his parents were trying to cash in on his fame. Infamy! Fame! You call it.

Then other boys, potentially fathers, stepped forward. Their folks too reported by the press appeared to want in on the action. This was good cheque-book journalism.

You tell us your story and we'll pay you wads of cash.

Except that this hasn't quite been the case in a turn of the story that's left the subjects at the centre of this storm, more than stumped.

The real non story?
Yesterday, an injunction was lifted by the courts following a paternity test. It barely got into the news, in stark contrast to its running serial commentary months back.

On Radio 4, PR supremo Max Clifford whose skills at "promote and protect" is legendary and took up representing the family had some news.

All the monies promised the family had not been forthcoming. And Alfie, the youngest dad there is, is in fact Not the dad after all. Media reports say Alfie now 14 years old was extremely distraught.

He may not get into the Guinness Record book, but away from the frenzy, you pause to think, here's a kid who's been dragged through the media, who's mentally- however much- whipped himself up for his new role only then to be told, "Eh mate it's not yours after all".

'Don't worry though cuz yer famous, you poor sod"

"Yeah and that video of you, it's going to haunt you for probably all your life"

How and why the story got out in the first place is something I'd want to know, which Channel 4 may well provide in a documentary.

But it's a poor reminder of the dynamic workings of the media and the Warholism's fame factor spinning out of control.

It's a sad reminder of how a young naive boy, who should have been protected from the system, was left high and dry, even if one national newspaper reported by The Guardian has agreed to set up a trust fund for the baby.

Buckingham Palace?? To that list we might now add Alfie Patten for sadly the wrong, very wrong reasons.

By the way did you know teenage pregnancies in the UK rank amongst the highest in Europe.