Last updated at 10:55am on 26th January 2008
The parents of Madeleine McCann are in talks to strike a £1million deal with two of America’s biggest chat show stars.
Kate and Gerry McCann are at the centre of a bidding war between Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters.
Both celebrities are desperate to land an exclusive deal for the couple to talk about their missing daughter. If it goes ahead, it will be the largest publicly-known amount ever paid for a broadcast interview.
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The McCanns, both 39, say they have been forced to consider the bids because their £1.2million Find Madeleine appeal fund is expected to run dry by June.
But the move, expected to earn them £1million, will horrify those who have already accused them of cashing in since their daughter, then three, vanished from their holiday apartment in Portugal last May.
The couple’s representatives have already met with producers to discuss turning the eight-month investigation into the disappearance into a film and could earn up to another £1million from selling the film and book rights.
Earlier this month, they faced widespread criticism over their decision to give an interview to glossy society magazine Vanity Fair.
Last night, their spokesman Clarence Mitchell confirmed that representatives of Mr and Mrs McCann had held talks with producers from both shows, which attract huge audiences in the U.S.
But he denied they were selling their story to the highest bidder and said money would not be the deciding factor. The couple will appear on the show which can best help to search for Madeleine, he insisted.
“We have been approached by representatives for both Oprah and Barbara,” he added. “They want an exclusive interview with Kate and Gerry.
“We are discussing it but it doesn’t mean we are definitely doing it. Nothing has been agreed.”
Mr Mitchell said the McCanns would only agree to a deal which would widen the search for their daughter.
The couple, both doctors, also want to campaign for a better Europe-wide alert system for missing children, based on an American model.
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But the prospect of them appearing on a chat show sofa while they remain official suspects in Madeleine’s disappearance will enrage their critics.
Billionaire Miss Winfrey, 53, styles herself as “America’s Best Friend” and is considered one of the most influential women in the world. She has made her name from the ever-popular tabloid style soft-focus “confessional” talk show.
Her interview with fallen pop star Michael Jackson in 1993 was watched by 100million viewers worldwide, making it one of the most watched programmes ever.
Her 78-year-old rival Miss Walters has offered to come out of semi-retirement to conduct the McCann interview.
She claims to have interviewed more politicians and stars than any other journalist. Her 1999 interview with President Bill Clinton’s alleged lover Monica Lewinsky attracted an audience of 74million viewers.
A source close to the McCanns said their representatives had spoken most with Miss Walters’ producers at ABC News. The friend said: “She is like royalty and has done every major interview, with the presidents and the biggest stars. Her people claim to have the biggest show in the States.”
Mr and Mrs McCann have until now always shunned offers from chat shows, saying they want to be perceived as ordinary parents, not as celebrities.
The successful bidder for their story could face disappointment about how much they could actually reveal on any chat show.
As suspects, they are barred by strict Portuguese secrecy laws from discussing any aspect of the case itself, including the events of the night of May 3 when Madeleine vanished from their apartment in Praia da Luz on the Algrave.
But they have given a handful of interviews since being made suspects, in which they have discussed their feelings about that development and continued to appeal for their daughter’s safe return.