Saturday January 26, 2008
By David Pilditch in Praia da Luz
AMERICA’S top chat show hosts are locked in a bidding war for an exclusive interview with the parents of Madeleine McCann.
Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters have each pledged £1million in an attempt to get them in front of the TV cameras, it emerged yesterday.
And the McCanns, who remain suspects in their four-year-old daughter’s disappearance, are considering taking the cash from one of the rivals to top up a fund which was set up to help find her.
The Find Madeleine Appeal, which once stood at £1.2million through donations from the public, is dwindling at an alarming rate and is said to have plunged to less than £400,000. Fears are growing the money could run out within weeks because of vast spending on private detectives and advertising.
The couple’s spokesman Clarence Mitchell confirmed that they were “talking” to representatives of both chat show giants.
But he insisted money would not be the deciding factor. The couple would go for the show that best helped their search for Madeleine.
The disclosure that they are planning a big-money TV appearance comes just two weeks after they were criticised for considering selling movie and book rights to their story.
Award-winning Oprah, 53, a billionaire, bills herself as “America’s best friend” and “one of the most influential women in the world”.
Her 1993 interview with troubled pop star Michael Jackson pulled in 100 million viewers.
Rival Barbara, Walters, 78 – who prides herself on her “personality and scoops” – claims she has interviewed more statesmen and stars than any other journalist in history.
Her 1999 grilling of Monica Lewinsky about her fling with former US president Bill Clinton attracted 74 million viewers.
Mr Mitchell said: “We’ve been approached by representatives for both Oprah and Barbara. They want an exclusive interview with Kate and Gerry. We are discussing it but it doesn’t mean we are doing it. Nothing has been agreed.”
A family source said the McCanns had several discussions with Oprah’s spokesman but “more conversations” with Barbara’s.
The source added: “Barbara is like royalty over there and has done every major interview with the presidents and the biggest stars.
“Her people said, ‘We have the biggest show in the States with an audience of 15 million from East to West’.”
But Mr Mitchell stressed: “We are not in the market for selling Kate and Gerry’s story to the highest bidder. And we are not impressed by big names. We talk to media from all over the world.”
Mr Mitchell said the couple would only consider a TV interview or documentary film if it was “constructive and helpful” in the search for Madeleine or led to “a long-term change” in procedures to help find missing children.
Only then would contributions or donations to a special fund be welcome, he added.
The McCanns say they have been impressed by a system in America called Amber Alert which triggers an emergency system nationwide when a child is reported missing. They want to campaign for a similar system to be set up in Europe.
But both chat show hosts may be disappointed about how much information they can glean from the McCanns.
Under Portuguese law the couple’s status as suspects bans them from talking publicly about the investigation.
Portuguese police have faced fierce criticism over the handling of the case and their actions in the crucial early hours after Madeleine disappeared from her family’s holiday apartment in Praia da Luz on May 3 last year.