Thursday, 31 May 2007

For Madeleine's sake, beware the juggernaut of publicity

This is a piece that is almost impossible to write.

It is an almost unutterable message to Kate and Gerry McCann, but I feel I must say it before it is too late: "Please, please, for your own sake and the sake of your missing daughter Madeleine, step off this speeding juggernaut of publicity for just a second. Be still for one moment and think about what you are doing, about where you go next."

I realise that just writing those words leaves me open to howls of protest, to accusations of callousness and insensitivity.

What mother or father in their situation could think of anything but getting their child back? Who could pause when every second might make the difference? But hear me out.

Like millions of people, each night my first prayer is for Madeleine’s safe return. My second is for Kate and Gerry McCann, to give them the strength to endure the horror that has befallen them.

Any parent would move heaven and earth to try to find their missing child. If that means shouting Madeleine’s name in every corner of the globe, then the McCanns have made it plain they will do so. To that end, they have helped orchestrate a publicity campaign to keep their daughter’s face in the forefront of the public’s mind, to maximise public support.

And herein lies the danger. For I cannot help but question whether a new heart-rending, eye-catching initiative day after day is the right way to go about things.

Especially when it means exposing even the most intimate moments of family despair. Moments like the one on Tuesday night, when they kissed goodbye to their two-year-old twins, Amelie and Sean, before flying off for their audience with the Pope.

Not for one second do I doubt their motives — and Pope Benedict’s support is both moving and laudable. All the McCanns want is to get Madeleine back, whatever it takes, however long it takes. And yet, and yet . . .