BRINGER OF JOY IN A YEAR FULL OF SADNESS
(Sunday Daily Telegraph, January 3, 1993)

There are no prizes for guessing who rules in the Gibb household. "Drive Carefully - Children On Motorbikes" warns a sign as you enter the long woodland drive. "Children Playing" proclaims the next, 100 metres further down.

You slow to watch the green eyed deer, transfixed by car headlights and at last, you are there, face to face with two large and luminous Father Christmases, guarding the front door. It is the world as we would know it if children ruled.

Marauding through the kitchen, Travis, 12 and Michael, eight, younger sons of Bee Gee Barry Gibb, are wolfing tons of noodles. A television blares, their mother Linda shouts greetings above the din.

Sitting watchful and quiet amid the chaos is Alexandra, the tiny baby who has brought joy to the Gibbs in a year of dreadful sadness.

She is the girl they always longed for - the child born at just 25 weeks (just one week beyond the limit for abortion) and weighing 567 grams, whose survival, you can't but suspect, would only be possible in this strange children's wonderland.

She was Christened last week. It is a triumphant landmark for the child's whose fate was so uncertain a year ago.

"We were frightened to get emotionally attached," said Linda. Barry's wife for 23 years. "The doctors didn't know what to expect; they prepared us for the worst. It was two months before they told us everything was fine.

"Her progress since then has been unbelievable. Now she claps her hands together and waves goodbye; she understands everything you say. She knows the sound of Barry's sneakers and the stairs and calls Dadda." Linda's pride is palpable.

Ali, as they call her, is the brightness in a year which, for the Gibbs truly has been an annus horribilis.

Straight after the trauma of Ali's premature birth, Linda faced a series of new crises. "It was unbelievable," she said. "Ali was in one hospital and Barry was in another having back surgery. He had an allergic reaction to morphine and stopped breathing. I had to keep him talking while the nurse ran to turn off the morphine drip.

"In the middle of the night he had a cardiac arrest; the next night I heard my mother had a serious eye injury. She went into the same hospital as Ali and I was going between them from one floor to the next and from one hospital to the other.

"I was in a daze for about a month. When I sat back, it was like looking at a film, seeing someone else's life. I'd just had a baby, so my hormones were crazy anyway; it was a very stressful time. Then shortly after that Barry's father died and his best friend's father died on the same day. It was a run of dreadful events.

"Ali was a saviour of it all. If it hadn't been for her doing so well, I wouldn't have been able to go on." Ali's first Christmas and her first birthday on December 29th were spent at the Gibb's Buckinghamshire home, their English base.

It's a huge but friendly house, built like an old English hall with great fireplaces and a gallery around the first floor. The couple have four sons - Stephen, 19, and Ashley, 15, as well as Travis and Michael. At 42, Linda looks years younger.

A former Miss Edinburgh with the slightly glitzy glamour of the popstar wife, it's hard to imagine the nightmare she's been through. Linda is relaxed about motherhood - and deeply maternal, for a woman who claims never to have wanted children at all.

"Stephen was an accident; when he was such a good baby, I thought this was a piece of cake. Then along came Ashley. We'd both always wanted a girl- Stephen was going to be Stephanie, Ashley was going to be Ashley whether he was a boy or a girl - and I guess we wanted one of both so we kept trying."

With four growing boys on their hands, the Gibbs were content; for six years after Michael they thought no more about having another.

"Then a couple of years ago Barry said we should try one more time. I said 'Oh Barry, I'm too old!' and he said, 'Come on, one more time.'

"We thought about artificial insemination but then I found out I was pregnant. I was utterly shocked. A friend's little girl said to me 'You've got five babies!' And I said no, I had four. Then she pointed at me and said 'There's one in your tummy. I thought well, that's funny, my period was a bit strange last month. I had thought it was because I was away on tour. I had an old pregnancy kit in the cupboard, left over from Michael.

"When it showed positive, I thought it was must be out of date. I bought three different kits and they all came out positive. I was desperate to find out which sex the baby was, but when I rang the doctor to find out the amniocentesis results and heard it was a perfect little baby, I forgot to ask. When the doctor told me it was a girl, I burst into tears.

"I did everything I could to be healthy while I was pregnant. Then Michael had a virus that passed to me. I think while I was ill, I must have slipped on the floor. I didn't feel anything but my water must have broken.

"That night, I didn't feel right and the next morning my shape had changed; there wasn't the same kind of bump. When I got to the hospital, my temperature was still 104 degrees. They had to get the baby out before the virus passed through the placenta.

"I had an epidural Caesarean so I was awake and I couldn't help crying. How was a baby going to survive at 25 weeks? I knew she was a girl. I knew how much Barry wanted her. I was numb with distress and sadness. Was it something I had done? I gave up hope. I didn't believe a baby of 25 weeks could live.

"It was amazing - she came out crying. Her lungs were as developed as those of a seven and a half month baby, and I think that's what pulled her through. She was breathing on her own straight away.

"She spent three months in the hospital - it was an education. It makes you a lot more sensitive to what other people go through. There's no superstar priority. The doctors do their best for everyone. Every baby is a little star."

The early months were sometimes a nightmare.

"She'd forget to breathe and we'd have to flick her a little, tap her foot to start the brain going again. It was very nerve-racking. We had to do a resuscitation course for babies. It was quite a learning process.

"She's catching up more quickly than most premature babies. She can stand and walk around her playpen, so she's about right for her age. The boys are very good with her, very loving and gentle. There's no jealousy, at least, not yet.

"Ali's got a very good sense of humour and Barry makes her chuckle. He always goes and plays with her when he comes home from the studio between six and eight. At seven, he'll buzz me in the kitchen - "Come play with Ali'.

"She pulls his beard and his hair, which no one else is allowed to do.

Little girls have a closeness with their fathers. "I don't know how Barry will cope as she gets older. He does allow the boys a certain amount of freedom. As Stephen has grown older he seems to chat more with his dad, but in fact Barry's a bit shy about things. There's a slightly prudish side to him. 'Talk to your Mum', he'll tell them -maybe Ali will go to her Dad.

"It's hard to be a parent. Even with boys you hope they're doing the right thing and taking precautions. I know they're very honest with me -they told me the first time they had sex.

"But children today grow up more quickly; there's pressure from drugs and sex which we didn't have; there's AIDS, disease, a lot more problems in the world. I think we'll be very protective of Ali."

Beside the Christmas tree, Linda is lifting Ali upwards in her arms, her daughter giggling fearlessly and reaches towards the lights. After a year of much sadness, it is a new beginning.

"Now," says Linda, "I throw her around the way I did the others."

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