A look at two people who were there in the immediate aftermath of Madeleine's
Alex Woolfall - Head of Issues and Crisis Management for the Bell Pottinger
John Hill - Manager of the Mark Warner Ocean Club at Praia da Luz
Alex Woolfall is Head of Issues and Crisis Management for the Bell Pottinger Group.
He has 20 years experience
of public relations and specialises in helping companies in multiple sectors prepare for and respond to difficult or controversial
issues, as well as manage actual crises.
Alex’s experience covers deliberate sabotage and accidental contamination
of products (from food to pharmaceuticals); accident, injury and death in the workplace; allegations of corporate manslaughter;
product recalls; corporate fraud and theft; court cases on the grounds of sex, race and age discrimination; redundancy and
closure announcements; the use of illegal and/or child labour; regulatory breaches; mislabelling of products; abduction and
robberies and terrorist related activities.
Alex Woolfall, far right, with the McCanns inside the church at Praia da Luz
Last updated at 08:52 15 May 2007
The PR man
Experienced public relations man Alex Woolfall has been acting as the family spokesman when Kate and Gerry McCann have
not wished to appear themselves before the world's media.
He is described as press officer for the Mark Warner holiday group but, in fact, has been seconded from the Bell Pottinger
Group - the PR firm headed by Lord Bell, Lady Thatcher's former PR guru.
I saw Kate and Gerry McCanns' despair and if they were acting they deserved an Oscar, 06
I saw Kate and Gerry McCanns' despair and if they were acting they deserved an Oscar
The PR expert who advised Madeleine's parents in the first weeks of her disappearance offers a new insight into
their state of mind
October 6, 2007
Gerry and Kate McCann's on-screen composure in the days after their daughter disappeared was at odds with their turmoil
and dread behind the scenes, a witness says today.
The couple swung between uncontrollable distress and a determination to do what was needed to help to find Madeleine.
They gave no indication that they thought she had been snatched, let alone by a paedophile. Their early assumption was that
she had wandered off and had an accident or been taken in by a well-meaning stranger.
Alex Woolfall, a public relations consultant for the holiday resort where the child disappeared, was with the McCanns
regularly for that first fortnight and is convinced that they are innocent. "That they could be involved and in any way be
guilty - to me they would have to win every Golden Globe and every Oscar ever awarded," he told The Times.
Mr Woolfall has provided the first detailed account by an insider of what happened to the McCanns during the desperate
days after Madeleine disappeared. He is an expert in crisis PR at the communications group Bell Pottinger and flew to Portugal
as part of the Mark Warner holiday company’s emergency response team on Saturday, May 5. Madeleine vanished on the evening
of May 3.
He met the couple for the first time at their new apartment. "They were behaving exactly as I thought someone in that
situation would be," Mr Woolfall said. "They had not slept. They were trying to work out what to do that might help generate
images of her. They were desperately keen to publicise her face."
The McCanns had photographs of Madeleine on their digital camera, which Mr Woolfall began transferring to a laptop computer.
"I said to Kate, 'Let's try to identify pictures where her face is visible'. Downloading the images was a very difficult process
for them. It was upsetting.
"They were trying to do two things at once: one, emotionally deal with what was actually, really happening to them; two,
operate in some sort of logical way to help get her back."
Mr Woolfall transmitted the photographs to the Press Association in London, from where they were distributed to the media.
The portfolio included the now famous image of Madeleine wearing a hat on a tennis court.
The McCanns wanted to do more. "They were exhausted and despairing but thinking, 'Should we go outside and say something
that might get her back?' They said they wanted to head downstairs and talk to the media. They were very tired, but that was
one thing they were determined to do."
Mr Woolfall went out to alert journalists and returned to the McCanns. "They wrote down what they wanted to say and went
out and gave a short statement. After that, they were completely spent. You could tell there was nothing left."
Mr Woolfall was surprised by the reaction of British viewers to the couple's demeanour. "I was struck at the perception
of people who had watched Kate and Gerry: that they were very controlled and perhaps were not responding in a way people thought
would be more natural. They were not at all controlled. When I was with them, they were between being completely distraught
and trying to do what they felt was the right thing." Armchair detectives have leapt to wild conclusions based on the few
alleged details of the case to have emerged. One bone of contention has been whether Mrs McCann, when raising the alarm that
Madeleine was missing, screamed: "They've taken her." Some have questioned why a mother would leap to the conclusion that
a child had been abducted.
Mr Woolfall says that he heard no suggestion in the early days that the girl had been snatched. "Certainly I did not
hear any discussion that this could be a paedophile or an aggravated robbery. All the time I was around it was whether she
could have wandered off and had an accident or somebody had actually taken her in, perhaps not with ill-intent.
"During the first 48 hours the word being used was 'missing' rather than 'abducted' or any link with a paedophile or
any sort of crime. Towards the end of the second week I detected a shift towards there being a consciousness that she had
probably been taken rather than wandered off, just on the assumption that anybody would have found her by now."
Many theories have emerged from the claim that Madeleine's twin sister and brother, aged 2, failed to wake or cry when
she vanished. Mr Woolfall said he had not heard of the twins' alleged silence until he read about it in a newspaper in Britain.
The claim was attributed to the Portuguese police.
There has even been a suggestion that Mrs McCann carried her daughter's Cuddle Cat soft toy because it would look good
on TV. "For that to have in any way validity, it would cancel out the fact that these two people hadn't got a clue about PR
or the media," Mr Woolfall said. "To suddenly be that sophisticated . . . I noticed Kate often had this toy with her. It was
Madeleine’s favourite toy and she would go to bed with it. Kate had it with her when she went to church. She had it
in the apartment."
A lingering puzzle for many is why the couple left three children in the flat. "When I first got to Praia da Luz, I asked
Mark Warner to put me in the chair at the tapas restaurant that they had sat in and show me where the apartment was," Mr Woolfall
said. "It never struck me that it would be a particularly odd thing to leave your children in that apartment, given that it
was so close.
"It is incredibly sleepy and quiet in Praia da Luz. There is no traffic noise. One day when he was standing on a balcony,
Gerry was saying how they felt when they first came to the resort. The pool was close, supermarket round the corner. They
felt everything was a stone's throw."
The McCanns have sometimes irritated observers with the fervency of their do-it-yourself campaign. "When I came back
there was criticism: why is this couple out there publicising this, doing interviews, going in front of cameras, going through
photo opportunities? If you look at what would have happened in the UK, you would have had, probably within hours, a proactive
intervention by British police, who would have said this is the process we now need to go through.
"Kate and Gerry have been largely left to get on with it, with no support in the initial stages, or guidance. They realised
the media were a huge potential ally."
Mr Woolfall recalled how the bewildered couple gradually began to recover their composure. "In the first week they were
not thinking. They actually did not think. They were in shock.
"In the second week, Gerry behaved very much like a doctor would do. Doctors are analytical. He started to have much
more strategic conversations with me about what they might do. They became more aware that getting Madeleine's photograph
widely distributed in Spain and possibly North Africa was sensible.
"Gerry said to me, 'We don't want the awareness that Madeleine has gone missing to disappear overnight, and that we are
a family whose child went missing on holiday and that is the end of it. We want to try and find her.' When I left Portugal,
the beginnings of the idea of having a campaign were probably forming.
"They were actually quite hopeful - far more in that frame of mind than despondent and downbeat. They had gone 360 degrees
several times through all the different emotional states, but they soon got some good control on things."
Mr Woolfall left after a fortnight working from 5am to 1am, fending 200 calls a day from journalists as far away as Norway
and South Africa. He warned the McCanns that they needed a press officer. "Gerry, I think, spoke to the Consulate and said
'Can you help us? Because there is a lot of media interest and we cannot manage.' As a result of that the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office flew out Sheree Dodd [an experienced government spokeswoman]."
At first, journalists treated the McCanns with great respect, but there was a free-for-all when the couple took their
first unscheduled walk along the beach. "Freelance snappers started to get quite close to them and one or two questions were
thrown at them. That was probably the very early stages of the change," Mr Woolfall said. "It reached a crescendo when the
McCanns tried to take their kids to the crèche and were bombarded by snappers and freelancers."
When the McCanns were made suspects, Mr Woolfall was bemused. "I thought it was ridiculous. I couldn't believe it. Completely
Did you suspect them? "My God, no, absolutely not in any way at any stage. I walked into that apartment and just saw
two people who were frantic that their daughter had gone missing. Nobody could possibly, if they had anything to do with that,
behave in that way for so long.
"It made me laugh rather than be exasperated. From Day One they could not move anywhere without 100 flash bulbs going
off. The whole idea that they could have done any of the things the police were suggesting was farcical.
"You could not pick another couple on the planet that would have had that many cameras trained on them."
June Wright, Luz resident, speaking on the Channel 4 dispatches documentary 'Searching for Madeleine':
"I arrived at the Ocean Club
reception at around about 10 to
11 and at the time that we
arrived a police car arrived -
and as the police officer got
out a man approached him, who I
now know is Gerry McCann and
said that his daughter had been
abducted. That there was no way
that she could have opened the
shutters herself, she'd
definitely been taken."
Alex Woolfall reads statement 09 May 2007
Telegraph report dated 10 May 2007 (refers to statement that was read the day before 09 May 2007) (link)
A statement released by Gerry and Kate McCann today said: "We are grateful to all of those currently taking part in the
search for our daughter Madeleine.
"At present we are channelling all of our emotions and all of our efforts into the steps that are being taken to secure
Madeleine's safe return.
"We continue to remain positive and we thank the media for their ongoing support to publicise the search for Madeleine."
The McCanns, who have repeatedly faced the cameras since their daughter's disappearance last Thursday, did not appear
in person and the statement was read by Mark Warner representative Alex Woolfall.
Alex Woolfall reads statement on Madeleine's birthday, 12 May 2007
Daily Mail report 12 May 2007 (link)
Marking Madeleine's birthday today in private they issued a statement which was read out by Alex Woolfall on behalf of
Mark Warner Holidays which operates the Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz.
Their message said simply: "Today is our daughter Madeleine's fourth birthday. We would like to mark today by asking people
to redouble their efforts to help find Madeleine. We know that there is already a huge amount of effort and resource being
put into the search for our daughter. We also know that offers of support are being made daily. It is this that keeps us strong
and gives us hope. On Madeleine's birthday, please keep looking, please keep praying, please help bring Madeleine home."
Alex Woolfall, far left, with the McCanns on Madeleine's birthday, 12 May 2007
Alex Woolfall, far left, with the McCanns on Madeleine's birthday, 12 May 2007
Alex Woolfall says Gerry is in charge
Khaleej Times 15 May 2007 (link)
Alex Woolfall, a spokesman for Mark Warner, the travel firm the McCanns
booked their villa with, said: "The walk on the beach by Kate and Gerry this afternoon is all part of their desire to show
they're in charge.
showing that they're going to bring people out to Portugal, they're going to get the resources in, and they're going to stay
in Portugal for as long as it takes. Knowing the determination that Gerry has, I have every hope he will succeed."
Operations Manager of the Mark Warner Ocean Club complex in Praia da Luz
The Resident, 04 May 2007 (link)
The Resident spoke to John Hill - Operations Manager for Mark Warner, who told us the parents went for dinner
at a tapas restaurant in the resort while the children Madeleine and 2-year-old twins, Amelie and Sean, were asleep.
Hill said "They had not requested the 'dining out' service - a child minding service which allows parents to enjoy a meal
while their children are being looked after by qualified personnel." While this service is available at the resort, the parents
decided to check on the children at regular half hourly intervals themselves.
It has been rumoured that the parents
did request the baby-sitting service available at the resort until 5pm on Thursday afternoon.
The Telegraph, 05 May 2007 (link)
The manager of the resort, John Hill said around 60 staff and guests at the complex had searched until 4.30am
while local police notified border police, Spanish police and airports.
"It was a very emotional and very frantic night and everyone did a fantastic job of getting involved and trying
to search the area," he said. "As you can imagine, Madeleine’s parents are distraught and not doing very well at all."
He said there was no physical evidence that the girl had been abducted from the apartment while they ate at
the tapas restaurant 200 yards away.
"It’s still questionable as to whether it’s an abduction," he said. "We are hoping that Madeleine
is found as soon as possible and safe and well. Everybody here is just wishing that she is found as soon as possible."
A Mark Warner spokesman said counsellors are being flown out to the resort, which the firm has run for two
years, to support the McCanns.
Members of their family would also be flown out if required.
He said: "Our priority is to find the girl and to make sure that the parents are OK and there are masses of
people working on that.
"Our staff are looking after them at the moment in whatever way they can but we can only imagine how awful
it is for them.
"We are all hoping that she is asleep under a bush somewhere and we will find her soon."
He said the apartment the family were staying in was surrounded by other apartments, all of which have “quite
sophisticated” locks on the doors.
Guests are being asked if they saw anyone acting suspiciously in the area, he said, adding that Mark Warner
has never had cases of missing or abducted children before.
"We are hoping it’s not that, though," he said. "It’s the last thing we want but we have to investigate
He said Mark Warner offers families a baby-sitting service where they can drop off their children for the
"Those facilities were available but for whatever reason they were not being used," he said.
Timesonline, 06 May 2007 (link)
John Hill, the Ocean Club manager, said the alarm was raised by the family between 10pm and 10.15pm: "The
staff, many guests and the best part of the village started looking right away, a total of 40 to 65 people. The police were
called and started taking details from the family and then took the decision to escalate the search."
to Nigel at