Professor Robert Winston, the fertility expert, has been reunited with a beauty queen who was given life by his pioneering IVF treatment 23 years ago.
They were first in the same room when she was just a handful of cells in a test tube and he was attempting to grant her parents their greatest wish - parenthood.
Professor Robert Winston, the pioneering fertility expert, and Charlotte Holmes, a beauty queen, were reunited 23 years after his successful scientific experiment gave life to the handful of cells.
Upon meeting Miss Holmes, 23, who was crowned Miss England earlier this year, Lord Winston said: “It’s better than a butterfly from a caterpillar.”
After winning the beauty contest in July, Miss Holmes, of Plymouth, spoke of how much she wanted to meet Lord Winston again, having briefly met him when she was five, an encounter she could not remember.
Her comments were seen by his son, Ben, who put them in touch, leading to their meeting last week at his laboratory at Imperial College, London.
As they chatted about the IVF treatment procedure, Lord Winston showed her a film of cell division, telling her: “This is where you and I first met.”
Picking up a test tube, Miss Holmes said: “I can’t believe I was small enough to fit in there.”
Miss Holmes’s parents, Vonny and Ken, who are now 60 and 64, had been trying for a baby for eight years when they were accepted on to Lord Winston’s pioneering fertility programme at Hammersmith Hospital in 1988 when IVF was still in its trial stages.
Miss Holmes said that her parents had been excited that she was to finally meet Lord Winston: “My parents were giving me a little pep talk, saying, 'Don’t forget this man is the reason you are alive’. It’s not an exaggeration to say I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Professor Winston.”
She even considered following in Lord Winston’s scientific footsteps before finding success modelling. “I did biology and chemistry A-levels and planned to go to university to study physiotherapy,” she said. “I would have definitely gone down the science route if I hadn’t gone into modelling.”
Lord Winston, a Labour peer, founded the IVF clinic at Hammersmith Hospital in 1980 after conducting research for several years at the University of Texas.
As Professor of fertility studies at Hammersmith, he developed improvements in IVF technology and led the team that pioneered “pre-implantation genetic diagnosis”, which identifies defects in human embryos.
Although he is seen as one of the country’s leading expert in IVF treatment, he recently criticised fertility clinics for the increasingly high cost of treatment, accusing both NHS and private practitioners of a “huge amount of exploitation” of couples desperate to have children.
Lord Winston, whose ground-breaking IVF techniques have featured in the BBC series Child of Our Time and The Human Body, said that he found it “weird” that an experiment in a test tube could result in the birth of a future beauty queen.
He said: “As I go round the country I’ve met all sorts of people who come up to me and say, 'The last time you saw me I was an embryo!’
“Even I find it weird that something so insignificant as a few cells, so tiny that you can’t see them with the naked eye, can grow up to be something like Charlotte. It’s weird but it’s wonderful too.”
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