The most loveable little boy on TV! He's the adorable Down's boy who's the star of M&S's Christmas ads. Here his (equally inspiring) mum tells how he's breaking down barriers one smile at a timeSeb White's adventure began when his mother Caroline asked Marks and Spencer why her boy couldn't be considered for its campaign
'I'm thrilled for Seb, but my biggest motivation is to raise awareness and change people's attitudes to Down's syndrome'
00:32 GMT, 12 November 2012
Her newborn baby was sleeping soundly beside her in his hospital cot as Caroline White stared at him, still bleary-eyed with the exhaustion of giving birth, but savouring the joy of new motherhood.
It was the middle of the night and she couldn't sleep, despite her fatigue.
So she picked up from the bedside table her son's Personal Child Health Record — an official log in which doctors and nurses write notes about a newborn baby's progress.
Adorable: Caroline White with her four-year-old son Seb White, star of M&S's Christmas ads
'A sixth sense must have told me things weren't quite right with the way hospital staff were acting,' says Caroline.
'A paediatrician had told us he thought Seb might have a chromosome disorder, but he didn't go into detail. In Seb's notes they'd written things such as 'floppines' and 'upward slanting eyes' — characteristics I knew were typical of babies with Down's syndrome.'
Feeling a mounting sense of panic, Caroline went on to a computer for the use of patients beside her bed and Googled 'Down's syndrome'.
'I looked across at my son and suddenly all I could see was Down's. At that moment, the bottom dropped out of my world and I felt totally cheated. It was the worst moment of my life,' she says.
'It sounds selfish and naive, but all I could think was: 'This shouldn't have happened to me.''
She was in tears when she rang her husband, Simon, at home. There had been no official diagnosis, but the clues that something was seriously wrong were all there.
'I was in shock,' says Caroline. 'I remember Simon was totally calm, saying that whatever the problem was, we'd deal with it, but I was so frightened and upset I couldn't see how I would ever deal with it.
'The woman in the bed opposite me had been warned that she was at high risk of having a Down's baby because she was 42, but her little boy was perfect.
Stealing the show: Seb, front right wearing a red bow time, alongside his fellow ad stars
'I was only in my 30s and it seemed as if my little boy wasn't perfect, which struck me as so unfair.'
That was four years ago. Today, Seb White is an irrepressible little boy — and an unlikely new TV star.
He appears in Marks & Spencer's Christmas TV advertisement, which aired for the first time on Wednesday.
Dressed in a cardigan and bow tie, his eyes sparkling with joy, Seb steals the show.
When I meet him at the home he shares in Bath with his two-year-old brother, Dominic, and parents, Caroline, 39, and Simon, 36, Seb is as winning in the flesh as he is on TV.
After greeting me with a handshake, Seb pulls me over to the TV. As Caroline puts in a DVD of the 50-second TV advertisement to show me, Seb jumps up and down before high-fiving me.
'Look, look. It's Sebi!' he says.
Seb's adventure began in July when his mother posted a message on the Marks & Spencer Facebook page, asking why her little boy couldn't be considered for their ad campaign just because he has Down's.
The company responded, auditioned Seb, then cast him in their festive catalogue, which is out this week, and in their iconic Christmas TV advertising campaign.
Awareness: Caroline hopes Seb appearing in the campaign will help challenge stereotypes
'We can't quite believe what's happened,' says Caroline, a part-time retail product manager.
'Seb isn't in the advert as a token, he's there because he's gorgeous — a mischievous, lovable little boy who happens to have Down's syndrome.
'If Seb appearing in a TV campaign raises awareness of Down's, challenges stereotypes and helps other parents feel better about having a child with it, I will be very happy.'
The truth is that until Seb was born, Caroline lived in virtual ignorance of Down's: when she was pregnant, she ignored any mention of it because she didn't think it could be relevant to her.
So when her son was diagnosed, she thought her life was over.
'If I'd known in advance that I was going to have a Down's baby, I would quite possibly have had a termination,' she says.
'Now I see his beauty and personality shining so brightly, and hope that the more people see Seb, the more I can change people's negative perceptions of Down's.'
Life had seemed perfect when Caroline became pregnant with Seb within months of marrying Simon in March 2007. They'd met through friends, married after three years and couldn't have been more thrilled to be expecting a baby.
Unlikely star: Seb's advert aired on TV for the first time on Wednesday
'I'd always wanted children, and by then I was in my 30s and the biological clock was ticking,' she says.
'My pregnancy passed like a dream, and every scan and test — including the one for Down's syndrome — came back fine. As a result, I went into labour expecting the perfect baby.'
Seb was born on February 16, 2008, at Bath's Royal United Hospital, and all seemed fine.
Simon, a retail manager, relayed the happy news to friends and family, while Caroline settled into the early hours of motherhood.
'I'd never held a baby before and Seb seemed perfect,' she says. 'That first night, when all the other babies on the ward were crying, he slept soundly and I remember feeling pleased that I had such a contented baby.
'Now I feel so stupid, knowing that extreme tiredness is a sign of Down's.'
Seb was 24 hours old when a paediatrician examined him and said he might have a chromosome abnormality, so he would need to carry out tests.
'Down's syndrome was never mentioned,' says Caroline. 'Simon and I didn't ask questions at that stage — it was as if we were in a bubble.'
Milestone: Caroline began to relax about Seb's future
Caroline was deeply troubled when she read her son's health record that night, feeling she'd stumbled upon the truth about his condition herself.
It was six days later that hospital staff confirmed Seb had Down's syndrome, following the results of the tests.
'We'd dared to hope that all would be well, so the truth was a hammer blow,' says Caroline.
'I feel passionately that parents should be told the truth in situations like these, in a non-scary way, right from the beginning. Sadly, that doesn't always happen. The secrecy just added to our sense that it was a catastrophe.'
Friends and family rushed to congratulate Caroline on the birth of her first child, but she confesses she couldn't muster even the faintest flicker of joy.
'I felt it was the end of the world for me,' she says. 'I loved Seb and felt immensely protective of him, but this wasn't what I'd signed up for.
'I walked around the nursery we'd prepared for him and all I could think was: 'This would all be so perfect if only Seb didn't have Down's.'
'I'd lost the baby I should have had, and hated people looking in the pram because I felt I had to explain. I dropped all my ante-natal friends because I couldn't bear to see their perfect babies and know they might be feeling sorry for me.'
The sadness Caroline feels now is for how different those early days of her son's life could have been.
'I would give anything to have Seb back in my arms for just ten minutes and hold him with all the feelings I have for him now,' she says.
'There would be none of that anger and sadness — just joy.'
The turning point came when Seb was four months old and Caroline was pushing him in his pram in Bath one day when she passed a family with two perfect, blond-haired, blue-eyed boys — exactly the family she'd imagined for herself.
Shuffling along behind that family was a middle-aged man with a pudding-basin haircut clinging to the arm of an elderly woman.
Caroline says: 'He had Down's and was out with his mum. The contrast between these two families was horrific. I saw my future and couldn't bear it so I ran home, sobbing hysterically.'
As Caroline ranted and raved at Simon, he asked her a life-changing question: 'If you can't accept our baby, how can you expect the rest of the world to'
It was a poignant question, and one that stopped Caroline in her tracks.
Striking: Caroline wrote 'his little face is full of magic and mischief'
'It was a light bulb moment,' she says. From then on, I stopped wallowing and started to see Seb in a totally different way.
'I accepted that he was going to do things at his own pace — he didn't walk until he was two and didn't start talking until he was around 15 months.
'But I tried to accentuate the positives — the fact that he's inherited from Simon a wicked sense of humour, from me a love of singing and dancing, and that Down's is only a small part of who he is.'
Caroline became pregnant again with her second son, Dominic, in December 2009.
'I was terrified that things would go wrong, and dreaded every single scan,' she says.
'The hospital pushed me to have an amniocentesis test that would tell us whether Dominic had Down's, but it carries a risk of miscarriage so I decided against it.
'The nuchal fold test for Down's showed our risk was one in 2,000, as it had been with Seb, but we knew that if our baby had Down's, we could deal with it. We'd learnt from Seb that whatever was thrown at us, we could cope.'
When Dominic was born in September 2010 — without Down's syndrome — Caroline admits it was a bitter-sweet moment.
'I was ecstatic, but I also felt guilty,' says Caroline. 'I knew I should have felt the same joy when Seb was born, but I'd been so fearful and so ignorant then.'
'Different isn't any less wonderful'
As Seb hit every milestone — albeit slowly — Caroline began to relax about the future.
Seb grew into a happy, delightful little boy. 'He is incredibly sociable and very empathetic,' says Caroline. 'He's the first to notice if Dominic is upset and will rush over and cuddle him.
'It's the same with everyone in the family — he instinctively knows when anyone needs a hug.'
In July, with Seb preparing to start primary school, the family went to Marks & Spencer to buy his uniform.
Having looked through the store's Back To School brochure and at the in-store posters of children starting school, Caroline realised that none of them looked like Seb.
'I didn't feel like any of this was meant for my little boy and that really hurt,' she says.
So Caroline took decisive action. She posted a photo of Seb on the Marks & Spencer Facebook page, asking if the company would include him in their modelling campaigns.
She wrote: 'He has striking, unusual features, charms the pants off everyone he meets and his little face is full of magic and mischief. He also has Down's syndrome.
'When he was born, I was shocked to my core.
'I knew nothing about the condition, and what should have been the happiest day of my life was the worst.
'My heartfelt desire is to get the message across that 'different' isn't any less wonderful or even that different.'
Overnight, hundreds of people went on to the Facebook page and urged Marks & Spencer to take Caroline up on her offer.
Within a week, Steve Sharp, executive director of marketing, rang to invite Seb to an audition for the catalogue.
'Seb did so well that they invited him to appear in their TV advert, too,' says Caroline. The advert was filmed at a London studio in September, a day Caroline says she will treasure for the rest of her life.
'Seb was a bit unsure at first about putting on a bow tie, but when I reminded him that Mr Tumble — the star of his favourite CBeebies show — wears one, he cheered up.
'I couldn't have been prouder of him. I was watching in the wings, my heart in my mouth, and there were endless takes, but he hit his cue every single time.
'I'm thrilled for Seb, but my biggest motivation is to raise awareness and change people's attitudes to Down's syndrome.
'If I could turn back the clock, I'd do it all so differently. I wasted so many precious moments, worrying about things I didn't need to worry about.'
For help or more information about Down's syndrome, go to: www.downs-syndrome.org.uk
'I wasted precious moments, worrying about things I didn't need to worry about'