A striking image of how Madeleine McCann might look now, if still alive, was released by her parents today ahead of the second anniversary of her disappearance.
Gerry and Kate McCann employed a forensic imaging artist, using computer technology, to produce a photographic impression of how the missing youngster would have aged in the two years since she went missing.
It will be used on posters to be distributed worldwide as part of the couple’s continuing search for their little girl.
The Madeleine of those now-familiar family photos was just three years old when she vanished from a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, on May 3 2007.
If still alive — and the McCanns believe there is a “very real likelihood” she is — she would now be five, nearly six, years old.
Unveiled on Oprah Winfrey’s live chat show in the US, the image depicts the child at six years of age.
With Madeleine’s birthday in less than two weeks’ time, the McCanns were keen that the picture’s presentation does not quickly become out-of-date.
The expert, at the United States National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, used photographs of Mr and Mrs McCann at around the same age to produce the “age progression image”.
The picture shows a smiling Madeleine, wearing a pink head-band in her fair shoulder-length hair.
The couple believe it is the most realistic image possible of how she might look, said their spokesman Clarence Mitchell.
It is published on posters alongside an old photograph of Madeleine, for comparison, under the headings “Have You Seen This Little Girl?” and “Don’t Give Up On Me”. The distinctive mark in her right eye is evident in both pictures — but the age difference is compelling.
Private detectives working for the McCanns and a hotline are now prepared to deal with responses generated by the posters.
Mr Mitchell said: “Kate and Gerry are issuing this image with the aim of distributing it globally.
“They feel it’s important that as many people as possible see Madeleine as she now is, rather than the child of three seen in all of those early photographs.
“This is the child that somebody who is close to Madeleine may spot, rather than the child in those other photos, and Kate and Gerry are hopeful that this will lead to the phone call that finds Madeleine and brings her home.
“That’s why they decided to release it on the Oprah show, given the global reach she has.
“It was difficult for Kate to see the image at first, but over time she has got used to it and both Kate and Gerry believe it’s the best image possible of what Madeleine may look like now.”
The posters urge anyone who has seen Madeleine to contact their local police force immediately, or call +44 (0)845 838 4699 or visit www.findmadeleine.com .
It is promised that all information will be dealt with confidentially and can be given anonymously.
The age progression image was unveiled on Oprah Winfrey's US chat show, mid-afternoon British time, ahead of the broadcast of the star's interview with the McCanns.
In released extracts from the one-hour interview, to be aired in the US on Monday, she asked them: “Do you let yourself go to the worst?”
Mrs McCann replied: “I think it's natural. I know people mean well when they say don't let yourself go there but, as a mum, inevitably there are times when I do. And they're the times that I kind of dip down.”
The interviewer asked them about their marriage.
Mr McCann said: “Child abduction, I think, could destroy any family, there's no doubt about it.
“It's one of the most devastating things. But we've been supported tremendously well and I think that's helped us stay strong and stay together.
“Obviously, we're really united in our goal and our love of Madeleine and Sean and Amelie.”
Mrs McCann said she keeps Madeleine's room ready for her return and goes in there about twice a day.
“Do you talk to her?” asked Oprah.
Mrs McCann replied: “Just (to) say hello, really. Just (to) tell her we're still going to do everything we can to find her.”
In the United States, The Oprah Winfrey Show: Exclusive — The McCanns And The Search For Madeleine, will be broadcast on Monday, May 4.
In the UK, the show will be aired on Tuesday, May 5 at 8pm on Diva TV, which is available on Sky channel 269 and Virgin channel 164.