Revealed: The parents who spend £7,000 on 300 presents for their 22 children… and how the horror of home-schooling during lockdown FINALLY persuaded them to stop having babies
Yes, it took a pandemic, but Sue Radford has finally stopped having children.
It has been more than two years since the woman at the helm of Britain’s biggest family last fell pregnant, with her 22nd child, and she confides that she hasn’t felt broody at all since.
‘We’re definitely done! Definitely. One hundred per cent,’ she says.
It means this Christmas will be the first for decades where she hasn’t been pregnant, nursing or pondering whether she could feasibly have another child.
She seems stunned herself by this reverse seasonal miracle — although her husband Noel’s face says, ‘Praise be!’.
Sue, 46, has vowed before that she’s done with baby-making. After Archie (baby no 20) she declared that she had retired her womb. Ditto after Bonnie (baby no 21).
The couple’s youngest, Heidie (baby no 22), will turn two in April, so maybe she does mean it this time.
What broke the cycle? Biology, it seems. And Chemistry, and French. Home schooling, to be more precise.
At the start of the first lockdown, in March last year, Sue had a newborn, a clutch of toddlers and nine school-aged children who all huddled round the dining table, fighting over devices, losing log-ins, trying to work out their Zooms from their Teams, and sending the wifi into meltdown. It was hell. ‘And maybe it put me off having children,’ Sue concludes, cheerily.
Sue, Noel and their brood, who live in a ten-bedroom converted care home in Morecambe, Lancashire, first came to public attention back in 2012, when they appeared in a Channel 4 documentary, 15 Kids And Counting.
And their new Christmas special, airing on Channel 5 on Sunday and offering a jaw-dropping glimpse into their epic festive preparations (complete with live turkey, but we’ll come to that) is called 22 Kids And Counting.
Can’t we stop counting yet? ‘No, because we have the grandchildren now,’ points out Noel, 50. They start to tot up the grandchildren.
‘Sophie has three, Millie has one, Chris has three but he also has four step-children, which we count as ours, so that’s 11 grandchildren so far, although only one lives with us full time.’
Establishing who does live in this house is a challenge.
The eldest two Radford children, Chris, 32, and Sophie, 28, have indeed moved out, but that leaves — deep breath — Chloe, 26, Jack, 24, Daniel, 22, Luke, 21, Millie, 20, Katie, 19, James, 18, Ellie, 16, Aimee, 15, Josh, 14, Max, 13, Tillie, 11, Oscar ten, Casper, nine, Hallie, six, Phoebe, five, Archie, four, Bonnie, three and Heidie, one.
Always included in the numbers is baby Alfie (baby no 17) who was sadly stillborn in 2014.
Granddaughter Ophelia (whose mum is Millie) lives at the house too.
And let’s not forget the animals: Bluebell the French bulldog has joined us on a Zoom call at the kitchen table today, but the family also has three other dogs, Lola, Ivy and Mabel. ‘And two rabbits!’ says Noel.
At least they have a lot of children to pitch in with the animal care. ‘Oh, the kids will take them for the odd walk, but mostly it’s me because the dogs are my thing really,’ says Sue. ‘I love dogs. I’d have hundreds of dogs.’
Noel nods. ‘They are your fur babies, aren’t they?’
I have interviewed the Radfords several times over the years, and have always marvelled at how unstressed Sue is, considering.
In 2017, she was literally just back from the hospital after having Archie when I spent a morning — a school morning, too! — observing the organised chaos of breakfast, bag hunting and marching the kids off to three different schools.
Sue was serene throughout. This is a woman who will never be fazed by anything, I concluded, wrongly.
She was fazed by lockdown.
This time last year they were counting the members of the family who had contracted Covid. Noel and Daniel definitely had it, but Sue reckons that she and Millie did too.
Whatever horrors the rest of us went through, this family did as well, but multiplied.
Noel runs a bakery, which has ultimately done well out of the pandemic, but there were hairy moments when they had to shut down because of illness and staff members isolating.