Did you know there’s a British version of the hit 19 Kids and Counting reality series? Yes, while there’s no Duggars to be found in England, there is the Radfords. They’re an equally big family, but they court much less controversy. The Radfords consist of mother Sue, father Noel, and a brood which currently numbers 19. They’re actually the biggest family in the whole of Britain, and they have a host of fans who follow their exploits with delight. And this year, there was some exciting news for both the family and their followers.
Noel and Sue Radford have a super sweet story. They first met as seven-year-olds, when they were both living close by one another in Kendal, Cumbria. As they grew up they got to know each better and began dating in their early teens, but then Sue discovered she was pregnant. She was only 14 years old at the time, a very young age for motherhood. But since both she and Noel had been adopted as children, she decided to keep the baby.
Noel stood by Sue throughout the pregnancy and afterward. And a few years after the birth of their first child, Chris, the young couple got hitched and moved into their first house. Then, after a few more years had passed, they decided to expand their family a little more. When Sue was 17 she gave birth to her second baby, Sophie. But she decided, along with her husband, that what she really wanted was a large family to love.
And that’s exactly what she got. Because along came a lot more children: Chloe was baby number 3, then came Jack, Daniel, Luke, Millie, Katie, James, Ellie, Aimee, Josh, Max, Tillie and Oscar. Fifteen children! Luckily, the Radfords had a business, the Radford Family Bakery, that could support them through the expensive process of raising so many kids. Plus, they also had a huge house with no fewer than ten bedrooms.
In January 2011 TV producers started taking an interest in the large British family. Channel 4 approached Sue and Noel to ask if they would appear on a reality show. However, the couple wasn’t entirely sure about that prospect. “We turned it down because we didn’t really want the children in that kind of spot light,” Sue said in a 2013 interview with the blog Pinkoddy. “But then after them pestering us again to do it, we decided that we would. But not without asking the children first.”
“We really thought it would be a good thing to show big families in a positive light, and that people with big families are not always on benefits,” she continued. Benefits are similar to the American welfare system, and there’s a lot of stigma surrounding those in need of them. So instead, the busy mom told Pinkoddy she wanted to show that, “actually we work hard for what we have and we make it work so well.”
However, the Radfords didn’t actually need any welfare, as they had their business to keep them going. And before long they found themselves in another line of work too: that of reality TV stars. The family’s reality show debuted in 2013 – but by then it had to be called 16 Kids and Counting, rather than 15, as another little one had come along. The new arrival was Casper, who was born October 3, 2012.
The show was a hit – people were fascinated by the day-to-day life of such a big family. Moreover, parents who watched the show were often inspired, too. For example, after the show aired Sue told the Pinkoddy blog of a message she had received from a young mom of three, who had been struggling to cope. But Sue said that after this mom watched the program, “instead of being really down in the dumps, she had a spring in her step, which she believed she owed to me.”
Unfortunately, the whole Radford family was to suffer a crushing blow in 2014. After Casper’s birth, Sue became pregnant with another boy, Alfie. But during a routine scan, she got the worst news an expectant mother can possibly get. Alfie had no heartbeat. He was delivered stillborn, just a few weeks before the Radfords’ second granddaughter was born.
The Radfords were devastated. But they spoke out about their grief in blog posts and even agreed to be filmed for a new series of their show which would deal with the aftermath of the tragic event. “I am hoping that this pain does get easier because at the moment it is so painful. I have days when I’m ok then the grief hits me all over again,” Sue wrote on the family website. “So many people have messaged us to say they are going through the same and my heart goes out to you all.”
And the Radfords decided that they would still like some more children, too. They continued to count baby Alfie as their 17th child, even though he was no longer living, and had another baby the next year. The new arrival was a little girl named Hallie, born on June 3, 2015. And she was given the middle name “Alphia” in tribute to her deceased brother. This made 18 children, but the Radfords still liked the idea of more. And so in 2016 another girl called Phoebe came along.
After Phoebe’s birth, Sue gave an interview to U.K. tabloid The Sun. “Our friends and family keep saying I should have one more child to get an even number, rounding the family off at 20,” she said. “I can’t rule it out. At the moment I am happy to have Phoebe with us. She is healthy and a little stunner. We are over the moon to have her here.”
Ultimately, however, the Radfords did decide they were happy to round the family out at an even number. And in March 2017 they broke the happy news on social media: there was to be one more child in Britain’s biggest family! They posted pictures of the baby’s ultrasound on Facebook, as well as a chalkboard reading “Boys – 10, Girls – 9 and BABY makes 20.”
Naturally, fans of the family were thrilled. “Oh wow congratulations to you all. I’ve been waiting to see a pregnancy announcement for a while,” wrote one fan. And they also asked what everyone was thinking, “Wonder if it’s a girl to even out the number.” “You are incredible…what a lucky baby arriving into your wonderful family. The love you have for each other is so evident, so pleased for you all!” wrote another.
And the following month, Sue posted a super cute video to Facebook revealing the gender of the baby. She gathered up nine of her children and asked them what they thought the gender was. Then she handed the children a teddy bear which they unwrapped, and it was blue, representing a boy! It would be the first boy born into the family since Alfie’s sad death.
In May Sue and Noel spoke to The Sun once more and revealed that this baby probably really would be the last. Honest. “We are sure that’s it now,” said Sue, who is now 42 years old. “I think about increasing risks with my age and I’ve been more tired with the last two pregnancies. My mum always says, ‘Finish with what you started on,’ and we started with a boy.”
The couple also revealed that they were having trouble coming up with a name for the new baby. “We’re really struggling this time, nothing jumps out at me,” Sue said. Meanwhile, Noel admitted how difficult it was to even remember all the kids’ names in moments of stress. “If you’re trying to tell one of them off, you end up shouting out a long list of names until, in the end, they’ll say, ‘Dad, it’s Ellie,’ or whoever.”
The other difficult thing, of course, is trying to lead a normal family life with so many children. For example, the family has to use a family car and a 15-seater minivan to go on outings. They also spend around £250 ($319) on food every week, go through seven loads of laundry a day, and use gallons of shampoo at bath time. It’s very hard work – and did we mention, the family has three dogs as well? – but this couple loves it.
“We just love having a big family. We love being surrounded by children and laughter. It does get crazy but we’re so blessed,” Sue told The Sun. And as of 2015 there are actually three grandchildren in the family as well. These are Sophie’s kids: Daisy, Ayprill and Leo. “We were hoping to downsize [the house] but we’ll need the space for all the grandchildren,” Noel told The Sun in May 2017.
The new baby Radford will arrive in September 2017, and he’ll be greeted by a whole army of brothers, sisters and cousins as soon as he enters the world. Plus, he’ll also be a reality star of sorts, before he’s even old enough to walk. But hopefully, he will grow up knowing that a huge number of people once keenly awaited his arrival.