Sue Radford was 14 when she had her first child, and she didn’t stop there, eventually giving birth to a total of 21 kids. But why did she decide to have so many, and how exactly do Sue and her husband Noel support them financially? It’s time to address all the fascinating stories behind their decisions — as well as one more surprise that’s well on its way.
Hopefully you’re good with names, because it’s time to meet the Radford family, in its entirety. First we’ve got Noel and Sue, the overjoyed parents of the clan, ages 49 and 44, respectively. Then for the kids, there’s Chris (30), Sophie (26), Chloe (24), Jack (22), Daniel (20), Luke (19), Millie (18), Katie (17), James (16), Ellie (14), Aimee (13), Josh (12), Max (11), Tillie (9), Oscar (8), Casper (7), Hallie (4), Phoebe (3), Archie (2), and Bonnie (1).
It should also be noted that in 2014, Sue gave birth to Alfie, who was a stillborn. In his honor, they still “count him” when telling people how many kids they have, saying that they have 21 kids and not 20. But what inspired them to have such a giant family? With one more kid on the way right now, will this finally be the last one?
Noel told The Sun in an interview: “I don’t think anyone sets out thinking they’ll have 21 children. We thought we’d have three. But we just love having a big family!” After welcoming their 20th child, the happy parents declared, “This is definitely the last one, isn’t it?”
To that question, their 11-year-old son Max couldn’t help but jokingly chime in: “You say that every time. You say that every year, and every year there’s another one!” The unique nature of his own family isn’t lost on young Max — and it certainly wasn’t lost on us from the moment they first appeared on television.
Today, the Radford family lives in Morecambe, a seaside town in northwestern England. Noel and Sue had one of those classic love stories you usually only see in the movies. They first met each other when they were only 7 years old, with their families living in neighboring cul-de-sacs. Even at this young age, their chemistry was something special, and it was enough to spark a romance that’s lasted over 40 years.
That being said, when you think about young love, the memories are usually pretty innocent. Maybe you were shy about telling a girl you liked her, or you got overwhelmingly excited when you found out she liked you back. For Noel and Sue, sparks were certainly flying — but things escalated quicker than anyone would have expected.
To say that Sue Radford got pregnant early would be quite the understatement. While her and Noel’s young romance was cute, their lives together were taken to the next stage rather quickly. When Noel was 18 and Sue just 14, she became pregnant with their first child.
Sue was at a shockingly young age to have a baby. After all, you’re not even of age yourself when you’re 14. There are so many things you aren’t allowed to legally do, let alone be responsible for another life. But even though they were so young at the time, they made the decision to keep the baby. And they had a good reason, too.
Noel and Sue had a good reason for wanting to keep their child, despite the obstacles of age, and it was based in an emotional story that hit both of them close to home. The couple had a common past that brought them together, a shared thread that went back to their infancy.
Both Noel and Sue had been given up for adoption when they were born. This fact of their life histories meant they therefore felt a strong desire to hold on to the baby that they had. But after having their eldest son Chris, the circumstances of their lives weren’t exactly so simple.
And so, these two very young lovers decided to keep their baby, and to stay together as well. However, that didn’t necessarily mean they were allowed to get married. In the United Kingdom as in many other countries, the law prohibits minors under 16 from getting hitched without parental consent, and in some places you have to wait until you’re 18.
That’s precisely what Noel and Sue did. Four years after giving birth to Chris, when Sue was 18 and Noel was 22, the happy young couple of parents finally tied the knot on September 26th, 1991. At that point, one might think they’d try to get settled in, and focus on raising their lone child. But it wasn’t long before they were expecting Sophie, their number two.
As they say, one should never underestimate the power of momentum. Now that the young couple were finally married, they felt that nothing could place limits on them. After Sophie arrived, they just kept having more and more kids. Just over a year later, Chloe was born – and two years after that they were already welcoming their fourth kid, Jack.
A year and a half later it was Daniel, and following his birth they would proceed to have a baby pretty much every year after that, for the next 16 years! But that leaves an uncomfortable question. Ask any woman who’s ever given birth, and she’ll tell you that this must have taken quite the toll on Sue’s body. So how’d she manage to do it? Was something like this recommended?
While it’s certainly possible to bear children despite there being such a short time span between each birth, more than a few medical professionals have questioned whether or not it’s a good idea. According to a medical journal called Jama Internal Medicine, babies born to women aged 20 to 34, within a year of a previous birth, have an 8.5% of being premature.
Another study by the same organization deduced that mothers are at less risk for serious damage if they give birth over an 18-month interval. In other words, the studies suggest it may be better for mothers to wait at least a year and a half between pregnancies. That being said, that doesn’t necessarily mean Sue is doing anything wrong.
Mandy Forrester, Head of Quality and Standards at the Royal College of Midwives in London, maintained that ultimately the timing surrounding having children is the “woman’s choice.” That being said, she emphasized that it’s also important they’re “aware of the evidence around birth spacing and that they make their choice armed with the right information.”
Considering that five of Sue’s kids were born within less than a year of each other, it raises some questions, not to mention eyebrows. But at the same time, Forrester is maintaining that Sue is perfectly within her right to make her own choices with her body. Sue herself seems to know what she’s doing, and it wasn’t long before she proved it again.
Perhaps it’s because she had a child at such a supremely young age, but Sue is clearly not your run-of-the-mill mom. Maybe deep down she knew that she could handle it, or she may have felt that it was the right thing to do to have all these children, and to have them in such close proximity to one another.
It seems that she and her husband loved having children so much that they simply wanted to be surrounded by as much as possible, knowing deep down everything would be okay. Time after time, Sue seemed to defy the laws of nature, having kids at a pace that’s practically unheard of. It wasn’t just how many babies she had. What was also impressive was the nature of how she gave birth to them.
On November 6, 2018, a 43-year-old Sue gave birth to her and her husband’s 21st child, Bonnie Raye. They explained, “Her middle name is because she’s our ray of sunshine.” Amazingly, when Sue got to the hospital, she was only in labor for a shocking total of 12 minutes. When you’re as practiced in birthing as she is, the process surely takes far less time.
When she brought Bonnie back to the house, her kids apparently all fought for the first cuddle. Sue told The Sun, “It’s such a lovely moment when you bring a newborn home and the others are all lined up ready to hold her.” But everything was about to change. The happy parents were about to make a declaration that would upset many people.
After having Bonnie, Noel and Sue started telling everyone that they were done having kids for good. The funny thing is, they’d said that exact same thing multiple times before. However, it seemed like they really meant business this time, with Sue stating to The Sun, “We’ve both decided we don’t want any more. Bonnie has completed our family.”
Noel chimed in, “Some people decide to stop after two or three kids. We’ve made it after 21.” But things still seemed a little fishy, and their kids weren’t buying these declarations. Perhaps this is because of something else that had happened in the past: when Noel and Sue made a groundbreaking decision, and then took it right back.
After Noel and Sue had their son James, their 9th child, they agreed that enough was enough. The decision was made for Noel to go get a vasectomy to ensure that they would never have any more children. Noel went ahead and did it. But eventually, the couple couldn’t bear the thought of not adding more precious little gems to the clan, and Noel went back to get his surgery reversed.
This was a process he described as even harder than going to have the procedure done the first time. However, after Bonnie (number 21) was born, Sue took some other concrete steps to make sure everyone knew she was done with having kids for real this time.
Sue had spent an astonishing 811 weeks throughout her entire life being pregnant, conceding, “It has to come to an end at some point.” After having Bonnie, the midwives at the hospital jokingly asked her if she’d be returning the next year, and her response was, “Definitely not.” She also planned on cutting ties with long-held sentimental items, like her maternity clothes, the crib, and the baby bottles.
“It’s all those milestones that will hit us,” she reflected nostalgically. After coming back from the hospital, she said it was strange that it would be the “last time we would drive our own newborn home.” But her kids had a gut feeling that she would soon come to eat these words.
As serious as Sue was with her motives, her children had heard that line from her plenty of times before. Second-born Sophie joked that her parents wouldn’t stop “on an odd number,” while third-born Chloe shrugged, “They might not plan on having another but it could still happen.” The Radford children seemed to think that they knew their parents better than even their parents themselves!
They had experienced the same process countless times before, so why would this time be any different? They knew how much their parents loved bringing new children into the world. However, it turns out that this was no longer an issue — because new life was starting to come from elsewhere.
It was bound to happen eventually: perhaps the reason that Noel and Sue weren’t as eager to have kids is because they started actually having grandkids, five to be exact. Their eldest son Chris had two little ones, Maisie and Jacob; while their second-born child, Sophie, had three, named Daisy, Ayprill, and Leo.
Indeed, when their own kids started having kids themselves, it was a new chapter in everyone’s lives. “We’re just going to keep enjoying the children and enjoy our grandchildren,” the original patriarch and matriarch told The Sun in an interview. However, just like everyone predicted, eventually they were forced to break their promise yet again.
That’s right: after all the constant reassurances that they were done having kids, Noel and Sue posted a YouTube video telling the world that they were expecting their 22nd child. In the video, Sue excitedly proclaimed, “Basically, today we are going to see our new little baby! I am 12 weeks pregnant, so we’re gonna go and have a little peek at the new little Radford.”
She made the announcement with such a melodious flavor in her voice that it’s obvious just how much she loves having kids. As of now, the due date for Baby Radford is in April of 2020. However, there were actually some complications with this pregnancy.
Throughout the early stages of Sue’s latest pregnancy, there were some health concerns that the baby wasn’t growing quickly enough. It didn’t matter how many kids they already had; every life is precious and fragile, and it was doubtlessly a hard time for them to go through.
But thankfully, the baby’s trajectory took a positive turn in the later months, and Sue enthusiastically described the baby’s rapid movement and growth. If all goes well, that would give them a total of 22 kids. But how are they going to manage it? And for that matter, how have they been able to support these kids financially for all these years?
It’s fascinating to learn about Sue and Noel’s typical day with their large batch of little ones. They wake up every morning at 6:30 AM. Every breakfast, the family goes through 18 pints of milk, three liters of juice, and three boxes of cereal. Then, they must send their children on ferries to three separate schools and one preschool.
Later on, they wash, cook, and clean after all 20 of their kids — three of whom are currently under the age of four. Noel joked that every time they have a new baby, their time in the hospital is their only time off, adding in jest: “It’s why we kept having them!” But in addition to all the work they do, the financial toll it takes is understandably quite pricey. Here’s how.
Having 21 children is beautiful in theory, but it’s certainly far from being free. When they go out for dinner, they have to pay at least $190. Going to the movies can run a price tag of around $130. Sue explained to the publication FEMAIL, “We do like to go to the cinema, especially in the holidays when the kids are a bit bored. But it can be up to $13 per person so it can work out really expensive!”
One of their favorite activities, trampolining, sets them back around $300. In order to deal with all the expenses, Sue explained, “We often look for the different discount codes you can find on the Internet and go with whatever offers they’ve got on.” But discounts can only get one so far, so where does the money come from?
With multiple tuitions to pay, the $325 a week in groceries, utility bills, and everything else we already mentioned, one may wonder how they’re able to pay for everything. Well, it turns out the majority of the Radfords’ income comes from their longtime pie business, Radford’s Pie Company. Noel, a master of pies, has been baking them for 25 years, and seems to have built himself such a great reputation that his business is thriving.
However, there’s also the television documentary that they’ve appeared on from time to time, which undoubtedly provided them with a nice stipend. In addition to all that, they reportedly receive $225 a week in child benefits from the government. Their house is also one of their biggest assets.
The Radford family home in Morecambe is a ten-bedroom house which they bought for roughly $312,000 in 2004. It’s more than big enough to hold their small community of children. Yet even with the house’s impressive size, anyone who’s ever had children knows how messy things can get, so you can imagine what it’s like for them.
Sue confirmed it on Instagram, “With so many people living in this house, things get messy very quickly.” Considering the fact that the laundry machine works non-stop in their house, it’s probably the same when it comes to cleaning. At least they have an army of children to help with the chores! But when it comes to this family, everything seems to be fun for them.
With a house packed with so many people, the feeling is like an endless summer camp. Patriarch Noel offered these positive comments about his family: “There’s never a dull moment. It’s a happy house full of laughter and we just love being surrounded by all our children. The kids love being part of a big family too.”
From the outside looking in, it can be easy to talk about all the hardships and obstacles. But after hearing them talk about one another in such a loving way, one can’t help but feel their spirit. The Radfords don’t see their abundance of kids as a problem at all. But what do other people think about them?
It comes as no surprise that many people around the world are delighted when they hear about the Radfords. And what’s more, they truly respect them. One commenter on The Sun’s website wrote about the Radfords: “Hats off to them. I’ve always found them inspiring — if they can have that many children and financially support themselves.”
They continued, “This just goes to show that anything is possible, no excuses whatsoever…Fair play to them!” Many of the other comments sang a very similar tune. People are truly touched by the Radford family’s love for one another — and here’s how they learned about them in the first place.
The world first became aware of the Radford family when they appeared on a UK Channel 4 documentary called 15 Kids and Counting. Of course, they would subsequently continue to appear every year on the same program, with Channel 4 updating fans as they continued to have more children.
The show turned into 16 Years and Counting, then 17 Years and Counting, and then…well, you get the idea. Fans just couldn’t get enough of the Radfords, getting comfortable on their couches as they tuned in to find out how the kids have grown. And as this continued to happen, eventually the Radfords were given a prestigious title.
As the Radford family grew and grew, eventually they were recognized as “Britain’s Largest Family”. This title alone catapulted them into another level of fandom, with plenty of the children garnering their own individual followings on social media as well. On Instagram, the Radfords’ official page currently holds a following of 212,000, with third-born daughter Chloe holding a personal fan base of nearly 24,000.
They’re celebrities in their own right, but with a different kind of spotlight, one that isn’t accompanied by red carpet dresses and Oscar wins. It’s the type of adoration that regular citizens can truly relate to. The Radfords are all about family — and ultimately, a lot of people can agree that family is a worthy common denominator to aspire to.
Sources: Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Sun