Could you imagine what it's like to raise 22 children? Sue and Noel Radford have fascinated fans worldwide. Meet the Radfords, Britain's largest family, who's incredible journey would prove to be a lot more complicated than they anticipated.
Britain's Largest Family
Sue and Noel Radford have caught the attention of millions after sharing their story. They fell in love as teenagers, had a child, and before they knew it, they were parents to 22 children, making them Britain's largest family.
Through their documentary 15 Kids and Counting, and their YouTube channel, with 230 thousand subscribers, the Radfords have built quite a large fanbase. Learn about Sue and Noel's journey from teenagers to parent in a family of 24.
Meet Sue and Noel
Long before either of them pictured a life together, with over 20 children, Sue and Noel first met when they were kids, as they grew up in the same neighborhood. Noel was a friend of Sue's older brother, so he spent a lot of time around Sue and her family.
They became romantically involved when they were teenagers, but had no idea where life would eventually take them. Both Sue and Noel had been adopted at birth, so they were each determined to have a child of their own someday. And when Sue was 14, this dream came true.
Sue Had Her First Child at Age 14
At age 13, Sue discovered she was pregnant with her first child. Noel was 18 at the time, and the two decided to raise this baby together. When Sue was 14, she gave birth to Chris, in 1989, and she and Noel were overjoyed to be starting a family of their own.
From a young age, Noel started working to help support his family. When Sue became pregnant with Chris, Noel kept up this strong work ethic and worked harder than ever to provide for the family. "Noel has worked since the age of 12 with a milk round and in a bakery," Sue explained.
Expanding the Family
Sue and Noel weren't allowed to get married just yet, as the law in the United Kingdom prevents minors under 16 from marrying without parental consent. So, when Sue was 18, she and Noel got married, and before they knew it, welcomed their second child, Sophie, into the world.
Not long after that, Sue became pregnant again, and she gave birth to another beautiful baby girl, Chloe. For a moment, they thought Chloe would be their last baby. "I don't think anyone sets out thinking they'll have 21 children," said Noel. "We thought we'd have three. But we just love having a big family!"
Decided 9 Kids Was Enough
After Chloe, Sue gave birth to Jack, Daniel, Luke, Millie, Katie, and James, which gave Sue and Noel a total of nine happy and healthy children. Raising nine kids was enough to cause Sue and Noel to decide they didn't want to have any more children.
They agreed it would be best for Noel to have a vasectomy, to assure their family didn't continue to grow. However, they later decided to reverse the procedure because they were tempted to have more children, after all. Before they knew it, Sue became pregnant yet again, not one, but 13 more times.
15 Kids and Counting
With 15 biological kids living under their roof, people became fascinated by Sue and Noel's story. In 2012, the Radfords were featured ina documentary on Channel 4, called 15 Kids and Counting. The documentary gave viewers a glimpse of what life was like as a family of 17.
The series was a success, and producers continued to document the Radford family on their journey of bringing even more children into this world. They went from 15 Kids and Counting to 16, then eventually 20, and so on. People couldn't get enough of the Radfords and how they managed to raise so many kids, so close in age.
A Home Fit for 22 Kids
The Radfords live in a spacious 10 bedroom Victorian home that they purchased for £240,000 over a decade ago. The house was formerly used as a care facility, so it was the perfect space to fit this large family. The home consists of a living room and kitchen on the ground floor, as well as a large storage unit with "stuff, stuff everywhere," Sue described.
When there were only 20 kids, there was one girls' bedroom shared by Katie, Ellie, Aimee, and Tillie. Josh and Max share the room next door, and Chloe has her own bedroom. Another room is shared by Oscar, Casper, and Archie, then a separate girls' room for Hallie and Phoebe. Finally, Sue and Noel's bedroom is on the top floor.
After getting an early start at the bakery, Noel returns home at 7:45 to get the children ready for school. They serve breakfast in two shifts; Six of the kids attend a school that's about ten minutes from the house, so they eat first, then Noel drives them. The younger children stay home with Sue until it's time for nursery school.
After the entire family sits down for dinner, bath time begins at 6 pm. The younger children are bathed first, so they can be in bed by 7 pm. The older kids have a bit more freedom and have a bedtime of 9 pm, to allow Sue and Noel to go to sleep around 10, and rest up for the next day.
Groceries Cost £250 Per Week
Each day, the Radfords consume 18 pints of milk, three liters of juice, and three cereal boxes during breakfast alone. Sue also whips up a big meal for dinner and said she usually spends around £250 on groceries each week. "We'll get through two big bags of apples a day, eight bananas, and a bag of oranges," said Noel.
"It's worth making sure you get the best deals on your utilities and take advantage of voucher deals where you can," Sue explained. To avoid going out for expensive meals, Sue frequently packs lunches whenever the family goes on an outing, so she buys plenty of sandwich supplies.
Cooking Dinner for the Whole Family
Once Sue completes the grocery shopping, she prepares one meal for dinner and expects the entire family to eat whatever she serves. "We don't really have any fussy eaters, we cook one evening meal, and they have to eat what's in front of them," Sue explained.
She buys as much local produce as possible, as it's high-quality and more cost-efficient than other stores. "I just go out and do a shop every day, which saves me a lot of money. We also buy things from our local veg man, and we use our local butcher as well because we find it's a lot cheaper," said Sue.
Everything Becomes a Large Expense
Being such hard workers, Sue and Noel like to treat themselves and their kids to fun outings, but they get very expensive. "We do like to go to the cinema, especially in the holidays when the kids are a bit bored, it's raining, and there's not much else for them to do," Sue explained.
"But it can be up to £10 per person so it can work out really expensive! Believe it or not, we don't tend to get group discounts because we find family tickets are usually for two adults and two children," Sue added. For that reason, they try their best to plan activities that don't require purchasing tickets.
Sue and Noel occasionally take their kids to the movies or an amusement park, but they try to create as much fun as possible without spending a lot of cash. "A lot of our best days out have been packing up a picnic and just going for a walk with our kids," Sue explained.
"Or going to a park, or the beach - and they're all free days out," she added. The Radford house is also filled with plenty of toys and activities to keep the younger kids occupied. Sue and Noel built some of the boys an area for video games and made Chloe her own room to practice doing makeup since that's passion.
Described Packing for a Trip as a 'Military Operation'
Every year, Sue and Noel get the whole gang packed up to enjoy a family holiday. Earlier this year, they'd planned a trip to Australia but had to make a last-minute change of destination to Scotland, because of COVID19. Sue said they usually bring seven suitcases and described packing for the trip as a "military operation."
"It's been crazy, crazy busy trying to get everybody sorted and in the car," Sue explained. In 2019, the family traveled to Florida, and Sue said, "The packing process is hard work, but if I put each child's clothes into a bin bag and label whose it is, it makes it a lot easier when we get there."
Ignoring the Negativity
While many of the Radford family's followers admire all they've accomplished, some people don't approve of their story. "I don't get what's inspiring about this family," a person expressed. "Pregnant at 13 by an 18yo, continue to breed without a care to the burden they're putting on the environment or public services."
"No admiration from me," the individual added. "What sane person has 22 children?" another person commented. "To say they are self-sufficient is wrong too, as they would receive thousands of £ in tax credit each year. If they didn't receive welfare, I bet they wouldn't have had 22 kids."
Don't Rely on Government Benefits
Supporting even one child is costly, so you can probably imagine that providing for 22 children is enormously expensive. However, Sue and Noel pride themselves in that they don't accept government benefits, and they work hard to get food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.
"Big families will always be tarred with the same brush," said Sue. "People will say, 'They must be on benefits,' but there are lots of very hard-working large families who support themselves." Aside from proving this to other people, Sue and Noel want their kids to see the value in hard work.
Support Themselves Through a Family-Run Bakery
Sue and Noel have been running a family-owned bakery, "Radford's Pie Company, for over 20 years, and it's been successful enough to pay the bills. "It's important that our children see us working," said Sue. "When they're old enough, they go out to work themselves."
"We're a real family business with both myself and Sue working at the helm along with some of our children to help us," Noel shared on the company's website. While most of their income has come from their business, Sue and Noel have also earned some extra cash from their TV series and YouTube channel.
No matter how many little rascals are running up and down the halls, Sue has always managed to keep order in the house and keep things as organized as possible. Since some of the children are old enough to do chores and help out with the little ones, Sue looks to them to get through each day smoothly.
"If there is a job I can't do, I just have to say to one of them, 'Can you empty the dishwasher?' and they do it," said Sue. Being a part of such a large family has taught the Radford kids the importance of teamwork and providing help when needed, especially when Sue's attention is on the babies.
Sue Does 9 Loads of Laundry Each Day
Having more than 20 people living under one rood means there's a whole lot of laundry that needs to be done each day. Specifically, nine loads, which means 30 bottles of detergent are used every month. Sue takes a lot of pride in her 18kg washing machine and said it helps get the job done as efficiently as possible.
This enormous machine is kept in the basement, so Sue can get some peace and quiet while doing the laundry. "I love this washing machine. It's amazing," Sue said in an interview. "As you can see, it's on, it's always on." In addition to detergent, the family also goes through four rolls of toilet paper per day.
Struggle to Accommodate Everyone
With kids ranging from newborn to age 30, it's not always easy to entertain the entire family at once. "A family day out is quite a task for us - especially because there are lots of different age groups," Sue explained. "There's definitely lots of arguments in our house as it's so difficult to agree on things."
When it comes to transportation, they're fully equipped to fit almost the whole family in one vehicle. "We've got a minibus and have a car as well, but we find the older ones don't tend to come on days out as they're either working or doing their own things," said Sue.
Table for 24, Please
On the nights that Sue and Noe decide to splurge and take the whole family to a restaurant, it doesn't always go so smoothly. "When you say, 'Can I have a reservation for 20 people,' their jaw hits the floor, and they start panicking," Sue explained.
In addition to paying a pricey bill, the Radfords frequently have to wait a long time for a table that fits this many people. "Quite often, we have to wait an hour at least for a table to become available. It's quite a struggle, but it is funny to see the look on their faces when they see there's so many of us!" said Sue.
Sue and Noel Lost a Baby
In July of 2014, Sue and Noel were devasted when their 17th baby, Alfie, was stillborn. Since that day, they have been mourning the loss of their child ever since, and visit his grave frequently, making sure all of their children, no matter how young, understand that they have another brother who passed away.
The family acknowledges Alfie's birthday, July 6th, every year, and has shared many of their visits to his grave on social media. "What I'd give for one more cuddle with our beautiful boy. Happy 6th heavenly birthday Alfie," Sue shared this past July as the entire family gathered together.
Budgeting for Celebrations
While Sue and Noel try to plan cost-effective activities for the family, they also have a strict budget that they stick to when it comes to buying gifts. For each child's birthday, they spend no more than £100 on presents. With 22 kids, you can probably imagine they've thrown quite a few birthday parties.
For Christmas, their budget is sightly larger; They try to stick to around £100 to £250 for each of their children. And now that Sue and Noel have a few grandchildren, that means even more birthdays and more kids to buy Christmas presents for. However, they love to shower their family with gifts from time to time.
Started a YouTube Channel
In 2018, the Radford family created their very own YouTube channel to show followers what life was like as a family of this size. They already had a following because of the documentary, 15 Kids and Counting, so they transitioned from television to vlogging.
Sue and Noel have documented everything from the first day of school to family photoshoots, and their number of subscribers has continued to increase. Today, the Radford family has 230 thousand subscribers on YouTube and 328 thousand Instagram followers.
Baby Number 22
After giving birth to Bonnie, Sue and Noel's 21st child, they assured their family and friends that she was their last baby. However, as the rest of the family had predicted, they brought their 22nd baby into this world. Baby Heidie was born in April of 2020, and Sue said it was the "strangest birth yet."
"I was more scared than I had ever been going into the hospital with everything going on with the virus," said Sue. "I was so worried that Noel wouldn't be allowed to stay with me." In the end, Bonnie was born a healthy baby, and as of right, is the last baby for 45-year-old Sue to give birth to.
Sue Has Been Pregnant For 16.5 Years of Her Life
After giving birth to 22 babies, Sue has spent nearly 200 months of her life pregnant, equivalent to 800 weeks, and approximately 16.5 years. While Sue didn't face many problems with this many pregnancies so close together, medical professionals had warned her that it could be risky.
Studies suggest that it's safer for women to wait 18 months before becoming pregnant again after giving birth. However, five of Sue's children were born within a year of each other and haven't experienced major complications. Midwife Mandy Forrester said the timing is ultimately the "woman's choice."
Sue's Daughter Gave Birth 5 Months After Her
While Sue and Noel were preparing to welcome baby Heidie, their 18-year-old daughter, Millie, also discovered that she was pregnant. "It's weird that my baby will have an aunt who is only five months older," said Millie. "But it means they'll hopefully be really close."
And just five months after Heidi was born, Millie gave birth to her first child, Ophelia. Millie went into motherhood admiring her own mother; "Some people judge us, especially my mum, but I put it down to jealousy," she said. "Mum never rises to it or lets it bother her... It's a valuable thing she's taught us."
Fans Are Amazed by Sue and Noel
After watching Sue and Noel's journey of raising 22 children, many fans have expressed their admiration for the Radfords. "I can't believe how clean you keep things with so many little ones," one follower commented. "You need a medal." Another viewer said, "I am in awe of how capable you are."
Sue and Noel have genuinely built a loyal and supportive fanbase across the globe. "Hats off to them. I've always found them inspiring," said another fan. "If they can have that many children and financially support themselves... This just goes to show that anything is possible, no excuses whatsoever."
Filming Another TV Show
This past spring, the Radfords announced that they're in the process of filming a new show, entirely on their own. "We started filming, but everything that has been filmed has been by us," Noel explained. "They sent all the big cameras, the tripod, the Go-Pros, everything, and all the interviews have been done via Zoom."
"I've been doing the filming; Luke's done a bit of the filming, so I think when it does go on the telly you will definitely notice it's not been done professionally," Noel added. They haven't set a release date yet, but the family is excited to be filming again and creating a new project.
Don't Force Their Kids to Be on TV
Noel explained that he and Sue have never forced their kids to appear in front of the camera. "So far they all enjoy it, but if they don't want to get involved, we don't push them into it, so that's why you don't really see, even on YouTube, some of the older boys," said Noel.
"It's just not their thing. They're like 22, 21, and they [the boys] just keep themselves to themselves. They can do what they like," Noel added. Plus, three of the oldest children, Chris, Sophie, and Millie, now have families of their own that they focus most of their time on.
Growing Their Family
While reflecting on the life that she's created with her husband, Sue said, "I said definitely no more last time. I think we just love having a big family," regarding her desire to have so many kids. "Welcoming a newborn into our life. If it's an addiction, we're giving it up. We'll always have lots of grandchildren."
Sue and Noel instantly went from two teenagers living in their families' homes to parents, and then parents of a dozen children, and eventually, 22 loving kids. "There's never a dull moment," said Sue. "It's a happy house full of laughter, and we just love being surrounded by all our children."