Proud parents Sue and Noel Radford are known for having Britain’s biggest family – but their 30-year marriage hasn’t been without its ups and downs.
Last week, Sue revealed that she nearly considered divorcing her husband Noel, who she shares a whopping 22 children with, after a ‘nightmare’ situation in the early 2000s left them ‘thinking about debt’ night and day.
The pair, based in Morecambe, Lancashire, met when Sue was aged seven, before becoming pregnant with their first child Christopher, when she was just 14 and Noel was 18.
They wed in 1993, and welcomed their second child Sophie. More children have followed in quick succession ever since.
Following Sue’s revelations on the latest episode of Channel 5’s 22 Kids & Counting, here FEMAIL takes a look at the couple’s relationship history.
The couple first met when Sue was seven. They welcomed their first child, Chris, in 1989. The most recent addition to their super-sized brood was Heidie, born in April 2020.
In 2019, on their Channel 4 documentary 21 Kids and Counting, the narrator revealed that a then 42-year-old Sue first first became pregnant ’29 years ago’, which viewers worked out would have made her just 13. Her husband Noel would have been 18 when the baby was born.
One viewer complemented the couple’s ‘lovely’ children, but said the situation around the birth of their first child was ‘weird’,
Writing on Twitter, the viewer said: ‘They are lovely kids but I can’t help but feel a bit weird about the fact when he was 18 he got a 13 year old pregnant.’
Another person added: ‘So he first got her pregnant when she was 13 and he was 17/18? Disgusting.’ A third exclaimed: ‘Did he really have a kid with her when she was a child!? #21kidsandcounting.’
The couple have previously said they were determined to keep their first child, Chris, because they had both been adopted at birth.
They were married four years after his birth, in Kendal, and moved into together. Their second child, Sophie, was born when Sue was 17.
The age of consent for sexual activity in the UK is 16. In England and Wales, the age of sexual consent for women has been set at 16 since 1885, after campaigners fought to raise it from 13 to prevent child prostitution.
The law says it is an offence for anyone to have any sexual activity with a person under the age of 16.
However, Home Office guidance is clear that there is no intention to prosecute teenagers under the age of 16 where both mutually agree and where they are of a similar age.
Between them, Sue and Noel are parents to Chris, 33, Sophie, 29, Chloe, 27, Jack, 25, Daniel, 24, Luke, 22, Millie, 22, Katie, 20, James, 19, Ellie, 17, Aimee, 16, Josh, 15, Max, 14, Tillie, 12, Oscar, 11, Casper, 10, Hallie, seven, Phoebe, six, Archie, five, Bonnie, four and Heidie, two.
The parents tragically lost their 17th child Alfie in July 2014.
The family live in a large £240,000 Victorian house, a former care home, that they bought 11 years ago.
Noel had a vasectomy during his wife’s ninth pregnancy but had it reversed when they decided to have more children.
In 2013, the couple starred in the Channel 4 show, 16 Kids and Counting and were filmed in their ten-bedroom home. They first shot to fame in 2008, when it emerged the baker and his wife were set to have a ‘baker’s dozen’ of children, 13.
As well as selling their pies at local farmer’s markets, Noel also has his own shopfront in Heysham.
However, it’s not always been easy for the couple – with Sue revealing that she nearly considered divorcing her husband Noel.
In the latest episode of 22 Kids & Counting, the couple looked back on their three decades of marriage as they visited their old wedding venue and other landmarks significant to their relationship.
At one point, they stopped by a mobile shop at a high street in Kendal, Cumbria – a site which the pair once leased to try and expand their pie business.
They had invested in the then-prime location for their bakery in 2001 after seeing another shop flourish when they opened up a second site.
The parents explained that at the time, they were ‘so proud’ to have their own business in Heysham, Lancashire and ‘wanted to expand’.
They took out a ‘huge’ loan to invest in their thriving dream – only to be slammed with national disaster.
‘To start with it did really well,’ Noel explained. ‘It was doing good – and then not long here – foot-and-mouth hits the country and to be honest I think Cumbria was one of the worst affected areas.’
The agricultural crisis is thought to have cost the UK economy £8 billion overall, with millions of cows and sheep killed to half spread of the disease.
Cumbria, with some 893 cases, was severely affected by the outbreak, leaving the area devastated.
‘It just killed the tourism,’ Noel, who has been a baker since leaving school, added, as the family was plunged into despair.
‘I can’t even describe it, it just caused so much stress,’ Sue revealed. ‘You used to go to bed thinking about the debt, you’d wake up thinking about the debt, you’d wake up during the night thinking about the debt…
‘If anything was going to have caused us to get a divorce, it was this.’
The mother-of-22 added: ‘Looking back now, it was a time where I genuinely thought our marriage was not gonna pull through that.’
During the episode, they toured through important locations in their marriage, including their old wedding venue and the first humble house where they lived.