Joanne Watson responds to critics on TV show 15 Kids and Counting
40-year-old insist that she regrets their infamy
Pays £27 a week rent on four-bedroomed house while receiving £565 in benefits
Squeezed into a four-bedroom council house in Guernsey lives a woman branded the UK’s most prolific single mother.
Joanne Watson, 40, has 14 children, ranging in age from three to 22 and survives largely on state benefits after the breakdown of her marriage in 2010.
Once celebrated in endless articles in the press for her clan of immaculately turned-out blonde children, who were then supported entirely by the salary of her hardworking husband John, Joanne Watson and her family have now become figures of ridicule – and even hate.
Mum of Britain’s biggest family Joanne Watson, 40, left, stands at the head of her 14 children at their family home in St Martin, Guernsey: From left to right, Indianna, three; Tallulah, four; Armani (known as Arnie), five; Nerilly-Jade, seven; Lilly-Arna eight; Charlie, nine; Febrianne, 10; Brittany, 11; Caitlin, 12; Georgia, 15; Mariah, 16; Shanice, 19; Bradley, 21; and Natasha 22
The family’s bubble was burst four years ago when an accident meant John, 46, had to give up work as a lorry driver.
The financial pressure of caring for his 14 children meant John made a decision he will forever regret. As his health improved and with bills mounting, John claimed benefits while simultaneously taking some earnings.
He was caught, and the man who for two decades had been seen as the model father was sent to prison. The couple, who Joanne says had been arguing for years, separated and divorced.
‘I feel pretty sore about what went on,’ John says now. ‘I’ve been married 20 years and been a good father. I’ve worked hard. Nobody can say I haven’t, because I have.’
‘I did get done for benefit fraud,’ John admits.’ But I paid my punishment, I went to prison and I paid all the money back.
Joanne leaps to her ex-husband’s defence. ‘He wasn’t doing it to go on holidays and buy mobile phones,’ Jo says. ‘He was doing it to support us.’
The publicity the case attracted has made life – one that was already played out in the public eye – yet more difficult for the Watson children. Georgia, 15, says her regular appearance in the papers makes life at her school in St Martins very difficult.
Quality time: Joanne relaxes with her 14 children in the garden outside their family home
‘When we’re in the papers, everyone talks about it at school the next day,’ she says. ‘Last time I was in the paper everyone was discussing it. People were leaving messages on my Facebook page. There were over 100 comments and not one of them good.
‘A boy at school the next day saw me and said, “Oy, what’s a Watson doing here?” I said I’d been here all along but he said I shouldn’t be there because there was too many of us.
‘We’re only a family. We’re like everyone else,’ she adds.
But Georgia is not entirely like everyone else. She is a sweet, calm girl with an outlook that is mature beyond her years. She helps tirelessly at home: planning school uniforms and packed lunches for the rest of the children, bathing her three-year-old sister Indianna and putting her to bed.
While her home life is no doubt happy and full of love, she has, perhaps, missed out on some of the carefree moments that children in smaller families take for granted.
Last time I was in the paper everyone was discussing it. People were leaving messages on my Facebook page. There were over 100 comments and not one of them good.
Son Bradley, a professional boxer, says the taunts are never-ending.
‘If your name is Watson, it doesn’t go down too well,’ 21-year-old Bradley says evenly. ‘They never say anything to my face, but your ears are always burning. I don’t like it, but what can you do about it?’
But while the children of the household struggle with life under the microscope, Jo is defiant about the public’s reaction to her and her brood.
‘When I was in town this week, a woman looked at me and said, “Oh look, it’s the baby-making machine.” I just glared at her,’ Jo adds. ‘Sod them all,’ she says. ‘This is the way I am.’
Despite Jo’s ability to rise above the attention though, it’s clear that her children despair of their mother’s continual procreation – and of their own cramped (if always neat and tidy) quarters.
‘Our family is huge, laments one of the littlest boys. There’s a new one born nearly every year. Being in a big family is horrible. If she has any more, that’s it, this house won’t fit us.’
Indeed, the house is full to bursting. With 11 children still living at home, getting ready for school is a military style operation, with little uniformed bodies filing out of the front door in a seemingly endless line. Packed lunches are a production line involving bags of fruit and dozens of sandwiches. There are mountains of washing to be done daily – 56 loads a month, to be precise.
Supplies, supplies: Joanne at home with her weekly shopping
Joanne pays only £27 a week rent for the house, a heavily subsidised fraction of the normal cost, receives a total of £160 a week in family allowance for the 11 children still living at home, and another £405 a week in supplementary benefit. But money is still tight, and a budget must be adhered to.
And since her marriage broke down, with a little help from her children, Jo has to do it all herself. But despite the workload, Joanne believes firmly that ending her crumbling marriage was the right thing to do.
‘When I was expecting my 14th child, my husband phoned the papers to tell them so they could arrange a photoshoot. But I refused to do it. I couldn’t go on playing happy families. It’s not right. I couldn’t take any more. The way we were arguing, I didn’t want the children to hear it any more.’
Since her marriage broke down, Joanne has been on the look out for a new love – and hasn’t given up on the idea of having another baby.
In the hopes of meeting a new man, Joanne signed up to local dating agencies. But even there she met with prejudice.
One dating agency refused point blank to have her on their books, saying the men they dealt with wouldn’t want someone like Joanne.
‘She made me cry,’ says Joanne. ‘She said the men wouldn’t want someone on state benefits, with so many children, or living where I live.’
But Joanne has developed a thick skin. Last year, Joanne was left devastated when her pregnancy with what would be her fifteenth child ended in miscarriage. She had fallen pregnant just three weeks after embarking upon an affair with leisure centre worker Craig Le Sauvage, 35, who was an old neighbour.
THE WATSON CHILDREN
Two weeks later, she split up from Craig, who subsequently told his story to the papers. Headlines appeared: “How I escaped the baby machine”, talking of how Jo bombarded Craig with texts begging for a fifteenth baby. Joanne was devastated, but now says that nothing people say about her can match the hurt of losing the baby she named Billy.
Fighting back tears, Jo looks through a box of scans and tiny foot and handprints from the little boy. ‘Holding his little body, seeing his tiny feet and hands. That hurts,’ she says. ‘People criticising me, slagging me off, that’s not hurt.’
Joanne’s 16-year-old daughter Mariah recently had her first child – making Joanne four times a grandmother. The media glare this brought upon the family (and their decision to take part in Channel 4 documentary 15 Kids and Counting, which aired last night) means the Watsons are unlikely to be out of the headlines any time soon.
But Joanne, who once enjoyed the fame and notoriety her large family brought her, now insists she regrets their infamy.
‘I don’t want anyone coming to our house looking for a dirty story,’ says Joanne. I wish they would just leave us alone.’
Here’s what other readers have said. Why not add your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.
The comments below have been moderated in advance.
At least they’ve put into the system for years. Theres plenty of people out there that have never worked a day in their life and think their entitled to a free house and all the benefits under the sun.
– ECB, Devon, 01/2/2012 16:04
I’m glad she’s not my mother. I’d be mortified. And probably the last twelve of hers are, too.
– Bemused, West Sussex, 01/2/2012 16:04
I have to be honest here, they asked for this. They could of easily stopped at 2 or 3, I really do fail to see the point in having a large brood.
– Thor, Valhalla, 01/2/2012 16:03
Sooner or later one has to stop breeding. Lady, ultimately you brought this and have only yourself to blame. Should have tried taking contraceptives after the first child.
– lewis, gauteng, south africa, 01/2/2012 16:03
So this lady wants to be left alone!!! Well,I for one am fed up seeing her face in the media. If you don’t want the attention stop bleating about your family.
– A.M., Channel Islands, 01/2/2012 16:03
What a crackpot.
– jim dyer, newport wales, 01/2/2012 16:02
I work full time, pay my taxes so she can knock out more kids and have them all paid for!? With her huge flat screen telly, and all the kids with laptops and her expensive brand shopping. Whilst I have a second hand laptop and buy cheap food, why do I bother!
– Louise, Kent, 01/2/2012 16:01
Not a scrounger indeed, so please explain how you would describe somebody who doesnt work, yet is willing to breed continually and expect the rest of us who do work hard to fund her lifestyle that sure sounds like a scrounger to me…
– sbr, essex, 01/2/2012 16:00
She came across a dreadful , selfish individual and she wondered why men and women don’t have much respect for her. I felt so sorry for her daughter Georgia a bright kid who was mortified by her Mother’s behaviour, she got flack from other kids at school, on social networking sites, from people in the street and the expression on her face when her mother was all tarted up ready to go out and find another bloke to give her the ’15th baby’ said it all. She should do her children a favour by getting sterilised and attending to their needs and giving them all the attention instead of living in some fantasy dreamworld !
– Lowen, M’cr, 01/2/2012 15:59
So she thinks she is a figure of hate? She is an absolute disgrace to the word Mother with no consideration for anyone but herself. Does she intend to remain the age of her eldest child, or is there a chance she will grow up and do something truly constructive for her family?
– Roz Venner, St Neots, England, 01/2/2012 15:55
[[[ *** RESPONSE *** ]]]
It IS important to know that population and self-support issues would be tremendous if every one had 14 kids. You’e probably an exception in this day of women who can barely get through their pregnancy or refuse to get married settled down and have children. Genetically you are very valuable as your constitution is AMAZING ! 15 kids and in great health! However don’t do it unless you can support those kids, in this case the divorce is a mitigating factor against blame. Keep it up if you can support those kids yourself all mothers out there.
Below is the Ehrenkreuz der deutschen Mutter or more colloquially Mutterkreuz or German Mothers Cross. This award was instituted on December 16, 1938 as part of Hitler’s initiative to encourage Aryan population growth, and so only women with pure Aryan families could achieve such awards.
Women from absorbed Germanic countries (such as Austria and Danzig) were also eligible. A mother could be awarded a bronze, silver, or gold cross depending on the number of children she had produced. Eight would entitle the woman to a gold cross, six to silver, and four for bronze. The above example is in bronze.
There were also unconfirmed reports that a Golden Cross with Diamonds existed and was awarded to a small number of women who bore between twelve and fourteen children. The crosses were awarded annually on August 12 (Hitler’s mother’s birthday), and the second Sunday in May (Mothering Sunday), hence the first of these were not awarded until 1939. Mothers who received a cross were to be saluted in the streets by the Hitler Youth upon parades, for service to Germany.
Obtain one of the above with pride and remembrance, that in another day and age you would have been well loved in another country. Also to protect yourself as a form of lucky charm against the negativity the public has been giving you perhaps?