15 Kids and Counting: Single mother of 14 Joanne Watson slams critics who brand her a scrounger

'I'm a figure of hate': Single mother of 14 slams critics who brand her a scroungerJoanne Watson responds to critics on TV show 15 Kids and Counting40-year-old insist that she regrets their infamyPays 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

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

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

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
Natasha, 22
Bradley, 21Shanice, 19
Mariah,
16
Georgia, 15
Caitlin, 12
Brittany, 11
Febrianne, 10
Charlie,
nine
Lilly-Arna, eight
Nerilly-Jade, seven
Armani, five
Tallulah,
four
Indianna, three

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.'

Squeezed on the sofa : Joanne Watson with the 11 children who still live at the family home

Squeezed on the sofa : Joanne Watson with the 11 children who still live at the family home