‘I didn’t desire to have a big family, it just sort of happened’ | #parenting

“I was conducting a social experiment given that I was an only child myself,” Matt Copper jokes when I ask him what inspired his decision to have a large family. As experiments go, this is one that the journalist, broadcaster and father of five has found “very enjoyable”.

“Though I shouldn’t probably tell them that,” he laughs.

I’ve loved all our holidays. We’ve gone on some brilliant holidays. I feel very lucky that we’ve had the opportunity to

do all that

Being an only child had no bearing on his family’s size, Matt explains. “I’d have never been particularly conscious of being an only child. It wasn’t something that upset me or worried me in any way. It wasn’t then any desire to have a big family, it just sort of happened.”

Matt and his wife, Aileen Hickie, were married for 3½ years when their first child, Andie, was born. Shortly before his daughter’s birth, however, Matt’s own father died.

Aileen Hickie, chief executive of Parentline, at home with her dog Scout, with photos of husband Matt Cooper and five children in the backgound. Photograph: Alan Betson

“My father died just two weeks before Andie was born – his first grandchild. That was particularly tough because he was sort of hanging on almost for her. I feel a little bit guilty about this, that maybe I should have just lied and told him before he died that his grandchild had been born.

“But I didn’t want to lie about something like that in case anything went wrong, and so I didn’t and I often wonder afterwards that maybe I was wrong, maybe I should have just told him. I should have just said to him oh you’ve had a grandson or a granddaughter born and we’re calling him this name or her that name. But I didn’t want to tempt fate in any way, and I didn’t, but I think I probably regretted that afterwards.”

Coping with his grief and new fatherhood, Cooper immersed himself in his baby’s care. “I threw myself into it. I spent an awful lot of time doing the feeds for Andie and looking after her and all the rest of it.

“My mother then had gone through a series of serious strokes so we would go down and we’d bring the children down one after the other. She unfortunately had passed away before Harry was born. To be honest, the children don’t have that many memories of her because they were all so small when she died as well.

“They have their grandmother on Aileen’s side,” Cooper says. “Their grandfather on Aileen’s side, Aileen’s father, died back in 2015. They had a relationship with him and they knew him before he passed and they have a very good relationship with Aileen’s mother, but they did miss out on my side. I feel my parents missed out.”

Caring for his mother before her death involved a lot of juggling for Matt. “Actually, finding the time to get down to Cork was always a problem. The number of people who said to me that I did very well, in retrospect I would always say that I probably could have done more. I wish I’d done more. But who’s to know.

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