For the Sullivan family, every meal is like a large-scale catering event – and a day out takes military-level organisational skills.
Because this Moray family could make their own football team – and even have the luxury of two subs on the bench.
Zoe and Ben Sullivan and their brood, ranging in age from two to 16, are one of Britain’s biggest families.
The Lossiemouth family are set to hit the small screen on Thursday night as part of an ITV1 programme, Britain’s Biggest Families, about budgeting for so many kids.
But here, Zoe gives an insight into the day-to-day mechanics of keeping things running like clockwork, how she and Ben ended up with such a big clan – and what it’s really like to shop for 13.
Meet the Sullivan family
Ben, 46, and Zoe, 42, are both from the same part of Cornwall and grew up together. After moving away from the area separately as young adults, they got together when they both came back.
Almost exactly 16 years ago, they had their first child, Elisabeth, whose birthday was last month. Olivia, 14, was also born in Cornwall. Then Ben’s job as an aircraft engineer took them to RAF Valley in Wales, where twins Charlotte and Isabelle, now 13, came along.
Another move took the Sullivans to RAF Benson, in Oxfordshire, and their first boy Noah, now 11, came along, followed by Evangeline, nine, and eight-year-old Tobias.
A shift to Lossiemouth followed, where the family was completed (at least so far – more on that later). Twins Leah and Erin, now five, were very premature. Agnes, three, and Joseph, two, are the babies of the family.
How 13 ended up the luckiest number
Zoe isn’t quite sure how they ended up with such a huge family. Ben was one of five siblings, but the couple never made a conscious decision to go big.
She said: “We never really said let’s have lots of children. We had Noah and then it was like let’s just keep going – this is quite fun.
“The twins were supposed to be the last ones, but we carried on. Joseph is only two, so we still have a whole lifetime to go.”
And is there room for any more in the Sullivan family?
Zoe would only commit to: “No more have arrived – yet.”
How does it all work?
From shopping trips to days out, the Sullivans have to plan everything they do.
For a while, they had two seven-seater Vauxhall Zafiras to ferry the family around – although at the moment they are down to a single Astra for essential journeys.
Zoe revealed the key to a happy life is to get the chores as much done in the morning as possible.
She said: “We’re very organised people and the kids are too – that’s the only way that works for us.
“I’m up at 4.45am on weekdays, and get a slightly later start at the weekend of 5am.
“We’re a good team. Everybody knows what they’ve got to do and knows when to pitch in.”
The Sullivan family fit themselves into a standard four-bedroomed house, with Zoe and Ben in one room, the three boys in another, and the girls split by age in the last two.
Zoe admitted: “My dream house would have 10 or 11 bedrooms, but that seems a tall order.”
A lot of budgeting
Food is on an industrial scale – everything comes in multiples of kilogrammes, and Zoe shops four times a week just to keep everything topped up.
In terms of treats and outings, the family keep it to day trips – and it all comes under the budgeting umbrella, with Ben’s salary and child benefit the mainstay of income.
Zoe said: “It’s a lot of budgeting. We don’t really have holidays, we just have day trips and do things that are free. We’ll go to a park for the day and have Burger King as a treat. We also spend a lot of time at the beach.
“One thing I wish we could have is a holiday – but we don’t go many places that cost money because it’s so expensive.
A few years ago, with fewer children, they splashed out on a Landmark season ticket – “but that came to about £400, I think”.
What about the future – and fame – for the Sullivan family?
In terms of the future, Zoe is torn between seeing her children fulfil their potential and dreading the moment when she has an empty house.
Olivia is planning art at university – which would make her the first to fly the nest.
Zoe said: “I really want her to go, but I’m sad at the same time.”
Ben will leave the RAF in the next few years and the family will be looking to buy their own house after living in tied accommodation. They are planning to stay in the Lossie area – as Zoe says: “Although Cornwall was our home, this is the kids’ home.
“We’re looking forward to watching the kids grow up – but not too soon, I don’t want to be lonely.”
In the meantime, the Sullivan family are finding fame of sorts as one of Britain’s biggest.
Zoe also blogs about everything from mental health to everyday life.
She said: “I don’t think I’m necessarily doing it right or better than anyone else, but people were interested and asking about it, so I started a blog.
“This is just how we do it.”