Bright Sparks: Ben & Una Foden

Ben and Una Foden tell Susannah Warren about life as a family of four and becoming presidents of children’s medical research charity Sparks.

‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’, the saying goes. It’s a theory proven beyond doubt by The Saturdays’ Una Foden and her rugby-playing husband, Ben Foden. Despite having two children and packed work schedules, they have just taken on the role of 2016 joint-presidents of children’s medical research charity Sparks.

“As parents of young kids [Aoife, three, Tadhg, one], it was an obvious choice, a no-brainer really,” says Una. “We know what a brilliant job they do funding research for common and rare diseases in children, so we were keen to pull our forces together.” And with the charity’s strong sporting heritage, “it made real sense for me to join Sparks,” adds Ben.

This can-do attitude is reflected in their parenting style, too. “Some people with young kids lock themselves away,” notes Ben. “But kids need to fit into your lifestyle and not the other way around. We try and do things as a family, and neither of us is scared of carting them off to the supermarket on our own.”

This hands-on approach from Ben, who plays for rugby union club Northampton Saints, is partly due to the fact that he has been beset with injury for the past three seasons. Although hard to bear, it’s been a bit of a blessing where family is concerned: “Becoming parents is quite a shock to the system, and being injured meant I got to be home and spend lots of time with them.”

Going from one child to two was certainly a challenge, says Una. “When they’re at that baby, baby phase, you feel like a bit of a zombie – and with a toddler.” But the couple are visibly chuffed to have the perfect pigeon pair. “I’ve got my mini me and he’s got his,” says Una. “I’m looking forward to when she starts dance and drama and Ben can take Tadhg to rugby!”

In fact, they wouldn’t change a thing: “I can’t remember life before. We’re getting older now and it feels really natural,” says Una. “I love it, I absolutely love being a mum.”

With her girl band The Saturdays on a break so “we can do different things for a bit”, Una has been focusing on her solo album, which is a return to the singer-songwriting days of her youth. She’s yet to finalise the tracks, but reveals that some of the songs are about motherhood. “My kids inspired me an awful lot actually. The love that I have for them, you can put that into so many love songs – it’s not always about Ben!”

As we speak, Una is getting ready to relocate for six weeks to Ireland with the kids to fulfil her role as a coach on the live shows of The Voice of Ireland, an upheaval she seems to be taking in her stride. “I don’t know any different. There are plenty of hard-working parents out there with kids. You just manage, don’t you? Being a stay-at-home mum is a full-time job, too. The days I’m off, it’s hard.”

Even this couple know when to stop, though, and thoughts of adding another little Foden to the brood are on hold. “After having Aoife, I thought I wanted two more,” explains Una. “But now I’ve had a second child, we feel our family is complete.”

As Sparks presidents, they will be helping to raise the charity’s profile and attending special events. “Charity’s about spreading the word,” explains Ben. “As Una and I are in the public spotlight, we can do that. It’s no burden at all.”

And it’s clear when Una starts talking about Sparks’ poignant Not Yet Available campaign that the pair feel passionately about the cause: “People pick up a box – it looks like it’s medicine, but, there’s nothing in the box and it just says: ‘Not Yet Available.’ Can you imagine, as a parent, having a perfectly healthy child only to be told they have a month or so to live – because there’s no cure?”

It’s worth thinking about.

Read about Sparks’ Not Yet Available campaign here, and watch the campaign on Youtube.