Birthday surprises don't come much more precious than the one Arsenal and England footballer Theo Walcott received from his wife Melanie this year in 2016. The winger's childhood sweetheart chose 16 March, her husband's 27th birthday, to break the news that she was expecting their second child.
In an exclusive interview with HELLO! magazine in August 2016, Melanie, who has a two-year-old son Finley with her husband, relived the moment. "The timing was so special, the fact that it was his birthday," said Mel, 26. "I knew it was the best present he could have wished for. Theo's a real family man and an amazing dad. He and Finley have so much fun together and he can't wait for their new little playmate to arrive now so they can join in the mischief, too."
Recalling the moment he was told he was going to be a dad-of-two, Theo said: "Arsenal were playing Barcelona away in the Champions League and I'd said to Mel, 'You really don't have to come.' But she's always so supportive. We were in a communal area with the other players when Mel took me aside and told me, very quietly, that she had some news. I don't mind admitting I got emotional when she said she was pregnant, but as it was still very early days, I managed to keep it low-key until I got back to my room. Then I just started jumping around."
Theo and Melanie Walcott kept the sex of their baby a surprise
With the baby due in mid-November, Theo and Mel were looking forward to meeting their son or daughter. The physiotherapist has been craving sugar – a sign that she's having a girl, perhaps? “Whereas with Finley I craved fresh fruit and really healthy foods, this time round I’ve wanted sugar and lots of it. I pretty much demolished an entire family packet of Bourbon biscuits,” Melanie revealed.
"We haven’t even been tempted to find out," says Theo. "We didn’t with Finley and we haven’t wanted to this time either. I’ve actually been a bit worried at the scans that we might be told accidentally or see the telltale sign on the screen, because for us, looking forward to that moment at the birth of, ‘It’s a girl!’ or ,‘It’s a boy!’ is all part of the excitement."
"We honestly don't have a preference," said Mel. "I see myself with a girl but at the same time I can picture Finley with a little brother because he's such a boy. I don't think you can really call it," she added. "But I do feel my bump is a lot heavier and lower this time."
Read the full interview in this week's copy of HELLO!
Melanie enjoyed an active and stress-free pregnancy with Finley but shortly after his birth – two weeks early and following a natural delivery – her and Theo’s world was rocked to the core when their son was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect for which he had to undergo surgery at the tender age of just ten weeks. In an exclusive interview with HELLO! in 2015, Melanie, who is patron of the Children’s Air Ambulance charity, told how she and Theo had endured “the longest two and a half hours” of their lives as they waited to find out if the operation had been successful. Thankfully it was and to look at Finley now – quick on his feet like his famous dad and full of energy – you would never know that anything had been wrong. But has that experience impacted on this pregnancy? Has what they went through made Melanie anxious?
"Not anxious, more mindful,” she ponders. "I think it’s made us more aware that it might not necessarily be straightforward and that you can face challenges you didn’t foresee. But at the same time, you can’t worry about things that might not happen. Although we haven’t had any more scans than we would have had, the ones we have had have checked specifically for that area and while there are no guarantees, we’re told that as far as they can tell, all is good and there is nothing to be concerned about. They will check again once the baby is born."
Melanie and Theo are childhood sweethearts
Nervous that Theo might have ended up delivering their firstborn himself once her contractions had kicked in – “With the best will in the world I don’t think either of us could have coped with that!” – Melanie says she made a mistake going into hospital too early to have Finley, so this time they have employed the services of an independent midwife.
"I probably won’t have a home birth, but I like the fact that if I’m feeling good and all is going well, I have that option," said Melanie. "And it hopefully means I can stay at home as long as possible without worrying about it, because I do think I’ll be more relaxed in our own environment. Last time I didn’t have the confidence to do that, having never been through labour before. But if there’s one thing I’ve come to understand, it’s that you can’t plan too rigidly. You can have an ideal scenario in mind but at the end of the day it will be what it needs to be. The important thing is the wellbeing of our baby."
In the meantime the couple spent time getting their adorable son used to the idea of another little one entering the family fold. “When we took Finley to the first scan, I had this vision of it being a precious bonding moment and Finley being mesmerised by the images on the screen, when in reality he just wanted to jump on me," laughed Melanie. "Second time around he seemed to have got his head around it a bit more and was pointing, saying, ‘Mummy’s tummy.’ It’s magical seeing those little hands and feet and watching the baby growing," added Melanie with a smile.
Said Theo: "Finley’s not silly – he knows something big is going on. He’s started putting his head on Mel’s belly and saying, ‘Good morning, baby,’ which is very sweet. We’re mindful of the fact that he’s had all our attention so it’s going to be a change for him. But he’s such a sociable little boy, we know he’s going to love having a little partner in crime and be such a good big brother. There might be a few challenges ahead but they’re all positive and we’re just excited now to meet our new baby."