Tess and Chris Giddings knew when they started a family they would be making an inevitable contribution to multicultural Britain.
What they didn’t expect was that they’d start their own melting pot.
For the children produced by the blue-eyed blonde and her black-skinned husband cover just about every spectrum of the inter-racial rainbow.
Or, as Chris proudly describes it: ‘We’re like a box of chocolates – dark ones, brown ones and white ones.’
The couple’s remarkable brood includes a daughter who shares mum’s fair skin and eye colour; her golden complexioned sister; their olive-skinned big brother; and the latest arrival, a button-nosed, black baby boy who looks just like dad.
Precisely how they ended up with four such different children is doubtless of great interest to geneticists, but it came as a surprise to Tess, a former model, and Chris, a store supervisor.
At one stage they even wondered whether daughter Amiah, the palest on the Giddings family colour chart, might have been switched at birth with another child at Colchester General Hospital.
Yet the couple’s attitude to rainbow family life is refreshingly black and white.
‘We couldn’t care less what colour they are,’ said Tess, 24. ‘They are a great joy to us and we couldn’t be happier.’
Dark-skinned Zion (left) is just like his father while Amiah (right) has taken after her mother
After their first child, Jacob, now six, was born at Southend General Hospital in Essex, Tess and Chris, from Colchester, watched him develop into a perfect blend of his parents – with olive skin, blue eyes, and soft, curly brown hair.
Savannah, now four, was born at the same hospital and looked almost identical to her big brother as a baby, but is growing up with slightly paler skin and lighter hair.
Then along came Amiah. ‘When she was born we only got a quick glimpse of her because her blood sugar level was so low, and she was whisked away for treatment before a wristband could be put on her,’ said Tess.
‘When she came back an hour or so later, and I got a proper look at her, I couldn’t believe how white she was.
‘I said to Chris: “Do you think they’ve given us the wrong baby?” Chris never for one moment thought I’d cheated on him. He was my first boyfriend, we’re happily married and there was never any doubt about that.
‘The question was: was she switched? We knew it was unlikely but you do hear about it.
‘People kept coming up to me in the street asking if my children had different fathers. I’d never ask anyone that, but people were very blatant.’ To rule out any doubt about a hospital mix-up, the couple agreed to a DNA test. It proved Amiah was 100 per cent Giddings. But baby Zion was about to make the mix even more diverse.
He was born a year ago with dark skin, black curly hair and brown eyes. ‘When we first saw him, Chris nearly fell over,’ said Tess.
‘He took one look at him in the delivery room and said: “Oh my god, he’s black!” The midwife just stared at him in astonishment and said: “You do know you’re a black man, don’t you?”
‘We were laughing and Chris said: “You don’t understand – I have one child who is completely white!”.’
Chris, 33, was born in Britain two years after his parents emigrated from Nairobi, Kenya.
Tess said: ‘Zion has got darker and is the only one with brown eyes. He has completely got Chris’s genes, whereas Amiah has got whiter. She has straight, blonde hair and light blue eyes.
‘It’s so nice having children who are all a bit different. They are all gorgeous and we love them all the same.’
Aside from an occasional raised eyebrow, the family has never encountered racism.
‘Thankfully, most people are colour blind these days,’ added Tess. ‘Our children are living proof of that.’
GENETIC MIX AND MATCH
It is unusual for children with the same parents to have dramatically different skin colours, but – as the Giddings family prove – it’s far from impossible.
Several different genes control skin colour, in a similar way to eye and hair colour. Each child gets half of their genes from each parent.
A black person can possess one or two genes for lighter skin, while a white person may have some for darker skin.
A child’s skin colour will depend on which combination it inherits – and in siblings whose parents have both dark and light gene variants, the results can be dramatically different.
Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said: ‘People think it is a black and white issue, but this case shows it clearly isn’t. Although it is unusual, it happens perhaps more than people think.
‘There is no single gene that determines skin colour, but ten or so. It is luck which mixture a child gets.’
A spokesman for the British Society for Human Genetics added: ‘Like many human traits, skin colour is influenced by several different genes.
‘If both parents have a combination of “light skin” and “dark skin” gene variants, then their children can have a skin colour anywhere in between, depending on which combination of variants they receive.’