Not many prospective mums get to “try before you buy” when it comes to having a family.
But Countdown’s Rachel Riley found the perfect opportunity to see if she was ready for kids – babysitting a complete stranger’s children for a new TV show.
Motherhood came knocking quicker than she expected, however.
Just weeks before filming began, Rachel and husband Pasha Kovalev discovered they were expecting their first child.
“It’s crazy how the universe has plans for you,” she smiles.
“At the end of last year I was thinking about a family and I guess this show is the only way you can try before you buy with kids!
“I’ve got so many friends who are having babies, and I think last year I was kind of like, ‘Ooh, yeah. They seem to be enjoying it’.
"But there’s no way to have one and then go, ‘No, it’s not for me’. So I just thought it would be fun as an experiment to see what it’s like.”
Her new reality series My Famous Babysitter, sees her move into a family home and look after kids she’s never met.
But, she adds: “I had no idea when I signed up for the show that I’d be pregnant when I filmed it!”
It was a delightful surprise for the couple, who shocked fans in June when they announced they’d tied the knot during a simple and romantic ceremony in Las Vegas.
The newlyweds are now in the final few weeks of the pregnancy with Rachel due before Christmas, they can’t wait to meet the new addition to their family and find out whether they’ve got a son or a daughter after deciding not to discover the gender.
“Pasha and I are honestly really excited,” gushes Rachel. “It’s scary and exciting all at the same time.
“Our parents are over the moon and so are our friends.
"I’ve got babies coming out of my ears at the moment, three of my best friends are pregnant.
"So I’ve got good, sensible friends who I trust to talk things through with and get advice.”
Rachel met Pasha when she was paired with the Strictly Come Dancing professional on the show in 2013, they started dating a year later and have been together ever since.
So what kind of dad will the dashing Pasha be?
“Just lovely,” Rachel, 33, admits with pride.
“I mean, he is the most chilled out person in the world, he’s so supportive, and lovely, so, yeah, it’s going to be very exciting this next chapter in our life.”
With Pasha’s Russian heritage Rachel says their child will be raised bilingual and she’s working hard to improve her own language skills, so she’s not left out.
“His mum doesn’t speak English, so I’ve had to learn,” she says.
“I can have a basic conversation, so I’m just waiting for the point when my baby will speak better Russian than me!
“You pick languages up easier as a kid. The method I’ve been using to learn Russian is the same way that kids learn, to an extent.
“I’m excited for my child to have the skill of being bilingual, it’s certainly a positive thing.”
Rachel was brought up in a working class Jewish household in Rochford, Essex.
The Countdown star says that her parents always encouraged her to do well and focus on her education above everything else.
Her father, Christopher, was the first in his family to go to university, before becoming a chartered accountant and her mother, Celia, was a charity fundraiser.
Rachel went on to get four A-Levels at Southend High School for Girls before studying at Oriel College, Oxford.
So, with an Oxford educated mathematician for a mum and a world class dancer for a dad, it’s safe to say their child will have brains and talent.
But like any new mum, Rachel says she just wants to make sure they are happy, “I think teaching responsibility and independence, and encouraging them to enjoy school, enjoy learning, that’s the thing that’s taken me the furthest in life.
“If they want to be a dancer, I think their dad can take the lead on that! Dad’s got it!
“My philosophy for my family is just to make sure you have happy kids over everything else.”
One thing is for sure, Rachel’s convinced their son or daughter is going to run rings around them when they arrive in a few weeks time.
“I don’t think either of us will be a disciplinarian,” she laughs. “I think we might have a shock in store when the little one’s drawing with crayons all over the wall!
“It’s quite possible our little one is going to have both of us wrapped around their little finger!”
A self confessed “night owl”, Rachel hoped signing up to Famous Babysitter on W would help her to discover whether she has what it takes to be a mum.
“To be honest I just wanted to see if I have enough energy and patience to be around kids all the time,” she confesses.
“I have my friends with kids and my nephew, but you have them in short doses.
“To be around kids from the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed, and do everything and not really have a moment to yourself, it’s quite a scary thing.
“It’s just completely different to being able to hang out when you want and go whenever you want, do whatever you want.”
Rachel was paired with the Pearson family where mum and dad Helen and Dave have four daughters aged eight to 15.
She showed up at their door during half term and Rachel is pushed well and truly out of her comfort zone as she’s left to look after them solo 24 hours a day for an entire week.
Juggling all their social activities, homework, chores and cooking all their meals was a baptism of fire for Rachel, who was worried her vegan lifestyle might cause chaos in the kitchen.
“I’m really awkward with food because I’m vegan,” she explains.
“So I was kind of hoping that I wouldn’t get a family that just wants to eat chicken nuggets and pizza all the time, think I’m a massive weirdo and won’t eat anything that I eat!
“I didn’t realise, because when it’s just two adults together you eat what you want and kind of assume everyone eats similarly.
"But trying to watch four girls and what they’re eating, and say, ‘Don’t eat that packet of crisps and that pastry right before dinner!’, I definitely turned into my mum with those kind of things!”
Rachel says she quickly discovered she had a lot in common with the girls and while she was able to help them with their maths homework, she had a handy number to call when Delilah, 10, started panicking about her dance competition.
“I face-timed Pasha with the girls. He watched her little routine when she was practicing, and just said, ‘Keep smiling. Be strong’.
“Then afterwards all four girls were speaking to Pasha. I hadn’t seen him for ages because he was still on tour. They were all like, ‘Have you seen her belly?’
“Obviously they saw me every day and in the morning my belly would look flat and by the evening you could see a bump!
“They were very excited about that and it was nice to share that with Pasha, it was really sweet.
“Then we got off the phone and they were like, ‘He’s very Russian, isn’t he?’ He is!”
Dealing with sisterly squabbles, juggling homework with household chores and making sure everyone got to bed on time meant Rachel was kept on her toes throughout the week.
So has the experience made her realise how tough being a parent really is?
“Oh, yeah. I mean, being pregnant is the bliss stage, isn’t it?
"Most of my friends have had babies and they always joke about not being able to wash your hair, or eat food, or do anything on your own anymore.
“I guess it’s good to have had a small taste of that and see that you can get through it.”
Rachel walked away from her experience with the Pearson family buoyed by the belief she’s got what it takes to be a mum and it seems her December arrival might just be the first of many.
“I don’t know if I’m having a girl or a boy, but now I’ve had experience of what it’s like to be around a bunch of girls.
“I’ve never had a sister, so just seeing them interact with each other was so lovely.
“It kind of makes you think, because we have a baby on the way, you obviously start with one, and you’re thinking, ‘Oh my god! I’m having a baby! What’s going to happen?’
“You don’t think about fifteen years down the line, when you might have a whole family with all different characters and interests.
“It was good to get a taste of that, to see what family life could be like a decade down the line.”
Rachel is in My Famous Babysitter, Monday 11th November on W at 10pm.
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