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Last Updated: Friday, 8 September 2006, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
Family tree tattoo for dad of 20
Mr Holpin cradling his youngest son while being tattooed. Photo: Betina Skovbro

A father-of-20 has told how he had his family tree tattooed on his back - but has left room in case his wife has another baby.

Mike Holpin, 47, from New Tredegar in the Rhymney valley, first became a father 30 years ago and has 16 of his own children and four stepchildren.

"I started the tattoo in 1997 and had the latest names added as they were born," Mr Holpin said. "I love kids."

Mr Holpin is the subject of a forthcoming photography exhibition.

Cardiff-based photographer Betina Skovbro decided to document his life after meeting him when he saved the life of a teenager being stabbed in an assault.

One of the reasons I've had so many is because I can
Mike Holpin, father of 20

Mr Holpin had lost contact with a number of his children but during the year-long project Ms Skovbro helped him find all but one of them.

He has children with four different women and has left enough space on his back in case latest wife, Petrina, is willing to have another baby.

"The tattoo covers quite an area, but I would make room if I had any more children.

"One of the reasons I've had so many is because I can. There are people out there who would love to have one child let alone 20.

"The other reason is I don't believe in contraception whatsoever. I love miracles and every birth is a miracle in itself."

Mr Holpin, who is a registered alcoholic and dependent on sickness benefit because of his epileptic condition, lives in a three-bedroomed council house with his wife and nine of the children.

Having your children's names tattooed on your back is fine if you've got 2.4 kids - when you've got 20 it's a slightly different experience
Photographer Betina Skovbro

'Larger than life'

Mr Holpin said of the project: "Until then some of my kids had been told I was dead.

"But by having these pictures taken I hoped they would see them and say 'that's my old man'.

"I didn't think I'd be able to do it but, with Petrina pushing me to do it and Betina's backing, it has happened.

"I'm never going to lose touch with them again."

One of the photographs in the exhibition, which opens at the Cbat Gallery in Cardiff on 11 September 11, has also featured in National Geographic's 'Your Shot'.

The photograph shows Mike cradling his youngest son while a tattooist adds the infant's name to the family tree on his back.

Miss Skovbro said: "There was something about this family that was larger than life.

"Having your children's names tattooed on your back is fine if you've got 2.4 kids. When you've got 20 it's a slightly different experience."

The exhibition "Mum said you were dead" is at the Cbat Gallery, 123 Bute Street, Cardiff Bay, 11-29 September 2006, Monday to Saturday.

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