“Oh why did you do it? You promised! You bastard, you’ve ruined everything!” As she said it, Caroline burst into tears and fell into my arms.
I had been sleeping peacefully in the clean and soulless bed of the Premier Inn, where Caroline and I were staying. In separate rooms, I might add. As a researcher for the excellent TV programme Long Lost Families, I had volunteered to accompany Caroline on the long journey to Devon from her home in Scotland, to meet her natural mother, whom she had never met before.
Long Lost Families is a programme where the popular presenters Davina McCall and Nicki Campbell front dramas whereby relatives who have been separated for all kinds of reasons get reunited on air, and the viewers can follow the search and finally share their joy at finding each other. It could be a mother and daughter, brothers, twin sisters, all manner of combinations of people, the common factor being that one of them wants to find the other, and, by means of researchers like me, we do various kinds of detective work in order to facilitate the meeting if we can, that is if the object of the search also agrees to a meeting on air.
Of course the programmes that are televised are the successes. There are plenty of failures that get canned, mostly because we fail to find the missing person, or we find them and they don’t want to meet the searching relative. Or else they might want to meet them but not publicly on live television.
Caroline’s destined meeting with her natural mother was one of our successes, and the culmination of all our work was to be tomorrow, when she would meet Margaret, who had given birth to her fifty years previously when she had been fifteen, and her parents had overruled her desire to keep the baby, and ensured that Caroline was adopted and should never know her grieving mother. Margaret was delighted that her daughter had contacted her, heartbroken that her parents had separated them, and over-the-moon at the chance to be reunited with her the following day, telling us that she had always been afraid of trying to find Caroline, in case she hated her for having had her adopted.
I was still only half awake when Caroline had burst into my room. But thankfully she had recovered a bit when I’d made her some tea, and she seemed less upset as she sat on the bed, both hands clasped around the mug, sipping slowly.
“John I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have shouted at you, I know it’s not your fault, you’ve been so kind to me, looking after me, travelling with me like this. It’s just that Davina promised me that I’d be able to get ready to meet my mum properly – and that she’d come with me to the hotel for our first meeting. And I thought that’s what you all wanted too – for the programme. For goodness sake, it was all arranged!”
“Yes, we did, and it is all arranged,” I told her in confusion. “I just can’t understand what’s happened. As we told you, Nicki is going to be with your mum, he’ll go with her in the taxi to the hotel, and Davina is calling here at ten in the morning to collect you to take you to the same place. It doesn’t make any sense at all. I mean the whole point of the programme is to capture the first meeting of the two of you.”
“And I so wanted to fit in with the programme. Davina’s been so nice and kind, and it was a way to pay you all back for finding Mum,” Caroline went on. “I’d rehearsed all the things I was going to say, but when my mum burst in on me just now, everything flew out of my head. I didn’t know what to say.”
“It’s crazy,” I admitted, looking at my watch and checking that time, and noting it was five past six. “It doesn’t make sense. Unless perhaps your mum was overcome with emotion, and just couldn’t bear to wait until morning. Has she gone now?”
“Yes, she dashed off in a rush, just as she’d arrived. She was very very upset, she was crying, we both were. ” Caroline began to break down. “But it was so marvellous meeting her for the first time, I felt I already knew her, you know? She told me she’d always loved me, and had always longed to meet me, and that every day she thought about me, and that she never once stopped loving me. She just held me and we cried in each other’s arms for ages, and I’ve never felt such happiness in my life…” She spoke through her tears. “But it’s wonderful really, so wonderful. And do you know what she said, to me, John? She told me she’d always be with me from now on, that she knew my husband was dead and I have no other family, but that she’d always watch over me, and we’d always be really close from now on. And that I’ll never ever be on my own again, and she’ll never leave me. . .”
“Well, at least it’s a happy ending.” I knew that Davina and Nicki would be fed up that the programme was ruined, but I also knew that they were kind, decent people, who really cared for the people we tried to help, so although they’d be furious that the televised ‘first meeting’ was impossible, their anger would be short-lived. I even began to wonder whether we could salvage the situation somehow – maybe stage a ‘first meeting’ for the sake of the programme. But no, it would never work. You can’t fake spontaneity, and Davina and Nicki are too professional to even attempt such a contrivance.
My mobile rang as Caroline was wiping her eyes and drinking the tea, thankfully having calmed down a lot.
It was the producer of Long Lost Families, Marilyn. She sounded very upset.
“Terrible news, John,” she began in her habitual breathy voice, as if she was on the point of breaking down. “We’ve just had a call from the hotel where Margaret was staying. She was rushed into hospital last night with a heart attack, and died at midnight. I’m phoning to warn you that Davina and Nicki are insisting on coming over to the hotel to tell Caroline the news, they said it’s the least they can do. Honestly, John, they’re both in tears, I can’t believe this has happened. . .”