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For thousands of people across Britain someone is missing from their lives.
The award-winning series Long Lost Family returns to ITV for eight weeks with more extraordinary stories of people desperate to find missing family.
Presented by Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell, the series aims to reunite relatives after years of separation.
Our searches have taken us all over the world on some of our toughest cases yet to uncover amazing family secrets, find people no one else has been able to trace and finally answer questions that have overshadowed entire lives.
Wendy O’Hagan and Grant Williams
Thirty-six-year old Wendy O’Hagan grew up in the Bogside area of Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles.
Wendy tells LLF that throughout her childhood she has memories of witnessing brutal violence in the streets around her home. Then, when Wendy was seven, she discovered the shocking news that the man she thought was her father, wasn’t.
Wendy explains that one night, whilst watching a movie together, her mum confessed to her that her father was an American sailor. She said that she was deeply in love with him and that the pair had a relationship before he was suddenly forced to leave the country. Shortly afterwards, Wendy’s mother discovered that she was pregnant.
Now Wendy has turned to Long Lost Family in a desperate bid to find the father that she never had a chance to know and who never had a chance to know her.
Wendy’s search starts on the iconic Craigavon Bridge that divides Derry - the Protestant North from the Catholic South. It is here that Wendy’s father, an American sailor, was last seen the night he was expelled from Northern Ireland.
Wendy tell the programme about the moment she learned about her dad, when her mum, Sarah, told her that her father was a man called Grant, an American sailor who had been stationed in Derry. Wendy explains that over the following weeks more information emerged.
Wendy learned that her mother and Grant had been very much in love. They’d met in the summer of 1975 and spent every moment they could together. But circumstances were difficult. Sarah’s parents were wary of the dashing American courting their daughter and the politics of the time meant contact between the two required Grant to cross from one side of Derry to another.
His constant trips back and forth raised suspicions with the British who expected the Americans to remain impartial. They suspected his constant movement between the Protestant North and Catholic South was an indication of sympathy towards the IRA and, after Grant got involved in a fight on the Craigavon Bridge, he was deported.
Sarah was heartbroken and especially devastated when she discovered she was pregnant with his child. She discovered he had been posted to sea and the pair began writing.
Sarah tells the programme: “It was the only thing that gave me hope, getting these letters and me sending letters to him. For the child that I was carrying.”
The programme reveals that seven months later Sarah gave birth to Wendy and immediately sent Grant a photograph of their newborn baby. But she heard nothing back, and, after repeatedly trying to get in contact, she eventually gave up, believing he had met someone else and moved on.
Then, when Wendy was a teenager, she discovered that her grandfather, in a desperate attempt to protect his daughter, had intercepted the letters Grant had sent and concealed them from Sarah.
Wendy tells the programme that discovering that Grant had continued to write was the reassurance she needed to believe that he had cared, and hadn’t simply deserted Sarah and their baby.
She explains how, over the years, she never stopped thinking of her father and spent hours at the computer trying to discover where he was. She managed to find an old colleague of his who was able to give her an old photo.
She says: “I thought a photo would have been enough. I was so excited. But it’s not. I just need to know who he is. I need to know him and maybe understand why he hasn’t come looking. I would like to know.”
Long Lost Family’s search led to the town of Albuquerque in New Mexico, where Grant now lives.
Nicky travels to New Mexico to meet Grant, who reveals that he has treasured the tiny photo of Wendy ever since he received it.
He says: “I looked at that picture a lot for a long time. I wrote her that I wanted to come back and possibly go to school down in Dublin at the University to finish my engineering degree.”
Grant explains that he never heard back from Sarah and he assumed she had forgotten about him and moved on with her life. He is stunned when Nicky reveals that his letters were intercepted.
Davina tells Wendy that her father has been found and is making the 5000 mile journey to meet her.
Helen Harrison and Dave Griffiths
Helen, who lives with her husband in the heart of Sheffield, is searching for her son. Helen and her husband have two grown up sons, but whenever she is asked how many children she has, in her mind she always says three - having never forgotten the baby boy she felt she had to give up for adoption 35 years ago.
Helen tells LLF that she grew up in a loving family, with sisters, her mum and her businessman father who doted on his children.
She says: “It seems sunny to me, my childhood. Mum was always there when we came home from school. Dad always had time for us...I think he had high hopes for us. We were his princesses, we were his little girls.”
When Helen was 16 she met a local boy and not long after the relationship began Helen realised she was pregnant. The idea of telling her parents was too difficult for her to contemplate.
She says: “The stigma of having an unmarried pregnant daughter... because he was such a proud man, I knew that just wasn’t going to go down well.”
When Helen was 5 months pregnant she could no longer keep it to herself – and her father reacted in just the way she had predicted.
She says: “I can remember him just looking at me and saying, ‘Just get out, just get out...’ He didn’t want anything more to do with me, he just wanted me to go.”
She was terrified; her father told her that if she wanted to keep the baby she would not be allowed to come home.
For girls in Helen’s situation there were a growing number of options as from 1977 councils were obliged to give single mums accommodation. For Helen, this would have meant moving to one of Sheffield’s notorious high-rise flats.
Envisaging the life she would have with her baby, Helen took the only option she felt was available to her and decided that as soon as her baby was born she would give it up for adoption.
She says: “I just felt he had the right to two parents and the right to have a good start in life...I could love him but sometimes that’s just not enough.”
As soon as she had made the decision to give her baby up, Helen had to battle with painful feelings of attachment.
She says: “To think I’m having this baby for someone else, almost as a surrogacy. That is how I dealt with it, even though it’s going to be horrendously heart-breaking for me.”
Helen did the only thing she knew she could and wrote him a letter in the hope that one day he would understand and forgive her.
She says: “I did write the letter many many times. For me it needed to be perfect.”
Desperate for reassurance that she made the right decision and with 35 years having passed since she wrote that heartfelt letter, Helen turned to Long Lost Family for help. She wrote her son one more letter in the hope that he will be able to read it.
Working with a specialist intermediary and adoption support agent, LLF discovered Helen’s son is now called Dave, and lives in Harpenden.
Nicky travels to meet him where he lives with his partner and their two sons. Dave tells Nicky that he never received the letter Helen wrote when he was a baby, and until he heard about Helen’s search he had never considered searching for his birth mother.
Having learnt that he was adopted when he was just nine years old, Dave had a wonderful upbringing and happy family life. Out of loyalty to his birth parents it is only since they have passed away that he could consider meeting his birth mother.
When Dave reads the letter that Helen wrote to him he is incredibly moved. He acknowledges he still feels a sense of betrayal towards his adoptive mother, but wants to meet Helen and reassure her that she did the right thing.
When Davina visits Helen she is able to give her the news she has wanted to hear for 35 years. In reading Dave’s reply she can, for the first time, put to rest those fearful feelings she has been carrying for so many years.
Long Lost Family are with Helen and Dave when they are reunited in a central Sheffield hotel, close to where she gave birth to him.