‘It was such an incredible experience. I cried half the time’

Grace Williams with her son Midge, daughter in Law Gina, granddaughter Storm and Storm's fiance
Grace Williams with her son Midge, daughter in Law Gina, granddaughter Storm and Storm's fiance

Former traffic warden Grace Williams took it in her stride when she found herself on the receiving end of a ticket.

For the ‘ticket’ was an airline pass for a journey half way round the world to see a grandchild she had never met.

The incredible journey was arranged by Grace’s son Midge as a surprise gift to mark her 70th birthday.

And as well as meeting her 21-year-old granddaughter in South Africa, Grace - who lives in Southwater - went on with son Midge to visit her home town of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe for the first time in 40 years.

“It was a marvelous, fantabulous, incredible, wonderful, exciting surprise holiday of a lifetime,” said Grace.

Grace makes an annual trip to see Midge and his wife Gina at their home in Switzerland and thought she was on her way there when Midge sprang the surprise on her.

“He said he had a meeting at Heathrow and said he would meet me there and I could travel with him,” said Grace.

“When I got to the airport we went and had dinner and then went to board the flight. We got to a sign saying ‘Johannesburg.’ Oh my God, I couldn’t believe it.

“We got on the plane and I said ‘this calls for a celebration’ and we had a drink.”

But the celebration was only just beginning. As well as meeting her granddaughter - Storm Jarvis - who is the daughter of Grace’s other son Shane - in Johannesburg, Grace was also reunited with one of her best friends in Durban whom she had not seen for years.

And while there, she also met up with her nephew Denzil whom she last saw nine years ago.

“It was such an incredible experience, I cried half the time,” said Grace, who used to work as a traffic warden for Sussex Police before joining Horsham District Council as a civil enforcement officer until her retirement in 2010.

“I’m not a person who cries a lot, but I cried so much. It was really beautiful.”

She said it had been wonderful to meet her granddaughter Storm, the daughter of her son Shane who lives in Kent with wife Megan and sons Connor and James. Shane’s eldest son Raydon stays in Horsham

“Storm and her boyfriend came to the hotel where we were staying,” said Grace. “She was so nervous. She brought me a big bouquet of flowers. It was such a beautiful meeting.”

She said it had also been very moving to return to her home town of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. “I went back to my school and everything. It was such an experience.”

She said Midge had planned the whole trip in meticulous detail with help from his wife Gina who kept the holiday a surprise.

“I thought I was going to Switzerland to see them,” said Grace. “She had to fool me into bringing some clothes for the heat. She said she was going to take me to a spa so I should bring sandals, a swimming costume, three pairs of light trousers and sunglasses.

“I never suspected anything.”

Apart from her two sons, Grace - whose 70th birthday is on October 31 this year - also has family nearer to home.

Her daughter Crystal lives in West Chiltington with her partner Justin and two children, and her sister Val lives in Roffey.