DREAMS have been realised for two long-lost sisters living on different sides of the globe as they finally meet for the first time.
The heartwarming moment was possible thanks to The News and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, which teamed up to ask readers why they should win a free flight.
It was then that Mary Bearpark, from Waterlooville, felt compelled to share the fact she’d been in touch for seven years with a sister whom she’d never met – and who she had no idea about until 2009.
The 57-year-old made the bid hoping she’d win, and to see her far-flung loved one travel to the UK from Australia to meet her.
The competition was launched to mark the start of KLM’s service from Southampton Airport last year, and of all the stories readers sent in, it was Mary’s that touched the hearts of the judges.
And that’s how 50-year-old Diane Whitcombe came to be at the airport, after completing the last leg of her journey from Amsterdam to Southampton.
Mary said: ‘I can’t describe how it feels to meet Diane after all this time.
‘I feel like we know each other already, but we’re both looking forward to finally spending some time together.
‘It’s a dream come true and I can’t thank The News and KLM enough for making this happen.’
Mary said her birth father left the family home when she was just 10 months old.
In 2009 she tracked him down and visited him in Australia, discovering she had a sister there that he had also lost touch with.
On the last day of her visit, Mary’s father handed her a slip of paper with an address on it, and said he had no idea if Diane still lived there.
Mary immediately wrote to Diane and when she arrived back at her home, in Silverdale Drive, there was a letter in reply waiting for her.
For the past seven years the sisters have kept in touch online, but had not been able to meet until now.
Mary added: ‘It turned out Diane had known about me all her life.
‘We spoke on Skype and kept in touch through Facebook, but because of the cost of travel we thought it would be many years before we finally got to meet.
‘Then I saw the competition being run by KLM in The News and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try and meet my sister.
‘I didn’t expect to win but I’m so glad I did.’
Mary was joined by her fiancé Mike Cox as Diane arrived at Southampton Airport with her husband Mark, at the beginning of a two-week stay in the UK courtesy of KLM.
Warner Rootliep, general manager of Air France KLM UK and Ireland, said: ‘When we launched our competition with The News, we knew we would hear some incredible stories, but Mary’s entry really stood out.
‘At KLM we’re all about creating memorable experiences, and after hearing Mary’s story we just knew we had to bring her together with her sister Diane for the first time.
‘We are delighted to have been able to make this dream come true for two such wonderful people.’