The voice was unfamiliar, but the message was clear: “Please find your dad. Don’t give up.”
For Claire Seville, they were powerful words as it had been more than 30 years since she and her sister had last seen their father.
Claire, 37, and Sarah, 42, had tried to forget the hurt George had caused when he disappeared from their lives.
But hearing the words made Claire realise she wanted her happy ending – especially as the plea came from her late grandfather from beyond the grave through a medium.
Claire had gone to the medium in an attempt to help her cope with the loss of her maternal grandad, who helped raise her.
But she was blindsided when the medium passed on a message from her other grandfather, her long-lost dad’s father.
She says: “I knew who it was straight away. He told me he wished he had done more and pushed for me to see my dad.
“He said, ‘Please find your dad. Don’t give up.’ I wasn’t expecting that at all.”
Then her sister Sarah Shelton, 42, went to a different medium and heard a near identical plea from the same grandfather.
With a clear message from the other side, the sisters decided to track down George. So they contacted a family tracing agency.
And five years after that first otherworldly message, they have finally been reunited with their dad – in time for Father’s Day.
Speaking of the moment they met in a cafe in Birmingham last month, Claire says: “I tried to keep it together, but I burst into tears.”
Sarah says: “As soon as he walked through the door I recognised him. He was just like I remembered him. There has always been a gap in our lives and finally a piece of the jigsaw that has been lost for all these years is in place.”
For George, it was the moment he had been wishing for since 1983, when he had last seen his daughters.
He says: “When I walked in, Claire just put her arms around me. Then Sarah did the same. There were a lot of tears.”
It was a wonderful moment, but George, who was traced to Bradford, West Yorks, also knew he had questions to answer.
George Saville had met the girls’ mother Margaret in Birmingham in 1970. They married a year later but after the birth of Claire – who later changed her name to Seville – cracks started
to appear in their marriage. They split when Sarah was six and Claire just three months old.
George then quit his job as a policeman and moved back to his home city of Bradford.
He says: “It was very hard to leave but I thought it was the best thing to do. I couldn’t carry on with their mum.”
Staying in Birmingham was not an option.
George says: “I just had to leave and go back home.”
For the next four years, the two little girls heard nothing from their father.
Then, when Sarah was 11 and Claire was five, he returned, wanting to get involved in their lives. He walked them to school, but by the end of the day had gone again, fearing he would not be able to make it work.
After that the girls never heard from George, now an engineer, and their mum had no address for him in Bradford.
He remarried and says his second wife asked him to keep his first family secret. It was something he’s always regretted. George, now 63, says: “My second wife didn’t want anyone to know about my other family. I’m not blaming anybody though. It’s always been down to me. I should have kept in contact.”
He had another two children, Daniel, 31, and Natalie, 27, and every time they reached a milestone – passing their GCSEs or going on a first date – it made him think of what he was missing with Claire and Sarah.
He says: “I’d always think about them on their birthdays and every Christmas.
“I’d wonder what they were up to, whether they were blowing the candles out on their birthday cakes.
“My last memory of Claire was her picking flowers on her way to school that day I went back to see her.
“That was such a special memory.”
Claire, a photographer, is now married to business owner Chance, 35. They have a six-year-old daughter Dylan. Sarah has two sons, George, 21, and Harry, 19, with her 49-year-old husband Lee, a sales manager.
Sarah, of Bromsgrove, Worcs, says: “Dad missed out on the key things in my life like graduation, getting married and having my boys. They made me think about him.”
Instead, it was their maternal grandfather, also called George, who stepped into that father figure role.
Claire says: “He did all the things with us a dad would do, like playing football, gardening, and he even taught us how to play darts. He was brilliant at that.”
But after he died in 2010, Claire struggled with the grief and was so desperate to speak to him, she went to the medium.
It was then she got the message from her other grandfather, Stanley, her dad’s father, who had died in 2004, aged 84.
Claire then started to try to look for her dad online, but Sarah was much less enthusiastic.
Sarah says: “I wasn’t sure I wanted to meet him. I was worried the outcome would be rejection again.”
Then, two years ago, Sarah’s friend suggested she get a reading about her future from a medium and Stanley sent the sisters another message.
Sarah says: “He told me he was sorry and felt he had not done enough to keep the family together. I was shocked.”
It gave her a change of heart and the sisters began working together to find George. But it was not until they called in tracing agency FinderMonkey in March that they finally had success. The company wrote to George, who had split with his second wife in December.
George says: “Getting the letter was a huge shock. I immediately rang the company and told them I wanted to see my daughters. All I could think though was that I should have been the one to get in contact with them.”
Shortly after, Claire sent George an email. George explains: “It said, ‘Hi Dad – and that’s what I’m going to call you’. Reading that made me so happy.” Three weeks later George went to Birmingham for the reunion, which featured on the BBC1 show Family Finders.
George says: “Before I walked into the cafe, all sorts of things were going through my mind. Are we going to get on? What will they be like?”
Sarah says: “It was nerve-racking. I worried about whether he would turn up.”
But after their first hug, the three talked for hours holding hands and laughing about similarities between them.
Claire says: “Sarah has always said I look just like dad and I could see it.”
George adds: “Sarah and I have the same sense of humour. We’re a bit quirky and there’s a lot of sarcasm.”
The sisters had decided they would forgive their dad for losing contact so it did not ruin their chance of a future.
Sarah says: “We agreed it was about moving forward, not getting angry about what happened before.”
Since that first meeting, they have seen each other several times and text daily. George says: “I was down last weekend for George’s 21st and I’ll be back next weekend for Dylan’s birthday. The last time, I was sat in the kitchen with all of them and it was like I had never been away.”
The sisters are enjoying getting to know their new siblings and have already met their half brother. And while their mother Margaret hasn’t spoken to her ex-husband, she is thrilled for her daughters. Claire says: “She’s glad we’re able to build a relationship.”
When they celebrate their first Father’s Day with George in three decades tomorrow, the girls will present him with a photo book that captures the years he missed.
Sarah says: “We thought it was a great way to share some memories with him.”
They will also be sparing a thought for the grandfather who helped bring them all back together again. Claire says: “When my grandad came through it gave us the push we needed to get it sorted.”
George had never been a believer in the supernatural before, but says he is now keeping an “open mind”. He says: “It doesn’t surprise me if my dad did intervene because it’s what he would have wanted.
“Whatever it was, I’m so glad it happened. I’ve never been so happy as I am now. It’s made me complete.”
- Family Finders, 11.30am weekdays, BBC1.