Reunion show The Gift miscalculates a familiar formula
New series The Gift is effectively a retread of ITV’s Long Lost Family – not surprising as they’re both made by the same company – with a few cosmetic differences.
Instead of Nicky Campbell and Davina McCall, we get The One Show’s amiable Matt Baker and The Great British Bake-Off’s smarmy Mel Giedroyc.
And instead of reuniting disconnected relatives, The Gift focuses on individuals who want to say either thank you or sorry to people from their past. It’s a less clear-cut concept and one that backfired with cringe-inducing results in this first episode.
The first of the two featured stories – a British former soldier trying to find and thank the anonymous officer who saved his life during an IRA mortar attack – did its job by ticking all the requisite emotional boxes and pressing all the right feelgood buttons. The second, though, had me biting my knuckles in embarrassment for everyone involved, not least widowed septuagenarian Grace, who cut a sad and pathetic figure.
Grace was a naive 17-year-old when she met the first love of her life, Hermann, a handsome German immigrant working as a labourer on a nearby farm. The two fell madly in love, according to Grace, who promised Hermann she’d break off her engagement to another boy.
But when she went to tell her fiance it was all over, she got drunk, ended up sleeping with him and later discovered she was pregnant. A few weeks later, Hermann moved to America.
The fiance abandoned Grace and their baby. To avoid the scandal of being a single mother, she entered into a hasty marriage of convenience, endured a miserable life with a man she didn’t love, although they did have two more children, and finally divorced 20 years ago.
She’d spent 55 years pining for her lost love, Hermann, and desperately trying to locate him so she could apologise for breaking his heart. There was only one snag: when the programme eventually located Hermann, his heart was perfectly intact. Not so much as a hairline fracture.
Mel tracked him down (or rather the series’ army of unseen researchers did) to Pennsylvania and found an ebullient man who’d lived a happy and fulfilling life.
He married a German woman (she died a year before the programme was made), raised children and, a butcher by trade, ran a successful deli business with his brother.
“I am one lucky fella,” he said. “Life has been good to me.” No regrets, then, and no bitterness either. He’d put his past behind him, which is what pasts are for. “I never thought about her again, that was the end of it.”
There was no cruelty in what he said, just genuine bemusement at why Grace was so desperate to meet him again after so much water under the bridge.
“I think she felt that she hurt you,” said Mel.
“It don’t matter no more,” said Hermann. “Nothing matters no more. I have no open ends there. It’s all closed.”
But Mel wasn’t giving up. “I think she wants to apologise to you,” she said, putting on her best puppy dog face. Herman shrugged. “I don’t know for what, to be honest with you.”
After what I imagine was a heavily edited conversation, Hermann conceded that it would be “kinda nice to see her again”. And so a meeting was arranged: a politely awkward affair in a London hotel, during which they held hands and Hermann gently urged Grace to “move on with your life, too”.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Grace, who’s wasted most of her time on Earth worrying about something that, as Hermann said, “don’t matter no more”. Maybe it never did.
But some things, old things, are best left untouched, and some stories best left untold.
The Gift ***