Hayley's dream comes true

Hayley Okines's dream of a reunion for children with progeria became reality when her friends joined her for a week of fun.

Youngsters came from all corners of Europe to take part in the get-together which took place in Ashford and was organised and paid for by Hayley's family.

There were 16 children accompanied by their mums and dads, brothers and sisters, as well as interpreters and even entertainers...a total of 85 in all staying at Ashford International Hotel.

The youngest child there was a girl who celebrated her fourth birthday during the week but there were five birthdays to mark during the reunion.

"It was absolutely amazing," said Hayley's mum Kerry afterwards.

"The families arrived on the Friday (August 6) and the Saturday we had at the hotel - there was a bouncy castle in the back garden, and treats such a chocolate fountain, candyfloss stall, a Spongebob character, and some local people from Ashford came to do arts and crafts,such as making dreamcatchers, sticking and gluing.

"It was so great to see how happy the kids were - and language was no barrier even though they came from Italy, Portugal, Holland, Belgium and France. We had no language problems - they just got on with it."

The day after that the party went to Port Lympne for the day and the children got up close and personal with a snake and tarantula before setting off on safari.

Another highlight of the following week was a visit by Britain's Got Talent drummer Kieran Gaffney who was a great hit with Hayley herself and also played for everyone.

Kerry said: "He was so excited about meeting Hayley - he was absolutely lovely. He enjoyed meeting all the kids and wasn't phased by it at all. Kieran is lovely - exactly how he is on TV - and he just sat down talking to all the kids."

The reunion turned out to be everything the Okines hoped it would be but Kerry admits there were moments in the run-up when she thought she would have to call it off because of lack of money. However, when Hayley's latest documentary was aired on Channel 5 an Australian film company offered to provide the necessary funds in return for the opportunity of working with Hayley.

Kerry commented: "It took me a good couple of days of looking around and realising we had accomplished the reunion, that the hotel was great and that the kids were all happy, it was finally done, even with all the stress and tears before. We went there and we did it, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

"It was very stressful in the weeks before and there were times I didn't think we would be able to do it, and we would have to cancel. But it all came together. It's all an anti-climax now, and that week went by so quickly - I wish I could go back and take it slower.

"We were absolutely shattered and still getting over it...it is an anti-climax now because there's nothing to do, and no bookings to make, or letters to write."