Philip Whaites was hoping he’d be able to spend more time with his grandchildren once he retired.
But his son Chris Whaites, of Floral Park, decided to start family time early. Chris, 46, and his 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, flew to England to make a surprise appearance at Philip’s retirement party near Cambridge on Aug. 17. Video of Philip’s reaction has gone viral, with more than 800,000 views.
Chris, who moved to the United States 27 years ago, said it’s always been challenging for his young children to spend time with his father. Long flights are hard for Olivia and her 3-year-old brother, but Chris knew his father’s retirement — after more than 30 years of working as head gardener at Wimpole Estate — was important. Olivia hadn't seen her grandfather in person in a year, and before that, since she was a toddler.
“I just felt like we should do something with him,” he said. “I huddled with Olivia and we decided we would surprise him — just get on the plane and show up.”
In the four-minute video, Chris and Olivia load their bags into the car and head to Kennedy Airport.
“What are you going to say to Granddad when you see him?” Chris asks her.
“I’m still thinking about that,” Olivia replies. “I’ll probably be speechless.”
In the video, the father and daughter crouch in the bushes upon arriving at Wimpole Estate. They’re spotted by a partygoer, but she promises to keep their secret as they make their way through the crowd. Finally, Olivia spots Philip, 65, through the crowd and yells out “Granddad!”
Philip’s face moves from confusion to excitement when he sees his granddaughter, and he embraces her. That's when he started "blubbering," he said in an interview Wednesday.
"I recognized her voice straight away," Philip said. "I couldn’t believe it at first but you can’t miss her with her lovely red hair. I was just taken aback."
Chris said he’s happy the surprise paid off, but it was hard keeping the secret while he planned it. He told only Olivia and one other family member and swore them to secrecy.
“The main problem I had was Olivia. We’d do FaceTime video chats with him,” Chris said. “I’d bring it up and say ‘Are you ready for retirement?’ and Olivia, you could see she wanted to say something.”
The surprise was almost spoiled when a family member shared the secret with Philip's mother, 87, who contacted Philip the day of the party and asked him if it had happened yet.
"And I thought what is she talking about? She could have given it away very easily but she didn’t," Philip said.
Chris and Olivia spent five days with Philip before returning home. Chris works in advertising and wanted to share his father’s reaction with friends and family, so he edited the footage and put it on his Facebook page.
He said he hadn’t realized the video would take off. He often uploads clips of his children, but those clips don’t usually get picked up by the BBC. In the past week, the video has been viewed more than 800,000 times as it spreads from news outlet to news outlet.
"I tried to wash the car this morning and it took me two hours because all the neighbors were asking me questions," Philip said.
Chris said he and Olivia are happy to see their surprise resonate with people. But most importantly, he’s happy his father can now come to visit as often as he wants.
“I used to say, ‘When are you coming to visit?’ and he’d say ‘I’ve got to do me begonias!’” he said. “Now that he’s retired, I’m like, ‘You’re coming over, right?’”