Once upon a time, Oprah Winfrey stepped into the role of fairy godmother for two unexpected friends.
Earlier this month, the media mogul sent a little girl and her magnanimous fairy friend to Disneyland after they proved "magic still exists even in the hardest of times," in Oprah's words.
Like all classic fairytales, this story began on Twitter. Los Angeles-based photographer Kelly Kenney penned a series of tweets in December to share the inspiring story of how she befriended Eliana Pauls, now 5.
In March 2020, Eliana created a fairy garden underneath a tree of their L.A. apartment building, because she "felt lonely in quarantine and wanted to spread some cheer," according to Kelly.
The L.A. designer shared, "At the beginning of the pandemic I went through some painful personal stuff and would often go out at night for long walks because no one was around and I couldn't sleep anyway."
After she stumbled upon the painted rocks and other trinkets under the tree, she wrote a note to Eliana, pretending to be a fairy named Sapphire that lived in the foliage. Sapphire had a proposition: If Eliana did three acts of kindness, said nice things to five people and gave her an animal drawing, she would give her magical pink dice.
"I wasn't sure if she'd respond or even find the note but it was fun just imagining what she'd think. The next night on my walk I found this and immediately burst into tears," Kelly tweeted, posting pictures of Eliana's enthusiastic response (written by her mom, Emily Pauls) and a drawing of two pigs. (Kelly also gave Eliana's parents her name and phone number for safety reasons.)
And so, their pen pal relationship began, as the pair exchanged gifts and letters during the global coronavirus lockdown.
"Doing this every night gave me purpose in a horribly painful and lonely time. I looked forward to my days again and I started ordering art supplies and little trinkets to leave her," Kelly reflected. "We wrote back and forth throughout the last 9 months, helping each other feel less lonely."
Eliana's mom told Kelly that Sapphire had been a great emotional support as well, so they tried to arrange for Sapphire to meet Eliana at long last.
"[I] made up a little story that when fairies move houses, they grow to the size of a human just for one day to move all of their belongings. I said I had one more gift for her and would leave it this afternoon and hoped [Winking face] she wouldn't catch me," Kelly explained. "As they came back from their last walk around their neighborhood I was by the tree leaving her gift and she got to catch me in the act."
Kelly really got into character, wearing elf ears and a cloak for their meetup. She recalled, "We got to sit and talk for about an hour and she asked me a million questions about what life is like as a fairy."
As meaningful as it must've been for Eliana, it was all the more special to Kelly, who called it one of the "most important and impactful afternoons of my life thus far." She added, "I hope one day when she's older she can understand that I truly needed her as much as she needed me these past few months."
At the end of the thread, the fairy expert wrote, "We plan to keep in touch/write letters to each other from time to time. She's changed me forever and the things her mom has said about how her self-confidence, her kindness towards others and her creativity have skyrocketed since meeting me make me feel like I made an impact too."
Needless to say, the entire saga warmed the hearts of thousands of social media users, with more than 400,000 people liking the thread.
It caught the attention of Oprah, who tweeted, "What a selfless act," noting that her letters showed Eliana that "magic still exists even in the hardest of times."
"If you're up for it, how about a magical trip to Disney with Eliana, her parents, & a friend when it's safe again? On me. Think y'all need to meet Tinkerbell!" Oprah wrote last year.
Earlier this month, that dream became a reality when Kelly and her boyfriend Max spent the day at Disneyland with the Pauls family—parents Jeffrey and Emily, as well as daughters Eliana and Thea, per Oprah Daily.
They all wore matching T-shirts and, upon arrival, were given notes and gift cards from Oprah, which sparked an emotional reaction. "I lost it," Emily Pauls told the outlet. "It was the culmination of this whole story."
Kelly had already established an elaborate plan to explain how Sapphire could be human-sized for the trip. "I wrote a note saying I had a surprise for her and that we are going to get to go do something together, and that I was using Tinkerbell's magic in order to be human-sized again for the day," she told Oprah Daily. "I have to remember she's five. She doesn't really poke holes in Sapphire stories. She just loves her."
During the fun-filled day, the group took rides on the King Arthur Carrousel and visited the new Star Wars park.
"What is a solace to me is that the most important, fun, and exciting thing about this are real," Emily said. "Maybe we don't have an actual fairy friend, but we have a friend, and there is an actual person who cares about [Eliana] and knows her."
Kelly, who cries when she speaks about her friendship with Eliana, shared, "I give her most of the credit for the magic that was built between us."
Obviously, they all lived happily ever after at the happiest place on Earth.