Can you remember what you were doing on New Year’s Eve – Eve? I was rolling around my living room floor with my best friend signing to Ariana Grande at the top of our lungs having just sunk three bottles of Sav Blanc. Despite being in our 30s we’re both obsessed with this millennial pop diva.
Three weeks ago today I went to see Ariana Grande perform at the Manchester Arena, a little birthday present for myself. It was a not even guilty pleasure, I’d been looking forward to for weeks. I’d been practicing my best (worst) Ariana tribute in the car on the way to work, and I was excited to unleash this alongside 14,000 other people that night.
Thankfully for everyone around me in the arena that night Ariana’s chocolate like vocals drowned out my terrible excuse for a singing voice, for such a tiny little thing she can certainly belt out a note. The show was everything you’d expect from a pop concert – fun, energetic, theatrical.
If I’m honest with myself I hadn’t really thought about who Ariana’s target market was, don’t get me wrong I wasn’t expecting the arena to be filled with thirty year olds like me but I don’t think I expected it to be quite so young either. Load of primary school aged kids with their mums and dads and crop top wearing early teens with glitter eye shadow and animal ear headbands.
That didn’t stop me thinking I was too old to dance on my feet to every song though, I joined in with the infections excited energy around me. I was sat next a young lad around 12 or 13 years old, he was with his mum. I assumed that he was gay he wasn’t trying to hide his camp mannerisms. It made me so happy to see someone so young being so proud of who they are, he had some of the best dance moves I’ve ever seen and didn’t stop once throughout the whole show.
What really struck me about Ariana Grande that night was what an inspirational and empowering young woman she is and a role model for all these young people. She doesn’t overly sexualise herself like some young pop stars do, she commands her audience through her confidence. This confidence something I’m guessing she inherits from her mother who I recently learnt is a CEO for a massive communications company.
Ariana Grande’s encore that night was Dangerous Woman, the title track to her world tour. I listened to every last second of that song despite my friend prodding me suggesting we make and early exit to try and beat the rush. We did leave out seats soon after that last note rang around the arena and were soon stood on the concourse hugging our other friends good night. I’d just sang, ‘to the left, to the left’ in a Beyonce style to indicate to my friend to head in that direction out of the arena, the left lead to the main exit out towards Victoria Station. Before we’d had chance to go in any direction, still saying our goodbyes we hear it… A bang coming from around the corner of the concourse.
A moment of silence followed, we all looked in the direction of the noise. I can still hear it now, ringing in my ears. For a second your brain tries to process what it’s just heard, before I’d even really had time to think a stampede of people running from the direction of the noise came screaming towards us. Instinct kicks in then, people are running, you run too. With no idea what we were running from we headed for the nearest exit which was to the right of us.
I braced for something about to happen to me – I’m not sure what, another bang perhaps, or rushing people tripping or crushing me. I grabbed the hands of my friends around me and told them to be careful as they ran and made their way down the concrete steps so as to not hurt themselves or anyone else around them. People were screaming and running all around us but once outside and away from the walls of the arena I felt a wash of relief come over me and my brain tried to rationalise what I had just witnessed. Two of my friends went in one direction, my other friend and I walked in the other; a police car screeched past up, it was about 1 minute since we had heard the bang.
Shaken but OK my friend and I walked towards the city centre where I had parked my car. Chattering in shock and rationalising what had just happened… it was a balloon popping or a display stand falling over, a speaker blowing perhaps. It didn’t sound like a bomb… but then what does a bomb sound like? I’d never heard one before.
I just thought that because we are all so fearful of terrorist attacks happening that people had over reacted to something small and it had whipped people into a frenzy. I was worried that young kids might have got crushed or trampled because a small group of people had scare mongered. You can’t begin to imagine how guilty I feel about having these thoughts now. If I had any idea as to what was unfolding behind me I would have run back to help. I wanted to believe anything but the worst, it’s the thing that everyone always says but you never expect these things to happen so close to you.
I realised it was something truly terrible when it was clear that every emergency vehicle in Greater Manchester had been deployed. In the short drive from the city back to my house we saw dozen or blue flashing lights heading the direction we’d just come from. My mind began to race again.
Once home I jumped on twitter and switched on the news. I couldn’t find anything that made sense, I had my own account of what happened in the arena less than an hour before but I was also reading of people running covered in blood. I didn’t know what to think when fake news is so prevalent on social media. Then the statement from the police came, the worst had been confirmed. My hands began to shake and tears rolled down my cheeks, I went into shock.
After watching the news for about an hour I began to feel restless, I wanted to be back there helping. I felt like I had a responsibility to do that given that I was so close but so unaffected. Knowing at that point, two hours after the bomb, that the police had cordoned off a very large area around the arena I knew there would be nothing I could do at the sight of the tragedy. So I did the one thing that I could help with, I went into work to assist the on air team and help bring the people of Greater Manchester the facts on what happened.
I kept our website and social media channels updated with information being fed to us by the police. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, my experience in the arena was so different to the horrors I was reporting. I stayed in the office until 5am, shortly after a statement from the Chief of Police. At that point in the morning I’d been awake for 24 hours, I was in a daze trying to process everything that happened that night. I headed home to try and get some sleep.
At 7am on the dot my phone started going, I was inundated with calls and message from people checking I was OK. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for those families that were unable to contact their loved ones, so many with more than one member of the family killed or seriously injured. Such a horrible vicious attack on innocent people.
I can’t help but think this concert was targeted because Ariana Grande is a women with the freedom to be herself, has the spotlight on her and encourage other to celebrate in who they are. These extremists want to repress women and girls, and are homophobic. Perhaps it was just randomly targeted, it doesn’t change the fact that young, innocent lives were lost. We should never be scared to be ourselves and no one should ever have to become the victim of such a horrible crime.
I don’t feel that it’s right to say that I was caught up in all of this. I didn’t see horrible sights and I was able to walk away unhurt when so many people didn’t. But this attack shuck a whole city, a community known for being warm and welcoming. I’ve always loved living in Manchester and have long considered myself Mancunian, now more so than ever am I glad to call this place home. The strength and solidarity the people of Manchester have shown towards each other these past few weeks is something I cannot even begin to find the right words to describe but it makes me feel grounded to this place and put a smile back on my face.
I want to remember the names of every one of those beautiful people taken that night you’ve brought so much light and positivity into the world, you’ll never be forgotten.
Rest in peace x