Face down in the desert sands, sweating under the scorching Jordanian sun, Dylan Kiss had just one thought driving him.
The 25-year-old – the youngest recruit on the grueling TV show SAS: Who Dares Wins – recalled the vow he made to his beloved mother Michelle on the day of her death.
“I’ll make you proud, Mum,” he promised her. “I know you look down on me.”
Michelle, 45, was one of 22 people killed and 1,000 injured in the Manchester Arena terrorist attack in May 2017.
Dylan says Michelle had the feel-good factor, was his “best friend and the key to our family.”
He has raised £45,000 for charity on her behalf. And completing the SAS challenge is another way to continue her legacy.
“She meant everything to me,” he says.
“I took so many lessons from her.
“She was a role model mother and I am her protégé. I want to make them proud.”
CHRIS NEILL/MAVERICK PHOTOGRAPHY LIMITED)
The mother-of-three and company secretary Michelle was in the foyer to pick up her daughter Millie, then 13, after the Ariana Grande concert.
When suicide bomber Salman Abedi, 22, detonated his deadly device, shrapnel struck Michelle’s head, killing her instantly.
Millie was by her side and witnessed the horrific moment.
For the first time, Dylan from Whalley, Lancs speaks about that fateful night: “I was in my room, it was just a normal Monday night and I was in bed. I suddenly had a very strange feeling. It was strange, I’ve never felt anything like this before.
“I thought, ‘There’s something going on.’ I went downstairs, looked on Facebook and someone had written, ‘Oh my god I can’t believe this just happened in Manchester.’ We looked at the computer and then just took off.
“My dad had a glass of wine and I wasn’t drinking, so I drove us to the arena in my little Corsa.
“We flew over the Autobahn and looked at each other the whole time. Mum wouldn’t answer the phone so we got paranoid at that point.”
Pete Dads / Channel 4)
They arrived at a scene of carnage – and chaos. Dylan recalls, “We sprinted past the police checkpoints. My dad would run around randomly looking at blonde women and shouting “Michelle”.
“Next, my little sister came out with a police officer. She ran over to me, hugged me and said, ‘I don’t think mom will make it.’
“She knew right away. I hugged her and we both walked out.
“I knew at that point that my mother was dead. I just knew.”
But the family had to wait three days to know if Michelle survived or not.
Adds Dylan, “It’s been two or three days of agony. There was so much going on in the hospitals, waiting for news was absolutely terrifying. We were all together when we were told – my father, my sister, my brother and I.
“You hear the news and that’s it, that’s your new reality.
“I had to become a man immediately. My father was a broken man, my sister needed care. So I adopted this persona – Smiley happy, we can do it.
“You just have to adapt. From that moment I knew I had to keep my head above water, I couldn’t despair. I clearly remember the night Mum died when I spoke to her telepathically.
“I said, ‘I’ll make you proud, I know you’re always watching me.’ I just had a feeling it was her.
“I’ve kept that mentality and I know I’m lucky to have it, it’s definitely gotten me through the most awkward times of my life. I still have moments of weakness, I hug her, I cry.
“It’s all part of a process, I’m just trying to do my best and keep going.”
Dylan’s father describes Michelle as the sweetheart of his childhood and the love of his life.
Tony, who met Michelle when he was just 15, says: “Michelle’s memory will always live on in all of our hearts.
“I know the life skills she taught our children and the love she gave them in her life will live on in my children. I am also sure that Michelle’s love will endure and her blood will beat in the hearts of my children’s children as well.”
Dylan says the tragedy took a heavy toll on the family.
But he takes inspiration from Millie, who is now 17.
He adds: “My sister was 13 at the time. She’s mentally scarred, but she’s such an inspiration.
“She’s in drama school now, she’s making herself and all of us really proud. She is my inspiration.
“It must have been life changing for a 13 year old girl to see her mother go through it. She was next to her.
Family Kiss / SWNS.com)
“It’s crazy. She hasn’t had any counseling. She has that attitude where you just know she’s okay. I always keep an eye on her and she’s really a lively young girl. You can tell she got my mother’s She’s similar to her in many ways.”
On tonight’s episode of Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins, Dylan loses his composure as he tries to catch another recruit’s fall in a free fall task.
His emotions are overwhelming, as he admits: “It was hard holding someone else’s life in my hands.”
He later discusses his loss and says he’s proud of himself for taking the hardcore course.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, mentally and physically. It was tough, but what an experience,” he says.
“Mum would have been really encouraging if she’d told me, ‘You can do this.’
“She was always supportive of my decisions and anything I wanted to do.
“She was always the one who organized and arranged everything. She would take me to football practice.
“I was living in America when I was 18, I was on a football scholarship. She did all this for me. She wanted the best for her children, that’s what she was.
“Her children came first, anyone who knew her would always say that.
“We were her charges, she would do anything for us.
“To this day, I still apply the lessons I learned from her in everyday life. She made a massive impression on me. I remember looking at her and thinking “everyone around her is really alive”.
“She made people feel good.”
Dylan admits he was a mama’s boy and says making her proud every day drives him.
He continues: “Mom was organized, fun, she liked the finer things in life.
“She was an all-round top woman. She was my best friend to be honest.
“We would do everything together. We went to Take That concerts together, we went shopping, we went to Manchester for the holidays.
“She always had something to look forward to and I try to live that way too. She would have been proud of me for doing SAS.
“She would have started laughing and said, ‘You’re crazy if you do that.’ I wanted to do something good for mom. It helps me. I wanted to make her proud.”
Dylan has launched One Love Charity Golf Day in honor of Michelle and so far has raised £45,000 for hospitals helping victims of the terrorist attack.
He’s also a mental health advocate and says his experiences have inspired him to help others through their own difficult times.
And in another vow to Michelle, he says: “Mom was the key to our family. I owe it to her to be the best person I can be. I will keep striving for the moon, I will keep working hard every day and be a strong person for my family. It still hurts. There will always be.
“I have to keep going and keep doing better things.”
https://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/my-mum-died-manchester-arena-26727074 "My mum died in the Manchester Arena bombing - now I'm doing SAS: Who Dares Wins for her"