Pop fans Ava Turner and Catherine Burke were just 10 years old when they first saw their idol Ariana Grande sing on stage.
What should have been the best night of her young life quickly turned into the worst when a terrorist wreaked havoc in the Manchester Arena foyer.
Catherine and her parents were making their way home and were only five meters away from extremist Salman Abedi, 22, when his shrapnel-laden homemade bomb exploded, injuring them seriously.
Ava and her mother watched the encore of US star Ariana and escaped unhurt.
But they were all traumatized by the attack on May 22, 2017, which killed 22 people and the attacker and injured 1,017.
Since then, the teenagers have had a strong friendship that has seen them through the hardest times singing together in the Manchester Survivors Choir.
They’ve met the likes of Ed Sheeran and sung uplifting hits to huge crowds and will be back together this month to celebrate their five year anniversary.
Catherine, now 15, from Manchester, had attended her very first gig and was later comforted by Ariana in hospital.
She said: “I used to love singing Ariana’s songs in the kitchen with my dad so I was really looking forward to seeing her concert.
“I have a few clear memories of the night including what I ate before the concert and what happened after.
“I was walking through the foyer when the bomb went off. I remember hearing a noise, then I heard nothing. I fell to the ground and got a shock.
“Everything just rang in my head. I was on the ground and the first thing my parents thought was to get me out of there, so they tried to carry me.
“I remember screaming in pain when I was moved, but my mum knew it was a bomb so they were determined to get me out. Eventually I went deaf because I fell asleep from the shock.”
Catherine suffered shrapnel wounds to her right side, broke her leg and lost hearing in her right ear and required months of treatment.
Mother Ann, 51, and father Darah, 52, also suffered serious leg and foot wounds and were lucky enough to escape alive.
Darah, a GP, bravely returned to help the injured after guiding his daughter to safety.
Ariana gave Catherine a cuddly bear while she was recovering in hospital and posted a photo of their meeting on her Instagram page.
Soon after, the family joined the choir, which started with around a dozen members in late 2017 but now has more than 60 members.
Led by 35-year-old professional musician Sarah Adams, they rehearse poignant songs like “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman at a fire station in Manchester.
Catherine and Ava joined before the first anniversary of the attack. At the time, Ava, also now 15, was faced with disturbing memories of the tragedy. She had received tickets to the 2017 show and went with mum Fiona, 47, from Wigan.
Ava said: “We were only 11 when we started the choir. I joined at a time when I was beginning to feel deeply about what had happened.
“It was confusing. We had a lot of support but sometimes I felt alone with my thoughts.
“We had gone through something so dramatic, but because our friends weren’t there, they didn’t understand it that much. In the choir we all understand each other a little better because we all experienced the same event. It makes you feel like you’re not alone.
“We sing positive songs, eat cake and chat. It really helps and I always look forward to going to the choir. Catherine and I didn’t know each other, but we started standing next to each other while we both sang in the lower register.
“We’ve become best friends.”
Recalling that horrible day, Ava added: “Up until this moment it’s been such a good night. I’ve been to a few shows before and you always get that thrill when the lights go out and you’re like, ‘Oh my god.’
“Ariana had a big exciting opening and confetti and balloons. At this point I probably thought it was the best night ever.
“I was still in the arena, a few rows from the foyer, when the device went off. I remember people running towards me. Everyone was trying to get out of there and I turned and ran away too.
“I didn’t know what it was. There was a loud noise, like someone banging a drum, and people ran. It was so messy.”
Student Lucy Jarvis, 22, credits the choir with literally helping her get back on her feet.
Lucy nearly died in the blast and doctors warned her that since her injuries were so severe, she might never walk again and lose a leg.
She still has pain in her ankles, but after almost two years of physical therapy, she can now walk unaided. She said: “I only have snapshot memories. I remember lying on the floor and feeling very hot, but I didn’t think anything of it until I looked down at my legs and saw all the blood.
“I was passed out and passed out, then in a coma. I was about to turn 18 and my friends were going out and having fun, but I couldn’t because I was in a wheelchair trying to learn to walk.
“I’ve lost a lot of friends. It was one of the worst times.
“When they asked me to join the choir, I said, ‘I can’t sing, so I won’t be of any help.’
“But I realized that it’s so much more than just singing. I’ve made so many friends. We’ve all been through the same thing, so we understand each other. I was with the choir when we performed on opera singer Russell Watson’s tour.
“I’ve met celebrities like Paddy McGuinness. What happened didn’t stop me from going to concerts. I saw Ariana Grande three times in 2019. As this might be too annoying for some members, we would like to perform for them.”
Social worker Cath Hill attended the performance in 2017 with son Jake, now 15, and escaped unharmed. She founded the choir after she was nearly involved in a second terrorist attack while on vacation in Spain in August 2017, when a man drove a van into pedestrians in Barcelona, killing 13 people.
Cath, 47, of Lancaster, and her son were staying at a hotel in a nearby town and came home with PTSD. She said: “I wanted to start a choir as some parents were talking about their children’s problems getting back to singing and dancing.
“The children felt separated from their circle of friends and many young people had to wait a long time for advice.
“I kept thinking our love of music brought us together for the concert, so it might help us get through this too.
“In the early days there were a lot of fears in the choir – things like being in crowded rooms and going into town.
“It was wonderful to see them laugh and grow in confidence.
“We’ve had some amazing experiences and a lot of them don’t come to the choir anymore because they left and found jobs or friends.
“That’s nice, because that’s what the choir should be doing — helping them move on with their lives.”
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/manchester-arena-terror-attack-could-26839902 "The terrorist attack at Manchester Arena could have ruined our lives, but singing saved us"