“Let’s not be afraid.”
Manchester’s own Take That followed those touching words from Marcus Mumford, opening with their hits ‘Let It Shine’ and ‘Giants’ ahead of a rapturous reception for the appearance of Robbie Williams.
Always the entertainer, Williams was the perfect choice to relax any (understandable) tensions in the crowd at Old Trafford Cricket Ground; his irrepressible, laddish charm saw fans singing along to a tailored rendition of ‘Strong’ ahead of his emotional song ‘Angels’ that acquired obvious new meaning inside the stadium.
“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for having all of us. I am so honoured to be at this incredible event surrounded by all you amazing people/ And for me the most important responsibility we have on this entire planet is to take care of one another – and look what we’re doing right here.”
This moving statement came from Miley Cyrus, who joined Pharrell Williams onstage for ‘Happy’ ahead of her exquisite rendition of ‘Inspired’, dedicated to everyone affected by the Manchester Arena attack.
While a few critics – and loved ones of the victims – had questioned whether it was right to hold this benefit concert quite so soon after the attack, the pure spirit and determination with which the event came together is indicative of Manchester’s resilience.
Screams greeted former One Direction star Niall Horan – the innocent, joy-filled screams that should accompany every pop concert – as he sang his solo songs ‘Slow Hands’ and ‘This Town’ – the latter again dedicated to the people of Manchester who “make everyone from out of town feel at home”.
Co-producers of the event – Melvin Benn, Simon Moran and Scooter Braun – arrived onstage to address the crowd: “Manchester, your bravery is our hope.”
“Evil will test us. It will show its face again,” Braun said in a statement. “But we will be ready. We will be great. We will be fearless and we will honour our children. Hatred will never win. Fear will never divide us because on this day, we stood with Manchester.”
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Ariana Grande’s much-awaited performance brings the most deafening roar of the night; two years to the day since her first performance in Manchester, and barely two weeks since the Manchester Arena attack, the 23-year-old singer gave a phenomenal display of grace, dignity and sincerity that many people – in greater positions of power – could take note from.
Each artist appeared onstage without any agenda other than to share messages of hope and love through their music. Tears were shed during a powerful rendition of ‘Hide and Seek’ by surprise guest performer Imogen Heap, and again as Parrs Wood High school choir sang ‘My Everything’: a choir comprised of 24 pupils (some of whom were present during the Manchester attack) who recorded a version of the song to raise funds for Manchester victims.
Coldplay – that most divisive of bands – brought everyone together with a cover of Oasis hit ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ ahead of their own songs including ‘Fix You’ and ‘Something Just Like This’, along with a winning combination of confetti and rainbow-coloured smoke.
Promised a “surprise” as they neared the end of the show, those distinctive guitar notes played out before the one and only Liam Gallagher strolled onto the stage like he’d been there the whole time… singing ‘Rock and Roll Star’ like it was written for the people of Manchester.
One Love Manchester wasn’t about fear. It didn’t come with kind of self-congratulatory pride you usually sense with charity events of this scale. This was the proper way to respond to hate – with love, and with thousands of voices singing together as one, long into the night.