MANCHESTER, England — The tens of thousands of young Brits who descended on this city’s largest cricket ground weren’t there just for a star-studded concert. They also wanted to send a message: We are not afraid.
Two weeks ago, 22 people were killed and 116 were injured in a suicide bombing across town at the Manchester Arena, where pop music idol Ariana Grande had just wrapped up a show. Her adoring audience that night was made up mostly of young women and girls, as were most of the casualties.
This weekend, Grande returned to Manchester, fulfilling a pledge she made four days after the attack.
“I’ll be returning to the incredibly brave city of Manchester to spend time with my fans and to have a benefit concert in honor of and to raise money for the victims and their families,” she said in a May 26 statement. “We will not quit or operate in fear. We won’t let this divide us. We won’t let hate win.”
On Sunday, she was slated to appear at Manchester’s Old Trafford Cricket Ground, which seats 50,000, alongside Justin Beiber, Coldplay, Usher, Katy Perry, Take That and Miley Cyrus. Proceeds from the show, billed as “One Love Manchester,” will benefit the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund, the British Red Cross and the Manchester City Council. On Friday, Grande visited injured fans at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and gave each a sunflower and a teddy bear.
Sunday’s concert took on an extra layer of significance after an attack in London on Saturday night killed seven people and injured 48. It was Britain’s third terrorist attack in three months, though Prime Minister Theresa May said the attackers were not connected to one another. The latest attack comes as Britain heads to the polls in a general election on Thursday.
“Today’s One Love Manchester benefit concert will not only continue, but will do so with greater purpose,” Scooter Braun, Grande’s manager, said in a statement early Sunday.
Amid heavy, almost omnipresent security at Old Trafford, hordes of girls wearing hot pants and bunny ears approached the grounds. Police on horseback moved through the throng, as did officers with sniffer dogs. More than 14,000 tickets to Sunday’s concert were set aside for those who attended the original May 22 show.
Keavy Smith, 17, was there that fateful night and remembers calling her mother, Angie, screaming and crying after the bomb went off. Then her phone line went dead for 20 minutes amid the crush of people trying to call their loved ones.
Smith’s mother recalled her terror that night as their calls failed to go through but said she thinks Sunday’s concert will help them overcome their fears. The younger of the two was wearing Ariana Grande-inspired makeup and a “We Stand Together” sticker, while her mother wore the symbolic “bee badge” that has come to signify solidarity in Manchester.
“Her life is in Manchester,” the mother said. “Everybody is behind the concert, to raise money for the people that need it.”
The crowd at Old Trafford exuded a sense of togetherness. People chanted “We love Manchester.” Almost everyone seemed to be holding someone else’s hand. And the “bee badges” and bee tattoos were everywhere. The bee has been a symbol of Manchester’s since its pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution, when worker “bees” transformed the city into a global economic powerhouse.
Teaching assistant Georgie Ratcliffe, 22, was one of thousands who had a bee tattoo. Parlors in and around Manchester began advertising them and donating the proceeds to charity. Ratcliffe wasn’t at the original concert but said she was born and raised in the city and felt that she had to be at Sunday’s show.
“Even my parents, who hate tattoos, love it,” she said. She was seeing the show with Tom Styles, 27, who said they were there to prove that “you can’t let these people stop you living your life.”
May said the May 22 attack “stands out for its appalling, sickening cowardice deliberately targeting innocent, defenseless children and young people who should have been enjoying one of the most memorable nights of their lives.” It was the deadliest attack in Britain in more than a decade.
Authorities have identified the bomber as Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old Briton of Libyan descent, who lived in Manchester. His connections with the Islamic State militant group are under investigation. A total of 17 people have been arrested as part of the investigation.
Bearak reported from Washington.