MANCHESTER Arena bomb survivor Hollie Booth takes centre stage in one of the most emotional performances in Britain’s Got Talent history tonight.
Nearly 12 months after the attack which claimed 22 lives, including that of her beloved aunt, 13-year-old Hollie returns to the city to fulfil her dream of being a dancer.
13-year-old Hollie returns to Manchester to fulfil her dream of being a dancer
But her injuries from the blast mean she has to perform her routine in a wheelchair, which reduces Simon Cowell and his fellow judges to tears.
Mum Claire, 35, who was also injured in the attack, said: “All she wanted to know after it happened was when she was going to be able to dance. The doctors told us it was uncertain whether she ever would.
“They didn’t know to what extent she would be able to walk.
“She’s got nerve damage too which is why it’s so difficult, but straight away she was adamant she would dance again. I didn’t think I would ever see it.”
Hollie, from Sheffield, forms part of dance troupe Rise, made up of performers aged between ten and 24. Hollie had danced with the group for years before the blast.
And the whole group performed with wheelchairs in a show of solidarity with their friend, who despite her injuries does “rise” to her feet briefly in a moving highlight.
The soundtrack is Ariana’s hit single One Last Time, which became synonymous with the May 22 attack.
And they all wear T-shirts bearing the image of the Manchester worker bee, a symbol of the city.
Judge Alesha Dixon described the audition as “bigger than the show” while Simon said: “It was one of those moments I will never ever forget.”
Hollie, who filmed the performance at Manchester’s Lowry Theatre in February, suffered catastrophic injuries in the terror blast, sustaining internal injuries, severe nerve damage and breaking her knee, leg and foot.
After 11 operations, she is still unable to walk without a splint and faces more agonising surgery in the future.
But the schoolgirl said: “I wanted to do it to help inspire other people.
“It was nice to have the other girls with me. We learned the routine in two weeks but we’d been dancing using the wheelchairs since before Christmas.”
There were nuts and bolts and bodies everywhereClaire, 35, Hollie's mum
She added: “I remember being backstage and I was so nervous that I didn’t want anyone to speak to me.”
But Claire, speaking out for the first time since the attack, said Hollie’s physical injuries were not all she had to overcome to take her place at the Manchester auditions.
She explained: “Doing the show has brought on her confidence so much. She was scared to go to school, scared to be around people, but she went out on that stage. It’s helped her more than we could have realised.”
Hollie was just like any other teenager at the gig last May, excited about seeing one of her musical heroes perform.
The ticket had been a Christmas present, and she set off for the big night with mum Claire and her auntie — Claire’s sister — Kelly Brewster, 32.
The excited youngster and Kelly posed for a snap in the audience, then lapped up the gig before heading quikcly to the exit to try to beat the crowds.
Claire explained: “We’d seen the set list so we knew what her last song was going to be. The minute Ariana left the stage we got up rather than wait for the lights.
“I’d got a headache and just wanted to get home. As we got to the top of the stairs the lights came on so we weren’t that early but we’d beaten the crowd.
“We were in the foyer and we stopped because people seemed to be splitting in two directions, left and right.
“We decided to go left and literally a couple of seconds later the bomb went off. It was that quick.
At first Claire thought the deafening noise and heat, which she says “felt like a blow torch”, was a stage stunt.
Then something smashed into her face, breaking her jaw. But she had got off lightly. Hollie and Kelly were behind her and had taken more of the force of the blast.
The mum recalled: “It went deadly silent. Everything was so quiet and it felt like eternity but it must have only been a second.
“When I managed to focus I could see there were nuts and bolts and bodies everywhere and I knew, ‘That’s a bomb’.
“I thought, ‘There’s never just one’. I needed to get out, but I was petrified to turn around because I knew Hollie and Kelly were behind me.
“I could see bodies and I didn’t want to turn around but I knew that I had to.
“They were both on the floor. Hollie was half up, leaning up on her arms screaming for me.
“I grabbed her and said, ‘Run’. I pulled her up off the floor.
Hollie didn’t look injured so I just thought that Kelly wasn’t injured as well.
“I shouted to Kelly to run, dragged Hollie and we ran.
“We kept running, then Hollie said that Kelly wasn’t with us, so we stopped and she just fell to the floor, she couldn’t move any more.
“I was trying to get her to go back with me so we could find Kelly but I couldn’t move her, so I left her and ran back inside to get Kelly. She was completely lifeless.
She wants to show people life isn’t overClaire, 35, Hollie's mum
“She looked perfect. There was no blood, no visible injuries — she just looked asleep. I could hear Hollie screaming for me, screaming that she couldn’t see anything.” It turned out Kelly had saved Hollie’s life by taking the full force of the shrapnel-laden bomb detonated by IS-linked suicide bomber Salman Abedi, 22.
Claire said: “Every concert we’ve been to, we always put the girls in the middle — then we know that we’re not going to lose them.
“So I was at the front, Hollie was in the middle and Kelly at the back. If we hadn’t done that, Hollie would not be here.”
Hollie’s injuries, including 13 pieces of shrapnel in her face, were so severe she missed the Queen’s visit to young survivors in hospital days after the attack, because she was in the operating theatre.
But the youngster was able to meet her pop heroine Ariana on her hospital visit, a moment Claire describes as “bittersweet”. She explained: “She gave Hollie something she needed. It was about ten at night, she’d had a horrible day and was in so much pain.
“Ariana walked in the room. It was dark but you could just see this little girl and the minute Hollie realised who she was she burst into tears.
“They sat and talked about Harry Potter and took loads of selfies.
“She was telling Hollie how proud she was of her, to keep fighting and that she loved her. It’s what you want from your idol, you want to hear that stuff.
“The smile it put on Hollie’s face was amazing, I think it gave her something more to fight for. She needed that.”
As the first anniversary of the attack approaches, Ariana this week released her uplifting new single No Tears Left To Cry, her first music since the attack.
Meanwhile Hollie has become one of Manchester’s symbols of recovery and of refusing to give in to the forces of terrorist hate.
Claire explained: “There are so many children who were there that night. You hear stories that they are struggling.
“I just think if you can take back that tiny bit of normality from what your life was like before, it makes a huge difference.
“If she can change one of those children’s lives by making them think they can do things, like play football, it’s such a big difference.
“She wants to show people that your life is not over — it might feel like it is, but you can’t let those people win.”
SIMON: GONGS 'FIXED'
SIMON COWELL jokes in tonight’s BGT that the National Television Awards are RIGGED.
The moment comes during auditions when fellow panellist David Walliams crows about his two triumphs over Simon in the Best Judge category.
Discussing a hopeful, David, 46, starts out by declaring: “Well, as Britain’s number one judge, as voted for by the public ...”
Simon, 58, then butts in: “There’s some breaking news on that, the vote was rigged. There has been a recount, and I won.”
David took the title in January this year, having previously won the same gong in 2015.
Accepting his award at London’s O2 this year, he declared: “I don’t look upon this as a victory for me, I look upon it as a humiliation for Simon Cowell