Last week Manchester’s councillors had the first full council meeting in the Town Hall after the attack on the Manchester Arena on May 22nd. Top of the agenda, watched by the families of the people most affected by the atrocity, was what to do for Ariana Grande after what she did for the city to raise its spirit and an extraordinary amount of money at the One Love Manchester concert at the Old Trafford cricket stadium. They voted unaminously to make Ms Grande the first every Honoary Citizen of Manchester. And rightly so. Here is my open letter to Ariana, a lady who I didn’t know of at all a few weeks ago but am now very impressed with.

Dear Ariana,

First, please excuse the familiarity. I’m English. There are people I’ve known for decades and we have still not got to a position where I feel comfortable using their Christian name so please forgive me for using yours even though we have never met. It’s a cultural thing.

I hear you are being made the first ever Honorary Citizen of Manchester, this place that I call home. I’ve had the good fortune to visit many of the world’s great cities, Paris, London, New York, Rome, Cairo, Madrid, Barcelona, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Venice and, wonderful those places undoubtedly are, nowhere quite has the feel, to me, of Manchester. I love to travel but I’m always happy when the wheels touch the ground at Manchester Airport.

I’d gone to bed early on the fateful night of 22nd May. I woke up early the following morning, tuned into ‘Today,’ BBC Radio 4’s flagship, morning news programme, and heard Nick Robinson say ‘There’s only one news story dominating the airwaves this morning.’ That’s rarely going to be a good way to start a news programme and to find that my city was at the centre of it all was dreadful. It was a day off and I spent it following the news on radio, TV and Twitter.

Years ago we had a burglary at our house. Losing stuff was one thing. The fact that someone had broken into our safe place, caused damage, been into private parts of our home was far worse. Insurance covered the stuff but the sense of security we lost was the really bad part of it.

On the 23rd I felt as if someone had come into our collective home, Manchester, a place where I feel safe, and had violated it in the worse possible way. As the morning wore on messages began to appear on social media asking us to look out for people. Pictures of fresh faced youngsters from towns and cities across the country, from remote Scottish Islands and from Manchester itself began to circulate. We are not a third world city where people disappear and can’t be found. We are a well organised first world city that was prepared for such an event, as had happened at your concert, and the services swung into action within minutes of the atrocity. And I’m proud of my fellow Mancunians who, while I slept, picked up the slack going out of their way to ferry people home, put stranded people up in hotels and on sofas, make people cups of tea. If any bewildered, scared teenagers were wandering around the city the following morning someone would have taken them in, notified parents and police, and arranged for them to be got home safely. It was apparent that many of the people whose pictures were being circulated were not going to make it home.

I apologise, but before the events of 22nd May, I didn’t know who you were. I’m not in the demographic of your fan base. I’m not a teenage, or younger, girl and I don’t have anyone in my circle who would have made me aware of you by me being their guardian and accompanying them to your concert. But your fanbase is sufficiently large for you to sell out the Manchester Arena so don’t lose any sleep about that please. Manchester Arena tickets can be expensive. Your fans will have been bought them as Christmas and birthday presents months ago. They would have been looking forward to it for an age. People made a weekend of it. Coming down to site see, shop, eat and generally enjoy the vibe of the city.

The first time I saw you was in a picture of you leaving the city, possibly, from Manchester Airport. You looked stunned and devastated, not able to properly comprehend what had happened a few hours earlier. Another picture I saw, of you arriving home in Florida, proved your state of mind hadn’t lifted in the long flight back across the Pond. I tried to think what you were going through. Putting myself in your position (it was something of a jump from my current life to that of a pop princess), I thought that you might be feeling some responsibility. That if I hadn’t been there doing that concert, those people wouldn’t have been there and they would still be alive today. I assure you this isn’t so. You brought music and joy to the city, we thank you for it and you are welcome back anytime. The responsibility for what happened in the Manchester Arena lies solely with the people who organised and implemented the atrocity. You bear no responsibility at all.

If it had happened the night before it would have occurred at Professor Brian Cox’s lecture on physics. I’m proud to live in a city where a professor of physics can fill the arena as well as a world famous musician. If it had happened a few days later, Manchester supergroup, Take That, would have been in your position.

I did see some unkind tweets about you cancelling the rest of your tour and flying home. Well, there were 20,000 people in the arena that night and their first thought was to get home. They wanted to be safe with their families, their friends and be surrounded by their stuff. It’s a natural reaction to a scary event and you were doing exactly the same. It was just that your home was in Florida and not a Manchester suburb. You should not worry about that at all.

Once home you might have decided that that was that. I’ll do more recordings, no more tours and live my life in comfort in my home in Florida. But that, we discovered, was not your style at all. Once you had recovered from the initial shock you decided that you were going to do something about it, especially for the families and fans who has been damaged or died. You, and your people, pulled strings and when you pull strings the likes of Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber are at the end of them. Your original concert was a symbol of what we hold dear. We come together to enjoy music, to be together to enjoy life. An attack on your concert was as good as an attack on theirs and an attempt to stop us from coming together to enjoy music and life. They joined you in support of Manchester and our common values.

At the arena concert you had 20,000 people watching you. Less than two weeks later you were back in Manchester and this time you had brought your mates. 50,000 tickets were sold in minutes. Millions watched it on TV and the Internet. If the attack on the 22nd May was designed to scare us from coming together to enjoy music and friendship, to stop us from singing and dancing, then it failed spectacularly. The concert at Old Trafford was one of the most moving things I have seen. I tried for tickets but had to watch it from the comfort of my sitting room courtesy of the BBC. As well as lifting the spirits of the city, you raised a spectacular amount of money to support the people damaged in the attack and the families of the deceased.

We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. And we were also impressed by the way you came quietly back to the city, and while your people put the finishing touches to the concert at the cricket ground, you visited the damaged people in the hospitals and the families of the people who had died. This cannot have been easy for you. It was done privately, with no fanfare, and I’m sure that the families most affected appreciated it.

Because of your amazing support for our city, which at the start of your tour would have been just another stop, the city has decided to create this entirely new honour. In the future other people may receive it but you will always be remembered as the person who got it first. The people who organised the atrocity are scared of young women like you. They hate the idea that a woman can be confident and determined, that she can organise and inspire people to do things that they thought they couldn’t. And it is because of people like you that they will never win. They may score a Pyrrhic victory, causing mayhem and death at a concert for one evening, but they will never overcome the strength of good people like yourself and others like you.

I’m not sure what happens when you become an Honorary Citizen of Manchester. We will have to look into that for you. I do know that if you get the freedom of the city of London you are allowed to drive geese across London Bridge. If you would like to drive assorted barnyard animals up and down Deansgate for a couple of hours, in the style of Marie Antoinette at Versailles, I’m sure it could be arranged. I do know that if you walk into any bar or pub in the city I’m sure you won’t have to put your hand in your pocket to pay for a drink all evening so high is your standing in Manchester.

So it’s official. You are know one of us. You’ll have to start referring to your mother as ‘Me Mam.’ You have a brother I believe, he is now ‘Our kid.’ You will have to eat chip butties and Eccles Cakes. If they’re not in a butty, your chips will be smothered in gravy or curry sauce. You’ll need a Liam Gallagher Parka and you’ll need to perfect that Oasis/Salford swagger when you walk. You’ll be needing a season ticket for the trams. Pack some glitter for trips to Canal Street and your boyfriend will need to work on his beard for nights out in the hipster Northern Quarter. You’ll need to look effortlessly cool for Chorlton but need something dressy for afternoon tea at the Midland. Something ‘Cheshire Darling’ for Hale and Bowden. But I imagine your natural Florida tan will be the envy of everyone in Alderley Edge.

Thank you again, for what you did for my city while it went through its most difficult time in decades. You are my new best person.


Tom xxxx

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