Ellie Taylor had been looking forward to the Ariana Grande concert for months. It was a 15th birthday present from her mother and was perfectly timed – the day of her first GCSE exam. The date was 22 May 2017.
Ellie, now 21, recalls shards of memory from that appalling day. She remembers watching Martyn Hett “living his best life” as he danced in Block 103 – he was a stranger at the time but she later recognised his face on the news.
She had a gut feeling that something bad was going to happen, so she “grabbed my mum and her things” and they left halfway through the last song, Dangerous Woman.
Then came the unmistakable sound of the explosion, which they heard from the car park. Their horrific journey home was punctured by reports of confirmed fatalities at Manchester Arena.
Detectives later told Ellie that she and her mother had left the venue 90 seconds before the suicide bomb that killed 22 people and injured hundreds more. They had walked past the terrorist, Salman Abedi, at least once that night.
Ellie is only able to tell her story after years of therapy. But receiving this help was an ordeal that made her original trauma “10 times worse”, she says.
She returned to school the following day to “question after question”, and that week was moved to a room for disruptive children because she was talking about what happened.
The school arranged for Ellie to see two counsellors, who came in four days after the bomb and asked her questions such as “How do you feel around blood?” and “How do you feel about the Arena?”
Ellie was left “mortified” when her GP told her, “If I were you, I’d be struggling more,” and that it was going to take two years to enrol with Camhs [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services]. By then, “you’ll probably be fine”, the GP said, adding that it would be easier to get help “if you were anorexic or suicidal”.
“I was completely rejected and invalidated. I was mortified and my mum was in complete and utter shock,” she says.
Eventually, Ellie was able to start cognitive behavioural therapy – treatment that lasted two and a half years – and got her life back on track.
It should have been far easier to receive that help, she says: “It was horrendous. I found myself in a terrorist attack which was so, so bad, but not being able to get the help made it 10 times worse.”