When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tie the knot at St. George’s Chapel on May 19, there will be a special guest in attendance carrying a meaningful tribute.
Amelia Thompson, 12, who is a survivor of the Manchester bombing in May 2017, will have a candle with her in honor of the victims of the horrible attack.
“We’re going to take a pillar candle which has the names of the 22 people who died on it,” Thompson – who is one of 1,200 inspirational Britons who were handed a pair of tickets – tells PEOPLE. “It’s just something a little personal. It’ll mean all the 22 people will be there.”
“We’re hoping to go the day before and ask if they could light it in St George’s Chapel on the 22nd of May, which is the anniversary,” she adds.
Thompson will attend the wedding with close friend Sharon Goodman, whose 15-year-old granddaughter Olivia Campbell-Hardy was killed in the terror attack, which also injured more than 500, at one of the U.K. stops of Ariana Grande‘s Dangerous Woman Tour. The families have grown very close since the attack and Thompson thought of Goodman the moment the invite arrived on the cell phone of her mom, Lisa Newton, 47 (who promptly dropped her phone on the floor in shock!).
“I was with my dog and I asked her what was wrong and then she showed me,” says Thompson. “It was an e-mail on her phone. I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say. I thought it was fake. Then when I started reading it, I realized that it was real, and I was just overwhelmed by it all.”
For Thompson – who plans to ask Meghan for a selfie if they meet – the invitation provides some much-needed light at the end of a very long tunnel. In November 2015, the schoolgirl from the small town of Dronfield Woodhouse in Derbyshire, England, lost her uncle Hayden Newton to prostate cancer at the age of 52. Tragically, this then caused her father, Wayne, 48, to fall into depression and suffer two heart attacks, forcing him to take three-and-a-half months off work for intensive hospital care.
Despite family finances being desperately tight, Thompson’s grandparents wanted to put a smile back on Thompson’s face and came up with the idea of treating her to “a girly day out” at the Ariana Grande concert with her mom. The pair took the train to Manchester, doing their hair and make-up in a carriage as they made their way to the MEN Arena from nearby Sheffield.
“It was just a bit of fun to take her mind off things,” says Newton. “She’d had a fantastic time and then we were there when it happened.
“I took an image on Amelia’s phone of her kissing a balloon. She was facing the direction of the bomb and then the bomb just went off. I spun around over the direction of my left shoulder and then I looked back at Amelia and she was just staring — she literally froze.”
She continues, “All of these people came running in shouting, ‘They’ve got guns, they’ve got guns.’ It was utter, utter chaos. I looked at her again and Amelia had started a panic attack, which triggered an asthma attack and she couldn’t get her breath.”
Thinking quickly, Newton grabbed her daughter’s arm and ran towards the front of the stage, physically kicking down a security barrier so that she could find a quiet corridor to catch her breath. Unaware of what had happened, however, a security guard then led mother and daughter through the foyer of the arena – precisely the spot the bomb had exploded.
“As he walked us around the corner there were just people laid down, shouting and screaming,” adds Newton. “The armed bomb squad then came running in and told us to run but Amelia just couldn’t move. She was totally frozen. She couldn’t do anything.”
For Newton and Thompson, the nightmare ended at 6 a.m. in the morning, when a pair of kind strangers gave them a ride to a nearby hotel so that they could be picked up by Thompson’s grandparents and taken home.
“Amelia just melted,” says Newton about the moment they met her relatives. “Then we got in the car and my mum said, ‘I think you need to go to a hospital’ because my heart beat was still at 188bpm.’ ”
Since that night Thompson has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and has taken part in multiple counseling sessions to try and come to term with what she witnessed. At one stage, she lost a significant amount of weight and she has undergone a throat biopsy because the intensity of her screaming during the attack damaged her vocal chords.
“She’s changed — she’s not herself any more. She’s not like the old Amelia,” says Newton. “She’s like a 20-year-old in a 12-year-old’s body. I’m sure a lot of the kids at the concert are.
“She’s lost a lot of trust in people and isolated herself away. It’s made her look at people in a different way.”
For Newton, the focus is now simply about ensuring Amelia gets up with a smile on her face, which revolves around watching The Ellen Show before school. “It’s just fun and she has a really good chuckle to it,” says Newton. “She loves a bit of Ellen!”
Thompson also started horse riding in October and has closely bonded with a 3-year-old chestnut named Victor who she can’t yet ride but “adores” grooming and cuddling. Thanks to the invite from Kensington Palace, she also has something else to look forward to: shopping. Thompson is determined to look the part and is looking for a purple prom dress with matching shoes.
“I think she’s hoping that she meets one of the princes,” adds Newton. “But she’ll be happy either way. I just want her to have an enjoyable time and that it’s a positive experience for her.
“We never expected this at all. it’s wonderful. She is so overwhelmed. She’s been walking on cloud nine and smiling. It’s given her a huge lift.”
Thompson adds, “It is going to help me, but there’s quite a lot of people going, so I am quite nervous, but I’m just really excited to go. I can’t wait!
“I’m looking forward to spending the day with Sharon and seeing Meghan’s dress, and I’m looking forward to seeing all of the royal family.
“My favorite royal is Prince Harry,” she adds. “He just seems so nice.”
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