One Love Manchester: The inside story of pop's most moving concert - by the people who made it happen

One Love Manchester: The inside story of pop's most moving concert - by the people who made it happen

There’s a moment before tonight’s penultimate song - the 10th to be performed by Ariana Grande so far - where the raw emotion of the occasion finally threatens to overwhelm her.

“Manchester, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here today, I love you so, so much,” she says, her voice trembling, but resonant.

“We’re doing one more song,” she adds, regaining her composure. “Will you help us with this one... please?”
Her A-list supporting cast shuffle into the background; they know this night does not belong to them, but to Grande and Manchester - the city with which she is now synonymous. 

The 23-year-old steps forward, covering her mouth with her hand. Screams from the young crowd - even louder than when the show began three hours ago - engulf the venue.

A familiar synth line chimes over the PA: Katy Perry dances giddily; Marcus Mumford nods sagely; Miley Cyrus grins merrily; Little Mix applaud wildly; Pharrell stands serenely.

Grande starts to sing, and 50,000 people holler the words right back at her, unified by the healing power of music.

The song is One Last Time, most recently heard live during Grande’s show at Manchester Arena less than two weeks ago, shortly before the suicide bombing in which 22 innocent people lost their lives.

It is a highlight on a day full of them - a day of love, spirit and joy; of dancing policemen and singing stewards; of resilience, dignity and defiance. 

The event was One Love Manchester - an awe-inspiring, life-affirming benefit concert that united the planet’s biggest music stars, all of whom gave their time for free.

Grande, who conceived the idea with her manager Scooter Braun in the days following the Manchester atrocity, headlined a bill also featuring Coldplay, Take That, Justin Bieber, Robbie Williams, Niall Horan, Black Eyed Peas, Marcus Mumford, Imogen Heap, Mac Miller, Victoria Monet and a surprise appearance from Liam Gallagher.

More than £10 million has been raised for the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund so far - with £2m alone generated during the televised show. Live Nation produced the concert through its Festival Republic subsidiary, in association with SJM Concerts, and has underwritten the costs of staging it.

“They’re telling me that we’ve raised enough money to take care of the families, and the tally keeps going up because it’s continuing to air around the world,” says Braun, speaking to Music Week two days after the concert.

“The biggest thing is, it wasn’t about the money. It was about making a statement that we cannot be afraid and, as a community, we need to come together - and I think that statement was made.

“I think that it’s very important that we as a [music] community now continue to step up and serve our real purpose, which is to give strength to people in tough times.”

That the event came together in such a short timeframe is testament to the combined efforts of a select few.

The gestation period for a large-scale concert can take up to nine months. For One Love Manchester, that process was condensed into nine days.

“It was an incredibly challenging time period,” admits Melvin Benn, MD of Festival Republic. “My initial thought was that it was too soon. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that it was actually a very good time period on every single level - except operationally, where it was a nightmare.”

The Mayor Of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, acknowledges the concern. “Some people thought it was too soon. But it seemed also to be one of those things that, if it didn’t happen then, it may never happen.

“There were a huge amount of issues interplaying at the same time but, in the end, the consensus settled on making it happen. I think everyone felt that it was an important part of the healing process.”

Benn’s understanding is that Braun pressed ahead with plans for the benefit after consulting with Live Nation president and CEO Michael Rapino, and CAA MD Rob Light.

“But clearly, Scooter wouldn’t have brought the idea to us if he hadn’t have discussed it with Ariana first,” adds Benn. “He put a huge amount of faith in Simon [Moran, SJM Concerts MD] and I to help deliver the show.”

Moran recalls first being approached nine days before the concert took place. “We’re based in Manchester and it was an honour to try and help do something so positive after the atrocity,” he says. “It was an amazing team effort and we were privileged to do our little bit.”

Braun was largely responsible for compiling the bill. “We suggested a couple of acts - Take That were very keen, so I put them forward - but Scooter pretty much did it all, which was an amazing feat,” explains Moran.
There was also the not inconsiderable task of finding a suitable venue at a week’s notice.

Manchester’s Etihad Stadium and Emirates Old Trafford cricket ground were both up for consideration, with the added complication that the latter’s next-door neighbours, Manchester United, were hosting 70,000 fans for Michael Carrick’s testimonial on the same day.

“We’d never had a United fixture and a concert [on the same day], you just wouldn’t do it,” advises Emirates Old Trafford operations director Anthony Mundy. “The transport system around here is good, but we can’t cope with 120,000 people.

We were planning on opening our doors at 4pm, so we’d have 50,000 people coming in to the area and 70,000 going out, literally onto the same street and transport network.

“I know they were looking at the Etihad as an option as well. Robbie [Williams] was in there on the Saturday and the discussion was around whether they could use the same infrastructure for the Sunday gig, but I think that was just proving too difficult.”

Eventually, a compromise was reached whereby the testimonial kick-off time was brought forward by 90 minutes to 2.30pm, with Emirates Old Trafford opening its doors at 4pm. “Michael Carrick was just incredible in moving it,” stresses Benn. “We literally couldn’t confirm anything until then, so it was a tight turnaround - it was bloody tight.”

Ticketmaster UK was responsible for tickets, which went on sale just three days before the show, with 14,000 free tickets set aside for fans that attended Grande’s Manchester Arena concert.

“The [benefit] sold out in 23 minutes, but we kept processing the free tickets for fans who were at the May 22 show up until doors opened on Sunday,” recalls MD Andrew Parsons. 

The company also had to deal with 10,000 “unscrupulous” applications for free tickets from people falsely claiming to have been at the original arena concert. “It was a massive piece of work in such a short timeframe,” reflects Parsons.

“First, we had to get in touch with all major primary agents and ticket resellers to ensure we had the correct fan data. We were then able to confirm the relevant details of all those who had registered and weed out the opportunists. In the initial stage, more than 25,000 people applied for the free tickets and 10,000 of these were unscrupulous applications.

“In the end, we managed to get just over 14,000 Ariana Grande fans who were at the gig on the 22nd to the One Love Manchester show and have received some fantastic feedback thanking us for our efforts.”

Ticketmaster also cancelled tickets listed for resale on secondary sites, in line with its strict policy on not listing charity events on its Get Me In! and Seatwave resale marketplaces. “On this occasion, StubHub and Viagogo followed suit,” adds Parsons.

“In the end, there were actually very few tickets being made available for resale, with the few that were on eBay taken down on the Friday.“

London-based The Outside Organisation was drafted in to handle the PR ahead of the concert announcement on May 30.

“Because it was a global event, it almost had a Live Aid-type feel,” suggests the company’s founder, Alan Edwards.

“In the end we had about 35 or 40 different countries represented with TV crews. Normally, you’d have months of meetings to work it out.”

The concert was briefly thrown into doubt hours before it was due to begin, as news circulated of the previous night’s horrific events in London Bridge.

“There was that 30 seconds where you question whether you are doing the right thing,” recalls Braun. “And then you realise the show has an even greater purpose. We had a responsibility to honour not only Manchester, but London as well, and the show had to go on.

“The point of these attacks is to make us be scared to live our lives and the best way we can honour those affected is to be defiant to evil, so there is a feeling of how amazing it is that 50,000 people showed up despite all that.

“We were airing it on the BBC, it was playing on every radio station and people could have just watched it at home, but they chose to come and show the bravery of the city of Manchester.

The city of Manchester, for me, just became an absolute beacon of hope for the whole world and it was incredibly moving.”

The show went ahead with around double the security presence of a normal concert. “We’d never done 100% searching,” says Old Trafford’s Mundy. “We’ve done searching to a high level before, but it was very clear that it needed to be 100%. We had to change everything we’d normally do in terms of getting people into the venue.
“Everyone who wanted to be inside for the start of the show at 6.55pm got into the venue on time,” points out Mundy. “And by 7.30pm, all 50,000 people were inside.”

“A lot of thought went into how to balance the security, because we didn’t want to put people off,” states Burnham.

“Clearly, some had thought carefully about whether or not to come, but I think the fact that they did, and experienced the atmosphere, helped a lot of people - particularly those who’d been at the original concert.”

Reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with particular plaudits reserved for Grande. “How she handled that at her age I don’t know, but she is a superstar and then some,” smiles Edwards.

“Her performance was unbelievable,” beams Braun. “Courageous, bold and just full of passion. From the way she started to the way she ended with [Somewhere] Over The Rainbow, I’ve never been prouder.”

He continues: “I’ve watched the concert over and over again and the entire show was moving. Marcus Mumford and I chose to start the show with the moment of silence and 50,000 people fell completely quiet.

Then, right before he started singing, he said, Let’s not be afraid - and a roar came from the audience that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.

“There were so many highlights - from Ariana singing Over The Rainbow, to Justin, to Robbie leading them in singing, Manchester, we’re strong.

When the show ended, people were singing, Manchester, we’re strong, we’ll keep singing our songs, at the top of their lungs. The biggest star of the night was Manchester.”

Moran is also effusive in his praise. “It would have been exceptional if it was prepared for nine months, let alone when they only started rehearsals four or five days before,” he says.

“It was an interesting few days, it had its ups and downs, but the main thing is, we got what I think was a great concert in the end.

There were so many great people from all the organisations working on it, it was a big team effort and everyone played their part.”

Benn shares similar sentiments. “Simon and I received an email from a fairly well known European promoter saying that he thought it was the most moving concert ever broadcast, and I think it probably was,” he says.

“My core hope for its achievement was just that it happened and made a statement. I talked to a lot of people there on Sunday who had actually been to the concert on the Monday evening and I hoped it would achieve a sense of sympathy with those that lost their lives, or were injured, and a sense of defiance and celebration - and I think we achieved all of that. I think it achieved every single thing that we set out to do.”

He adds: “The one thing I would say is that it’s an incredibly rare occasion when the entire music industry pulls in one direction and Sunday was that rare occasion. And it just shows how good we are when we want to be.”

Emirates Old Trafford had previously held concerts by the likes of David Bowie, Bon Jovi, Foo Fighters, Oasis, Muse, Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Courteeners and R.E.M, but had never witnessed anything quite like One Love Manchester.

“It’s probably the best concert we’ve ever done,” declares Mundy. “It’s been an unbelievable, surreal rollercoaster ride that I’m still trying to get my head around.”

Burnham, who hints that Manchester City Council will move to formally honour Grande’s contribution, credits the role Manchester’s music infrastructure played in making the event possible.

“I don’t think many other cities could do this, so that makes me very proud,” he says. “There’s true strength in depth here in terms of music heritage, but also within the industry - this was no small undertaking.”

Braun, who also manages Justin Bieber and Martin Garrix, has been widely acclaimed as the driving force behind the concert. “He’s like a modern day Bob Geldof,” laughs Edwards. “What an extraordinary, amazing man. If he was English, we’d be giving him a knighthood.” 

“Hats off to Scooter Braun, he did an amazing job, with help from some of the artists,” affirms Moran. “He did unbelievable at a week’s notice, virtually. I can only admire him.”

Braun, meanwhile, saves his kindest words for his host city. “I get this weird feeling that this is not over and there are going to be other tragic days in the future, but we felt good knowing that, at least next time, we’ll have this incredible example from the city of Manchester on how to react,” he says.

”I just want to say thank you to Manchester because we’re all changed forever because of what they chose to do as a community. I’m forever grateful to that city.”

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