'This can't be real': Survivor of Manchester concert bombing surprised with royal wedding invite

Picking out the perfect dress and hair style is a welcome distraction for a 12-year-old still coping with the horror she witnessed during the deadly attack at Ariana Grande's concert in Manchester last year.

Still haunted by the horrors she witnessed, Amelia Thompson, 12, raises money for survivors

Amelia Thompson, 12, shows off her invite to the royal wedding. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

It was Amelia Thompson's mom who nominated her as a candidate deserving of a ticket to the royal wedding. Hard to imagine anyone saying no to this child.

The 12-year-old has had a rough go of it. Last year, her uncle died of cancer and she witnessed that horrible process. Her dad became so distraught he, too, became very ill and ended up in intensive care.

So, a kind friend bought mother and daughter a treat: Tickets to the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England.

Yes, as the world turns, it was THAT concert. May 22, 2017. Amelia and her mother Lisa took the 50-minute train ride from Sheffield to Manchester.

Here she is in a moment of kid bliss before her world changed:

This picture of Amelia was taken shortly before a bomb exploded at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last May. (Lisa Thompson)

At 10:30 p.m., just after Grande finished her last song and fans were starting to leave, a bomb detonated in the foyer of the Manchester Arena.

In that moment, Amelia happened to be staring right at the explosion a few hundred metres away.

"When the bomb exploded, I had an asthma attack. Well, a panic attack. My mom dragged me down."

They were surrounded by chaos, and eventually ended up in the first aid area with the dead and gravely injured.

What she saw, no one should see.

Armed police officers stand outside the Manchester Arena after a bomb exploded following Ariana Grande's concert. (Andrew Yates/Reuters)

Her mother ended up trying to stop a young man from bleeding out by putting pressure on his abdomen, as a volunteer first-aider had started shaking uncontrollably.

At this point, Amelia crumpled to the floor. She'd been screaming so long and so hard she had effectively shredded her vocal cords. It took multiple doctors visits and plenty of time to eventually heal.

But the trauma of those memories has not gone away.

Calming Victor

Amelia has been raising money for those caught up in the suicide bombing that killed 22 people and wounded more than 800 others, either physically or psychologically.

She's been working with a therapy horse. Victor is his name and he is massive and calming and makes her smile in moments when not much else can.

Amelia shares a moment with therapy horse Victor. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

But it was her mother who realized she might just need something extra special.

When it became clear that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wanted to extend invitations to people who are leaders in their communities, who offer kindness to strangers, Lisa Thompson took a chance and wrote a nomination letter for her daughter, but told no one.

Then came the email saying Amelia had been selected.

"I started reading it and thought it was fake," Amelia said. "I was just saying to my mom, 'This isn't real. This can't be real.'"

But it was real, and days after the email, the printed invitation arrived.

It's a bit odd as wedding invitations go. It suggests, for example, bringing your own lunch and chair. But Amelia is all in. And she had a choice of a "plus one."

Special bond

As much as she loves her mom, there was someone else she wanted to take.

Her name is Sharon Goodman and she lost her 15-year-old granddaughter, Olivia Campbell-Hardy, in the concert attack.

Amelia has been getting to know her. She knows that in her, Goodman sees a bit of her granddaughter. Amelia says she tries hard not to cry in front of her, for both their sakes

"She does the same with me and, like, we have now formed a special bond that we can just chat."

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are set to tie the knot Saturday at Windsor Castle. (Andrew Milligan/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

So, the pair is getting ready for the wedding, and that means Amelia has some more big decisions to make. Most importantly, what dress to wear? Sparkly pink or gold and black? She loves them both. And then what about the hair?

That these are the questions occupying this little mind makes her mother smile.

It's what a 12-year-old should be thinking about rather than, well, all that death that haunts her dreams at night.

As she charges on, Amelia says she's been influenced by the way Prince Harry has coped with his own tragedy — losing his mother, Diana, the former Princess of Wales, in a car crash when he was a child.

"He was open about his mum, which is why it kind of made me feel a bit more open about my feelings and how I might feel in life after the bombing."

About the Author

Adrienne Arsenault

Senior Correspondent

Emmy Award-winning journalist Adrienne Arsenault co-hosts The National. Her investigative work on security has seen her cross Canada and pursue stories across the globe. Since joining CBC in 1991, her postings have included Vancouver, Washington, Jerusalem and London.