Manchester terror survivor returns to city as tearful BGT judges visit backstage
Tears flowed on Britain’s Got Talent last night as Manchester Arena atrocity survivor Hollie Booth returned to the city to audition.
The brave 13-year-old wowed with her dance troupe Rise and the judges were so moved they made the first backstage visit in the show’s history to speak to her.
A watery-eyed Simon Cowell told her: “Hollie, to come out here and turn a negative to a positive is quite unbelievable because these people are cowards and the fact you come on stage and make such a positive statement, I am very proud of you.”
Hollie had told the audience: “It feels amazing, like everybody has been supportive. I couldn’t ask for anything better. It’s always difficult coming back to Manchester. This is the first place I’ve been which is not like an arena but is.”
The schoolgirl suffered devastating injuries in Salman Abedi’s suicide blast at last May’s Ariana Grande concert, which killed 22 – including her aunt Kelly Brewster, 32.
Hollie had 13 pieces of shrapnel in her face and a broken knee, leg and foot, leaving her unable to walk without a splint. In a touching show of solidarity last night, her pals all performed their routine to Grande’s One Last Time in wheelchairs.
During the judges’ backstage visit, David Walliams said: “It was so beautiful and moving. This performance is testament to your talent and your friendship.” Hollie, who won the World Championship in Glasgow in 2016 and was a double Yorkshire champion, had thought her dream of being a pro dancer was over.
But Rise owner Rich Hawke and choreographer Thea Boyle were determined to help her keep dancing after the horror.
Rich said: “I was on holiday when the bombing happened and was in touch straight away. When I got back, Thea and I went to see her and had a fundraiser.
“We never wanted Hollie to finish dancing, so whether we did Britain’s Got Talent or not, we wanted her to continue.
“That’s what it’s about, helping Hollie do what she still wants to do, and not letting people, and I’m not going to mention his name, but not letting those evil people win.”
Thea added: “The main thing is to inspire. With what Hollie’s been through, she’s showing she’s going to carry on.”
Hollie’s mum Claire had bought the concert tickets for her birthday as a surprise. The 35-year-old, from Sheffield, said: “She’s had 11 ops and more to come, and fights every day. She loves to dance, it’s everything to her.”
Also a hit at the Lowry Theatre was Jenny Darren, 68, who brought the house down with AC/DC’s Highway To Hell – starting as a frumpy granny before ditching her disguise and going full-on rick chick. Simon told her she was a “big tiger” who had “mugged off all of us”. And we can reveal Jenny, from the Cotswolds, has actually played concerts with AC/DC and performed at Reading Festival and Knebworth.
She tours with her band Ladykillers – whose members have also been in bands including Iron Maiden.
Meanwhile, Cali Swing had toes tapping to their dancing and Judge Alesha Dixon called their performance “extraordinary”.
The group usually practise in the back of a restaurant and said if they win the show, they will spend the £250,000 prize on a new dance studio.
And there was controversy as David rapped the BBC for not using same-sex couples on Strictly Come Dancing.
The row over same-sex pairs kicked off in 2015 and former contestants Susan Calman, Judge Rinder and Will Young have all waded in.
David made his dig after a salsa audition by duo David, 31, from Mexico, and Javier, 33, from Barcelona, Spain.
He said: “I loved it. It shows there’s nothing funny about two men dancing together. I don’t know why that show on the BBC doesn’t have two men dancing, it’s fantastic.”
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