Singapore mum who almost took kids to Manchester concert tells them to live life without fear

A Singaporean mother who almost took her kids to the Ariana Grande concert where 22 attendees were killed in a terrorist attack has penned a letter to her children telling them to be strong and to live life despite the fearful things happening in the world. PHOTO: COURTESY OF RENEE LEONG
Ms Leong's two daughters, 12-year-old Calista (left) and eight-year-old Nicolette at school in Cheshire county. PHOTO: COURTESY OF RENEE LEONG
Ms Leong and her husband at Albert Square where a vigil was held for the victims in the Manchester Arena attack. PHOTO: COURTESY OF RENEE LEONG

Never stop loving, never stop believing in people, never stop being kind.

That is the message a Singaporean mother who almost took her daughters to the tragic Ariana Grande concert wants to convey to her kids.

Twenty-two concertgoers, some of whom were children, died in the terrorist attack on Monday (May 22).

Fashion designer Renee Leong, who lives near Manchester, told The Straits Times on Friday (May 26) that she would have taken her two Singaporean daughters - aged eight and 12 - to the concert but did not as her older daughter had examinations.

In an open letter she posted on Facebook, Ms Leong told her daughters Calista and Nicolette that they have to live a brave life despite the terrible things happening in the world, and that they must retain their trust in people and refrain from discrimination.

"The cowards may think they have won because they killed so many," the 43-year-old wrote in her letter made public on her Facebook page. "But they haven't because we have love in our lives and in so many others too, something these crazy insane people can't take away from us, something they don't have."

Ms Leong, who moved to Manchester in August 2015 and now lives 30 minutes away in Cheshire county, told The Straits Times on Friday (May 26) that she was home when the attacks happened.

"I didn't even know it happened until my phones were flooded with messages and my social media walls flooded with friends and family worried about me," said the founder of couture gown company Renee L. Collections.

"That's because they know I may have brought my kids to watch Ariana Grande as they are huge fans of music."

Ms Leong, who is married to a Manchester-born Chinese man, said the tragedy shook her entire family as they were so close to the danger.

"If it wasn't for my older daughter Calista's exams this week, we would have taken them to watch Ariana Grande," she said.

She said her children were confused and worried after reading and watching the news about the bomb blast.

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"My eight-year-old especially, who is too young to understand what terrorism is, didn't understand why people would kill others, especially children," said Ms Leong.

She said she felt really homesick and wanted to book a ticket and take them all back to Singapore, where she can walk in the streets at night and feel safe.

"Honestly I would have jumped on a plane and taken my kids with me," said Ms Leong. "But after much thought and watching the spirit of the people here in Manchester, I realised that life has to go on. We can't run away - nowhere in the world is safe (now), but we need to be wary and be cautious of our surroundings. This is how I lived life growing up in Singapore and my teenage life in Los Angeles. I can't teach my kids to run away."

Six children at Calista's school went for the concert, and all of them are very traumatised, she said. One child had minor injuries, but the rest were not hurt.

"But the school has been amazing. They have set up support groups for any kid that needs to come forward and seek some comforting and answers," she said. "The chapel in school was open all day for a couple of days for the chaplain to speak to any of the girls."

Ms Leong said she met another friend from Singapore and a few other foreign mums to discuss whether they should stay or leave.

Ms Leong, who is also a wedding planner, decided to stay. She still takes her daughters to malls, fairs and to the movies, but she has been extra careful and stays away from crowds.

"Many activities here have been cancelled especially those at stadiums as the terrorist threat is now raised to critical in the UK," she said. "We need to stay vigilant."

Ms Leong, who said she misses her friends and family in Singapore during "this time of darkness", said she wants to take her kids to St Ann's Square, where a tribute to the victims and the city of Manchester will be held.

"I want them to face what is real and what happened," she said. "But (also), with the love surrounding the city, they don't need to be afraid to grow up and to live life the way we all should."

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