Lisa Newton admits that when she received a late-night email informing her that she and her 12-year-old daughter Amelia had been invited to Windsor Castle to be part of the royal wedding, she initially thought it was a hoax.
“I read it on my phone and was so shocked that I dropped it on the floor,” she laughs. “I couldn’t believe it was genuine.”
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The email, from the Lord Lieutenant of South Yorkshire, was followed the next day by a phone call from Kensington Palace, at which point Lisa felt confident enough to break the news to her daughter. “Part of me still couldn’t believe it,” she says. “At the end of the day we are just an ordinary family.” Perhaps – albeit one that has been through a terrible ordeal. On 22 May last year, Amelia and her mum were in the crowd at the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena when a device was detonated, killing 22 people.
While Amelia was uninjured, she was left deeply traumatised by the horrendous scenes she witnessed and is still undergoing counselling. “Doing day-to-day stuff is still hard for her,” says her mum. “Going to the shops, to the cinema – in any normal environment you can sense her nerves, she’s questioning and looking.”
The bomb trauma came after a difficult few years for Amelia: she had lost her uncle to cancer and her father Wayne has undergone major heart surgery. The concert was meant to be a treat but instead became its own nightmare. Her anguish was so great in the minutes after the explosion that she damaged her vocal cords through screaming.
“Her screams of fear left her unable to speak properly for weeks,” says Lisa. “She required intensive speech therapy to help regain her voice. More than that, the bombing really changed her. She was always very confident and loud, then suddenly she was very withdrawn.”
One thing has made a difference however: last November Amelia was offered the chance to help out at a local stable. In return she has been learning to ride, and has struck up a close friendship with a three-year-old called Viktor.
“They have bonded so much,” says Lisa. “He’s too young to be ridden, but she goes up twice a day to feed and groom him. He loves her as much as she loves him. It has made such a difference. When she first went there she was very withdrawn. Now she is more chatty and outgoing, although she’s not quite the girl she was before.”
The wedding invitation has given Amelia another reason to look forward, not back. “She’s really excited about something for the first time in a while,” says her mum. “Even now, part of her can’t believe she’s been chosen.”
Amelia will be one of 2,640 members of the public specially invited to observe the wedding comings and goings from the private precincts of Windsor Castle. “I was speechless when Mum told me – I thought it wasn’t real,” says Amelia. Hard to absorb, too, has been the interest from the world’s press, with broadcasters queuing up to tell her story. “It’s been a bit mad,” says Lisa.
Like many guests, however, her daughter’s focus is deciding on her outfit, as yet unpurchased. “I’m definitely getting something new,” says Amelia. “I would like a prom dress with details at the top, although I am not sure if I want it short or long – I don’t want it to be too fussy.”
Lisa, meanwhile, will watch on TV: in a lovely touch, Amelia asked her mum to forfeit her chance to attend and has given her plus-one to Sharon Goodman, whose 15-year-old granddaughter, Olivia Campbell-Hardy, was killed in the Manchester attack. “She’s going through a hard time, so I just wanted to put a smile on her face,” Amelia says. She’s also supporting charity appeals in memory of Olivia, Liv’s Trust, and the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.
Both mother and daughter are all too aware that, with poignant timing, the wedding comes just three days before the one-year anniversary of the bombing, although neither has decided how to mark it. “We’d like it to be with some of the other families,” says Lisa. “Either way, I think it will have helped enormously that Amelia has been part of something so joyous beforehand.
Amelia agrees: “The last couple of years have been difficult. But it feels like things are getting better for me now.”
The Royal Wedding is set to start at 12PM on Saturday 19th May, with coverage beginning early in the morning and lasting well into the afternoon