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Inside the Planning of Ariana Grande’s ‘Inspiring’ Manchester Benefit Concert

Some 50,000 are expected to be in attendance at Ariana Grande’s “One Love” concert this Sunday, June 4 at the Emirates Old Trafford near Manchester, U.K. The benefit show, which also features such acts as Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Take That, Niall Horan, Coldplay, Pharrell Williams, and Miley Cyrus, will raise money for the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund with all of the participating artists donating their time for free — and even dipping into their own pockets to cover travel and expenses — along with promoters Festival Republic, SJM Concerts, and Live Nation, as well as Grande’s agency, CAA.

To pull off an event of this scale in so few days — a week after the May 22 attack on the Manchester Arena came word that a show was being organized — is a feat even in the calmest of times. Melvin Benn of Festival Republic, among the core group of organizers, credits Grande herself and manager Scooter Braun, who recruited the talent, with pulling off the seemingly impossible.

“It just came out of the blue for me,” Benn tells Variety. “I didn’t anticipate Ariana wanting to step forward and play a concert so soon after the tragedy that happened. For such a young woman to have the bravery to stand up and do that, I think every act should take notice. By coming back, not just to get on stage, but to get back on stage in the city where it’s happened. It’s inspiring.”

That’s not to say that “One Love” didn’t come with its own set of challenges, chief among them: an available venue. As it turns out, Manchester United star Michael Carrick was willing to move an event scheduled for that day so that the concert could be held at the soccer stadium. Helping with production costs, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino led the charge with Ticketmaster following in its offer that all tickets be available without booking and postage fees. “We announced at 4 p.m. GMT on May 30 in order to make sure the maximum amount of money can be raised,” adds Benn, whose company  produces some of the UK’s biggest festivals including Reading, Leeds, and the V Festival.

As for security, it’s foremost on the organizers’ minds. “Almost the first conversation that [SJM’s] Simon Moran and I had in Manchester was with chief constable Ian Hopkins of Greater Manchester Police, to get an assessment of whether this is a completely bonkers idea, in view of the circumstances,” says Benn. “And even while he’s utterly inundated with arresting terrorists and preventing further attacks, he was able to give us the time and credence so we could explain, this is exactly what we need. … And he’s offered incredible police support. The Greater Manchester police will be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with security personnel to make sure we have a very safe concert. His staff are dealing with the victims, the families of the bereaved, those that are injured and still in hospital, his family bereavement team are dealing with them every day, and he’s not going to let this be anything other than absolutely safe. He’s with us.”

Some 45,000 tickets will be sold, according to show promoters, “with more than double the security personnel that would normally be at a concert,” says Festival Republic. “We’re drilling down on every single bit of detail,” adds Benn. “We’re having liaison meetings with the police teams and the traffic borough teams twice a day, updating plans literally by the hour. We’re going to produce something very safe and very special for those who come.”

What’s left to lock down? Several surprise appearances, Benn hints, but most importantly, “We all have to stand and be counted and be prepared to say, ‘Let our regular lives continue.'”

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