James O’Brien has given a heartbreaking insight into what it means to be parent while simultaneously dismantling knee-jerk responses to the pop-concert terror attack in Manchester that saw a bomb rip through crowds of youngsters.
Just hours after 22 people were killed following the Ariana Grande concert the LBC presenter gave his listeners a deeply personal account of his feelings on the tragedy in a tender monologue that starkly contrasted with the response issued by his co-worker Katie Hopkins.
The MailOnline columnist fired out an incendiary tweet on Tuesday calling for a “final solution” to terrorism, prompting calls for LBC to sack her.
She tweeted: “22 dead – number rising. Schofield. Don’t you even dare. Do not be part of the problem. We need a final solution. #Machester.”
Hopkins deleted the tweet, then sent another changing the word, “final” - which some interpreted as a call for ethnic cleansing - to true, and spelling the city correctly.
O’Brien told his listeners how he had got up early on Tuesday to watch his daughters sleeping, “which I don’t do very often, but I’m going to do a little bit more often in the coming days”.
He added: “I just wanted to watch them sleeping just to try and understand the circumstances in which this beautiful innocence would be seen as a good target for death... to prove some warped ideological, or political, or religious point... to try and imagine how anyone could look at this beautiful innocence and see it as feeding their hatred and their anger, and I can’t anymore than I can understand why (Moors murderer) Ian Brady did what he did.”
O’Brien, who has two young daughters, said he could not “stop seeing my little girls’ faces at the 02 last week” in the wake of the concert tragedy.
“You know what it is like. You don’t watch the show, quite often you watch your own children enjoying the show. How many parents there last night won’t have been watching the stage they’ll have been watching their little girls dancing in absolutely diluted glee,” he said.
“That’s the thing, you don’t get that as you get older. That almost transcendental happiness, they can’t believe they’re actually there and up on the stage. And they turn to each other and they hug each other and they jump up and down and they’ve got their funny little tattoos on their faces in their special t-shirts and Dad’s bankrupted himself buying a couple of cokes, a bag of popcorn and a programme. And it is this, it’s just pure happiness. Pure happiness. And you watch your children and don’t watch the stage.
“And then someone comes along and blows himself up and takes as many of these children with him as you can.”
O’Brien offered a measured response on the inevitable immigration and religion debate that rages in the wake of terror attacks saying, to hate, is a “simply solution to a complicated problem”.
“We all hate this stuff. I’d love to believe there was a simple solution that could reassure me it would never happen again to me or mine. And that’s the appeal of saying we’ll shut down mosques and turn hate on haters. I understand that. But they’re never right.
“The more complicated the problem the more complicated the solution. Courage and good sense can diminish this. People who have neither should probably keep quiet for a moment. I’m more interested, in this point in time, in who it happened to than who did it.”
O’Brien said he struggled to make sense of how parents could explain the Manchester Arena attack to their children.
“I don’t know that I can. I don’t know where you even begin. There are some evil people out there, they know that. But not at a concert full of kids.”
O’Brien said the tragedy gave him a kind-of “dad’s sense of impotence”.