The day after Tony Walsh stunned millions of people with his inspiring ode to Manchester in the wake of the city’s horrific terror attack, the poet has urged people to remain united in the face of “bigotry and hatred”.
Walsh, who performs under the name “Longfella”, won acclaim around the world on Tuesday after reading his moving poem “This Is The Place” at a vigil to remember those killed in the Manchester Arena bombing on Monday night.
Ending his five-minute long performance with the simple yet powerful phrase “choose love”, the 52-year-old became an instant symbol of Manchester’s defiance in the face of terror.
Now, Walsh, who was born in the city, is calling on people to “keep together as a diverse community”.
Speaking about Tuesday’s performance on Radio 4’s Today programme, Walsh said: “We stood in front of our magnificent town hall here, built with cotton money, built by the Victorian city fathers, but also built by generations of immigrants who have come through this city.
“The poem celebrated that yesterday and we stood together as Muslims, as Jews, as Sikhs, as Christians, as people of all faiths and none, celebrating our history, standing together in that moment.”
Walsh continued: “The message yesterday loud and clear was: ‘We’re wounded now, we’re hurting, we’re grieving, but we will not let that descend us, drag us down into bigotry and hatred’.”
Sending his “heartfelt condolences” to the families of the terror victims, he said the story of the weeks after the attack will be told by “different narratives”.
“There will be those who seek to divide us and spread hatred and fear here,” the poet explained.
“You know, my closing words yesterday were ‘choose love’.
“I said them spontaneously, but to choose love we need to reject fear, to reject hatred, reject lies, reject distortion and keep together as a diverse community.”
Walsh’s comments follow an appeal for unity yesterday by Brendan Cox, the widower of Labour MP Jo Cox who was murdered by a far-right extremist last year.
Addressing his followers on Twitter, Cox said: “They will not change us. They will not win.”
The hours after the attack also saw acts of generosity from the people of Manchester, with taxi drivers offering free rides to victims while locals opened their homes to give people a place to stay.
To date, 22 people - including children - have died following the suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert, while 64 were injured.
Ten of those killed have been identified, including an auntie who died shielding her niece from the blast, two parents picking up their children and an eight-year-old girl .
Police confirmed that the suicide bomber, named as Salman Abedi, died in the blast.
Fears that the 22-year-old was not working alone mean that the UK’s terror threat has been raised from severe to critical for the first time in 10 years, with 5,000 troops set to patrol the streets.