It started with a phone call. With a loving mum who wanted nothing more than for her beloved son to see his favourite band.
Her fiancée had put her in touch with Given To Live and she told us about Luke, we learned about his love of Avenged Sevenfold and the wheels were put in motion for Luke to see the band that means everything to him in Cardiff last Thursday.
A7X was the first gig was going to see and it was special for Luke and his family in so many ways. The simple story is he went to a gig, met the band and had a great night. The real story starts a little after GTL met Luke to say he was going to see A7X and we wrote the story.
A story that somehow found its way to Papa G, dad to A7X guitarist, Synyster. And Papa G (Brian Haner) got in touch to say he'd reached out to Synyster to ask him if he'd meet with Luke, couldn't make any promises but was hopeful. Morning arrives and an email has arrived from Samantha at World Audience saying Synyster will meet Luke at the Cardiff show and we'll keep in touch with more details to follow.
Papa G shared the post which gave it, and in turn Luke, a lot of attention. Hearing from mum how much each comment meant to Luke we came up with an idea to ask people to leave a message on the day of the show to let Luke know he wasn't alone and that there were people who didn't care that he's different to the majority, that having autism doesn't mean he can't go to a show and feel safe, that he was accepted for being Luke.
Luke got over 200 messages that day. Mum, Amanda, and I took turns reading them to him. We didn't finish as there were so many but we did read plenty. Some were simple good wishes, some people shared their own vulnerabilities and difficulties with Luke so he'd know he wasn't alone; each one gave a little more love to Luke. A smile that was already wide when he arrived at the hotel grew wider and he held his head higher as if he knew he didn't need to hide anymore. That we'd find him anyway and know he was cool.
We arrived at the venue around 6.15 so Luke could catch In Flames and look around and experience being at a show. Then as Disturbed grew closer we moved closer to backstage where Luke knew he was going to meet Synyster. We'd told him earlier when we presented him with his posters and I told him that posters would look cool signed by Synyster. He didn't get it for a moment so we told him we were taking him to meet Synyster. Oh that grin got a whole lot wider right there! At this point we weren't certain about the rest of the band but that was confirmed with the tour manager, Diony, a little while later and between the two of us we reckoned we'd leave Luke thinking it was just Syn and I'd fake him out a bit.
So we stop and catch Disturbed's opener and then head backstage to meet Synyster. Mum explained that Luke does this jiggle with his legs, left leg means he's excited, right he's nervous. Waiting to be shown through to the A7X dressing room Luke had them both going full tilt! Well, who wouldn't be super nervous/excited in a moment like that.
Fully faked out Luke was stunned to walk in and find M, Zacky, Brooks and Johnny there as well as Synyster. Stunned and stoked beyond words. The band were great to Luke welcoming him with open arms, chatting so easily and making Luke feel comfortable, signing all he wanted and making him feel like the VIP he was that day. There was plenty of left leg jiggling and that grin just kept getting wider and then it's time to go and get ready to see the show but not before the band had made sure to get Luke's size so a merch bundle could be prepared for him.
Showtime! Luke's show. A gig, something so simple yet seemingly to big, too out of reach for Luke and his mum. But it was there. Right there in front of Luke's eyes as the five men who make the music that makes life easier for Luke walk onstage. The music that found him and in turn he found a place he could express himself and escape.
Luke barely moved (except that left leg!) during the whole show so utterly mesmerised was he. Eyes never straying from the stage, not for a moment. The only time his eyes lifted was when M Shadows spoke about Jimmy Sullivan, the Rev, because the Rev's death had affected him deeply causing a long grief that for a while had the family worried about Luke and he still missed him and wished he was in the band. In that moment when M spoke about the Rev it was as if Luke found his own peace, that he knew the Rev wasn't forgotten and somehow alive only in a different place. Meeting Brooks was great for Luke as well, again helping to make sense of everything.
The show flew by and before long we're back at the hotel, merch, picks n sticks being lovingly examined and then to bed because even the best day of your life has to end sometime.
Only it hasn't. Meeting the band and them being so welcoming and accepting of Luke, the comments so many made, being in a gig and discovering he'd be ok has changed Luke. On Friday morning Luke was a different Luke. He held his head higher, spoke louder the newfound confidence very evident.
Best of all he said he wants to go to other gigs, that he feels ok there. His world had grown.
When a story starts with...in the beginning, there tends to follow the bit with...and at the end. Well, we think it's really only the beginning for Luke. A beginning that started with a phone call to his mum and on the journey he's had the support of Papa G, A7X and all of you who've stood by his side and said...Luke, you're ok.
Because that's so very precious, feeling like you're ok.
We're so very grateful to so many for making this all possible.
Papa G! Mr Brian Haner, your generous heart set the ball rolling and I can't thank you enough.
Samantha at World Audience, thank you. You made the whole process very easy.
Diony, A7X's tour manager, for making the whole process very smooth and helping Luke to feel easy.
Darren for your wonderful artwork. Luke loved it.
The Mercure, you upgraded Luke and gave him VIP treatment. He loved it and we thank you.
And Ali, my assistant on the day. Thank you for your support, photography and for being a wonderful human. It's a privilege to have you as part of GTL.
Everyone of you who commented and shared these posts...each a gift as you all have helped make Luke feel part of this world and feel safer. Thank you.
For the last year the Foo Fam, a Facebook group with members from all four corners of the globe, has been supporting Given To Live.