Words: Alison James Pics: Jonathan Player, Rex Shutterstock
Thursday, July 7, 2005 started well enough for the Reverend Julie Nicholson. She was holidaying in Wales with her elderly parents and an aunt and uncle. Meanwhile, husband Greg was at home in Bristol with son Thomas (15) and daughter Lizzie (21). Their eldest child Jenny (24) was in London, where she worked for a publishing company.
Julie was just about to start breakfast when she received a phone call from Lizzie. There had been a series of explosions in central London. They’d tried to call Jenny but there was no reply. Julie tried to reassure Lizzie and the rest of the family that Jenny would be fine, but as the minutes, hours and then days passed and there was still no word from Jenny – despite increasingly frantic messages being left on her voicemail – Julie and her family were forced to accept the awful truth. Police confirmed she had been killed by suicide bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan in the Edgware Road tube station attack. 51 other people also lost their lives that day.
After this terrible loss, Julie wrote a book called Song For Jenny, which the BBC has turned into a major TV drama to mark the anniversary. The programme, first screened on July 5, follows the Nicholson family’s journey from denial that their daughter could have been taken from them, through to anger and the mourning process. Having already seen the drama three times, how does Julie (61) feel about the adaptation of her book?
“The team that has created this film has honoured all of us very sensitively and with real humanity,” she replies. “I’m incredibly proud of the film’s truth, its authenticity and reality. The overriding message is that ultimately humanity is stronger than inhumanity.”
Following the tragedy, Julie felt unable to continue as a priest because she found it impossible to preach forgiveness. Now, with the passing of time, does she feel more able to forgive her daughter’s murderer?
“Forgiveness is such a loaded word and people perceive it in so many different ways,” she says. “All I can say is that I have had to really work in myself at not hating – and I can be quite honest with that. I don’t trouble myself with forgiveness anymore. If I’m brutally frank, I would have to say that it is something I stopped thinking about too much because it was not proving to be very healthy for me. And actually it became a bit of an irrelevance – the people that perpetrated the act are no longer here.
“I don’t feel it is any way my right or privilege to offer forgiveness. The only person who could is my daughter, and she is not here. I think when people talk about forgiveness they are talking about reconciliation. I think we have to open our eyes, look at the world and try not to become inhumane. However, I cannot pretend I have much forgiveness, as I understand it, in my heart for those who carried out those terrible acts of violence, taking Jenny’s life.”
It is a very human response and one we can all relate to. Emily Watson’s portrayal of Julie is outstanding. She says that once she’d read the few first pages of the script, there was no way she could turn the role down.
“As a Londoner who was in the city on July 7, 2005, receiving the script felt like a call to duty. Living in London is an act of love and you have to join in, you have to co-operate. What happened on that day was a total violation against all that. I have children and I couldn’t begin to contemplate the thought of what happened to Julie’s daughter happening to them.
“I came away from this project with such a profound respect for Julie. She is amazing and generous. Her faith was hurt, but love was still there and that, to me, was and is incredible.”
Over the past ten years, Julie and her family have tried to rebuild their lives, but their grief over losing Jenny will never go away. “I don’t believe it is possible to totally overcome grief,” says Julie. “It becomes part of you and lives with you. I think what it is possible to do, is to take that grief and move through life with it.
“There are days when I feel as raw as I did ten years ago. Sometimes we sit together as a family and it feels just as imminent as it was all that time ago. But I think we have a choice – we choose to live or we turn away from life. I choose to live as best I can with the full acknowledgement and acceptance that I shall grieve for Jenny until I take my last breath.”
- Watch Song for Jenny on BBC iPlayer