Former Edinburgh student recalls Bataclan attack

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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It was an attack which sent shockwaves around the world after three terrorists burst into a packed music venue in Paris and shot dead 89 people.

A year has now passed since the devastating events at the Bataclan concert hall and this weekend the venue was finally re-opened with a special gig from rock star Sting.

Edinburgh graduate Oliver Kemsley is one of the survivors and decided to mark the anniversary in a rather unusual way – by running his very first marathon for charity.

Ollie, who studied geography at the university, spoke to the News about his “terrifying” ordeal at the Bataclan – and how it’s helped him approach life with a new outlook.

The 30-year-old found himself at the Parisienne music venue after he and one of his flatmates booked tickets on a whim for the Eagles of Death Metal concert.

The pair were in the centre of the dancefloor enjoying the American band’s gig when Ollie noticed something didn’t seem quite right shortly before 10pm.

“There was this explosive sound at the back of the room,” he explained.

“I thought it sounded like firecrackers – that was the closest sound I’d heard in my life. I didn’t know it was gunfire.

“The band immediately stopped and within a few seconds the lights came on so it was really bright but the firing continued and the band scarpered off the stage.

“I looked around and saw the first terrorist – he was about 10 meters away. He had an AK47 and was shooting indiscriminately at everyone around him.

“He was just spraying bullets everywhere and within a few seconds other terrorists were in view.”

Little did Ollie and his friend know at the time but the incident had come as part of a series of co-ordinated attacks across the city, with the Stade de France stadium also targeted.

In the Bataclan, terrified concertgoers pushed each other to the ground in panic as they tried the flee while being confronted with two more gun-wielding terrorists.

“I was lying as flat as possible – your heart is just going incredibly fast,” said Ollie.

“There was this gunfire – it felt that forever but it was probably just 30 or 40 seconds.

“Then it just stopped and it was silent – there was no screaming, all you could hear was the reloading of Kalashnikovs.”

It was during these pauses that Ollie managed to find his way to a door left of the stage but instead of leading out of the venue it instead opened onto a stairwell going towards the roof.

The crowds were so packed that Ollie said it was at this point that he thought he would die because there were so many people “stampeding” over him.

However against all the odds he made it to the roof, after which he and around 60 other people were given shelter in a nearby apartment after going in through the window.

Ollie said: “It was terrifying – the adrenaline was pumping the whole time.

“It was a very intense experience – you didn’t feel safe up there. You felt like at any moment you might get discovered and that it would be game over.”

Thankfully Ollie and his fellow revellers were eventually freed from the apartment and the following day he was reunited with his friend, who also managed to escape with his life.

While Ollie is now based in London, he told the News he still has fond memories of his four years as a student in the Capital from 2005-09 and comes back to visit regularly.

“They were the happiest years of my life,” he said. “I still love to come and visit the city whenever I can [and] retain a lot of affection for the place.”

Looking back on what happened at the Bataclan, Ollie admitted it took a while for the tragic events to sink in – which is how he found himself taking up running.

Having completed his first half marathon in Richmond earlier this year, he decided to go the extra mile by taking on the Classic Athens Marathon on November 13.

Apart from giving him a positive focus, Ollie is also hoping his attempt will bring in as much money as possible for the charity RedR, which helps disaster victims all over the world.

“It’s quite symbolic that it’s the day so that was the original idea,” Ollie added.

“I’m really pleased to have raised the £1000 and hope to bring in more.”

The attack had another unexpected impact on Ollie’s life after he decided to pluck up the courage to locate, and meet, several close family members for the first time in his life

He said: “I thought that if I can get out of the venue and survive an attack like that, there are other things I can do without having the same fear.

“It took some considerable time and effort to find and then meet these family members, but has definitely been worth it.”

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