Hours after the news of Chester Bennington’s passing, the Internet is flooding with reflections on the Linkin Park frontman’s life. As the singer’s celebrity friends and admirers rush to pay their respects, members of the band’s massive fan community are equally as devastated. Mike Shiel is one of them.
The U.K. resident was among one of the last fans to speak with Bennington before his tragic passing. Shiel, a 34-year-old computer engineer who tells Billboard he has followed Linkin Park since before its first album came out in 2000, spoke with the singer backstage at the Birmingham show on July 6 as part of a Linkin Park Underground fan club meet-and-greet. It was the last show that Bennington would ever perform: the band was scheduled to headline the following day at Manchester Arena, but the show had been canceled due to the bombing.
“During the meet and greet, I spoke to all members. They came out and signed some stuff for us, one at a time. But this moment is pretty special to me,” Shiel tells Billboard of his encounter with Bennington.
“I spoke to Chester about doing a tribute for Manchester, since it was the last show of the U.K. tour and the Manchester show was meant to be the following day. I asked him if they could tribute their new song, ‘One More Light,’ which is about loss and death, to the victims of Manchester. He immediately said ‘yes!’”
Shiel tells Billboard that before he suggested the song, Bennington had confided in him that he had been thinking about doing some sort of tribute during the show, but that he wasn’t sure what to do or how to go about doing it. The fan explains that the late Linkin Park member seemed like his usual self — he had met him once before and his demeanor was on par with that at his previous encounter and from those described from fellow fan club members — but he appeared “very heavy” over the Manchester tragedy. “He was very visibly upset about it and very considered and thoughtful with his words. But he spent a huge amount of time with everyone and shaking hands and hugging lots of fans,” Shiel adds.
During their conversation, Bennington took a moment to show off his earrings to Shiel. “We talked about what happened for some time and he told me how he had been wearing these earrings since the moment it happened, with bees on them because bees are a symbol of strength and hope for Manchester,” he explains. I am from the U.K. and didn’t even know this, so I was touched that he had done so much research into it,” Shiel notes, adding that Bennington revealed that he “wasn’t going to take the earrings out until we all learned to live together and stopped being this way.”
Following the meet and greet, Shiel and the other fans were lead to the arena floor to watch the show. “I ended up hanging out with a girl that had traveled from Brazil to the U.K. to see the shows that was also in the meet-and-greet,” says Shiel. “I talked to her about asking Chester to tribute the song. When the intro to the song started, I looked over to her hoping it was going to happen and then Chester said, ‘it wouldn’t be right… if we didn’t say something’ and we looked at each other and hugged, because we knew he was about to do it!”
Before playing the song, Bennington addressed the crowd:
“We share some of our love and our prayers for the families and the victims of the tragedy of Manchester arena. My heart has never been broken so much on the day I found out that tragedy happened and since that day, I have been wearing these little earrings with the bees in them. I know that’s a symbol of strength and hope for the city of Manchester and I am going to keep these in until all this nonsense stops and we can start loving each other, until we can stop hurting each other because we believe in something different to the person standing next to us. The one thing that cannot be defeated is love, right? You can conquer hate by ignoring it. You can destroy it by loving the person next to you so I want everyone here tonight to look at the person standing next to you and just tell them that you love them and you are happy that they are here with you tonight, having a good time, listening to music, celebrating life. We don’t care what you look like. We don’t care where you come from. We don’t care what you believe in. We love every single one of you out there and nothing will ever change that. With that said, let’s sing some songs together.”
“It was just a beautiful tribute and I am so honored that he fulfilled my request to make it, without hesitation,” Shiel explains, who recorded the speech. “I had previously asked Mike (Shinoda) who I met a few minutes before… we also discussed at length the politics behind such a move and he said he wasn’t sure if they could. But Chester said ‘yes’ without hesitation.”
According to Shiel, the performance was one of Bennington’s finest. “I think most people in the fan community would agree that Chester was on fire! He was at the highlight of his career,” he says. “I’ve seen the band live so many times and the band sounded so good on this tour. They were in their element and seemed to really enjoy performing more than ever. And Chester sounded better than ever before.”
Shiel is still in shock over his idol’s passing. “The band released a new video today for a song called “Talking to Myself,” which features live footage from one of the shows that I was at,” he explains. “I got home from work and I watched the video, I then took a nap and was awoken by my phone going off again and again, ‘Are you okay?’ A few minutes later again and again and again, I’m confused, why wouldn’t I be okay? What just happened? Are these people crazy? And then I saw the news and my heart sank,” he recalls.
But he’s thankful to have been able to share that special moment, two weeks ago, with Bennington. In 2014, Shiel also had the chance to explain to Bennington just how much the band’s music meant to him. “I talked to him about being at the show the night before and being so dazed from it, getting on the wrong train and going in the wrong direction for over an hour,” he reveals. “Chester seemed excited about this and high fived me several times.”
Shiel adds that even though he was a massive star, Bennington made a point of really connecting with his fans. “Chester was always generous with his time. He was always the last person to leave the meet and greets because he was taking so much time to really engage with and really listen to what the fans had to share with him,” he explains. “He’s like a template for how to behave as a human being and that’s why we all loved him. He would stick around and listen to our silly stories about how much we loved the band, listen to our stupid jokes or whatever we had to say. He just had so much time, respect and love for the fans. His kindness and heart are beyond words. You just get that sense from him, the very moment he walks into the room.”