IT'S coming up to five years since Steve Howe's "nightmare began" – when his wife Alison Howe was killed in the Manchester Arena terror attack, picking up their teenage daughter Darcie from her first concert.
Alison 45, and her pal Lisa Lees, 47, were killed by suicide bomber Salman Abedi as they waited in the Manchester Arena foyer to meet their daughters after the Ariana Grande concert.
Steve's "hysterical" daughter Darcie, then 14, called him to say there had been an explosion and her mum wasn't answering her phone.
He called a friend who worked at the stadium, who told him where the bomb went off – exactly where he knew Alison had been waiting.
Steve says police kept him waiting an agonising 18 hours before telling him his wife was dead.
He resorted to following ambulances and sending friends to different hospitals across Manchester as he desperately searched for news of his wife Alison after the attack.
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But he now tells us he "knew she was dead after 20 minutes".
"She walked out and said bye – and that was the last time I ever saw her," Steve says.
At that point, the family’s life fell apart. Steve quit his job and became both mum and dad for his daughters overnight – plus a parent to his four older sons he shares with his ex-wife.
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"I'd been a builder all my life," explains Steve. "I was used to going out at seven in the morning and coming home at night, and Ali dealt with the family stuff.
“So when she died, I suddenly stopped working, and started running the girls to school, ironing uniforms and making packed lunches.
“It were hard, but they've grown up now and they've done themselves proud.
“But we're that kind of a family. We've all worked together with it. Everything's been as good as it can be.”
Daughter 'trapped' in grief
He continues: "My family did actually send me to speak to somebody from the charity Mind because I were full of anger about the night but he ended up in a worse state than me!
"I just thought, 'This isn't going to stop me from feeling angry, I'mangry anyway because there were that many mistakes made by the police on the night."
But Steve's daughter Darcie hasn't been doing too well, he says.
"She's still trapped," he admits. "She's never mentioned it ever since, she's so locked in her little soul.
"We often question whether she's fine or not, but generally, she looks like she's OK. She's at college, studying to be a midwife and she still has a lot of friends."
A dream come true
But, to cheer her up, Steve got in touch with the team at Car SOS to make over the rusty, old Citroen van that Alison had dreamed of turning into a milkshake business to tour around festivals – but never got round to doing.
In an upcoming episode of Car SOS, Darcie is surprised at the Old Trafford Stadium with her brand new pink Ali-Van – complete with state-of-the-art equipment and Alison’s signature plastered everywhere as the logo, even on the coffee cups.
Alison’s mum – Darcie’s grandma – breaks down in tears as she sees her daughter’s signature, and Steve admits he wasn’t sure about allowing Car SOS hosts Tim Shaw and Fuzz Townshend to do that at first.
He explains: “Her signature’s on everything. We didn't at first because it was pretty difficult – obviously it still is – but we've got stuff of Alison's all over the house now.
“You've only got to look at that and you're thinking about Alison, so the signature's fantastic, and the name Ali-Van suits it.”
Alison’s best friend – who was one of many of the Howe family guests there to watch Darcie be surprised – laughs as she tells us: “Darcie was annoyed her dad had made her miss a day’s pay to go on a tour of the stadium."
But when she sees the bright pink van, Darcie is speechless, crying and thanking everyone over and over again.
'The Ali-van lives on!'
The van – adorned with a huge neon Ali-Van sign – was worked on by Tim and Fuzz’s teams, and a lot of help from Steve, who advised them to make it pink.
And when it comes to the actual tools inside the van, Darcie now has the best of the best – Tim reckons the kit is worth at least £25,000, and includes the same coffee machine that Costa Coffee uses and a much-coveted Hotel Chocolat Velvetiser.
After his daughter has been surprised, Steve tells us: “We’re all overwhelmed. It's not often I'm speechless, but the more I look at it, it's faultless.
“Alison is definitely still looking down on us, and she would definitely be smiling today, thinking, ‘Oh, what's he up to now?’
“That's just the way the family is, there's some right characters in it!”
And when it comes to his daughter living out his wife’s dreams, Steve couldn’t be prouder.
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“You can’t not think of Alison when you see this van,” he finishes. “So, for now, my daughter to be in it, and to have a ready-made business, the story's still going on.
“The Ali-Van rides again!”
Car S.O.S airs on Thursday April 28 at 8pm on National Geographic
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