Mindfulness helped me survive the 7/7 London bombings

On 7 July 2005 Gill Hicks hurriedly boarded a carriage on the London Underground at the same time as a suicide bomber. As the bomb detonated, the way Gill lived her life changed forever.

“It was 60 minutes that we were down there waiting for rescue,” says Gill. “Up until that point, I had never taken 60 minutes, ever, to think about my life. And here I was, forced to think about my life. I could think about nothing else.”

Gill was a busy designer living in London. As so many do, she lived and worked at a super-charged pace, determined of nothing more than to fulfil her work goals. Every day was a race to meet her targets. She met covertly every morning with a team of like-minded people, she tells Nuffield Health. They would smoke cigars and sip coffee, busily discussing the possibilities ahead of them, before heading to work to put their thoughts into action.

On 7 July 2005, Gill didn’t make this treasured daily liaison.

“On the morning of July 7 it was the one and only day that I was running late. I wasn’t present, I wasn’t mindful and I raced out of the house, not taking anything in. And I raced on to the first available carriage, unbeknown to me, boarding at the same time as a suicide bomber.”

Before she had reached her journey’s end a blast ran through Gill’s carriage, severing both her legs below the knee and taking the lives of many other passengers.

As Gill came to the realisation of what happened, having the presence of mind to assess her own injuries and take control of her mind saved her life, she asserts.

In the hour that she and the other survivors were trapped awaiting rescue, an unusual calmness took over Gill. She looked down to see her legs missing and told herself: “I’m still alive”.

Holding onto that thought, Gill tied tourniquets around her upper legs to stem the flow of blood and then, she says, she decided to focus entirely on one thing until help arrived. Her watch.

“There wasn’t a word for it at the time,” Gill recalls. “If I had known it at the time I would have said to everyone ‘Hold on, we need to be mindful’,” she jests. Astonishingly, she says, “By focusing on something so completely, I felt no pain.

“But I couldn’t have told you what time it was.”

While others chatted around Gill, seeking collective support, Gill’s focus maintained on her watch. She waited, and waited, and was the last person to leave the carriage alive.

“I was given an armband that said ‘One unknown, estimated female'”

Gill’s injuries were so severe, it was expected that she would die. She thinks now to how in her earlier, fast-paced life she had often ignored her interests outside of work thinking she “would have plenty of time”. She remembers the time just a month before the bombings that she went skiing with friends only to bypass her last chance to take to the slopes to finish some work remotely. And how she had so wanted children, but put it off.

As she emerged from the Underground and reached the sanctuary of St Thomas’ Hospital, she noted something chilling, but affirming.

“It is the moment that I understood humanity,” she says.

“When I was taken to hospital I was given an armband that said ‘One unknown, estimated female’. When I read those words it highlighted to me that the brilliance of humanity also saved my life. That people risked their lives, to enter the carriage, to save ‘one unknown, estimated female’. To them it didn’t matter what colour of skin I had, how much money I had, whether I was male or female. Nothing mattered, other than I was a precious human life.

“I have adopted that teaching into my core.”

Four mindfulness gifts

7 July 2005 was the beginning of a ‘second life’ for Gill, who gives equal weight to the physical and the mental changes she has undergone.

“Mindfulness, without a doubt has saved my life, both on that day and in the years since.”

There are four things, she says, that mindfulness has allowed her to embrace: “Gratefulness. Appreciation. Wisdom. And I’ve allowed myself to be more aware of me.”

Gill now lives back in her home country of Australia, with her partner and her young daughter Amelie. But she comes back to the UK regularly in her capacity as a motivational speaker and leader of M.A.D For Peace, a charity which campaigns for individuals to play their part in building a peaceful society.

Last updated Tuesday 7 January 2020

First published on Tuesday 7 July 2015