There are moments in history that are so devastating they are forever seared into memory and the world comes to a standstill in shock and horror.
Much like the death of Princess Diana, or assassination of JFK, you will always remember where you were when you first heard the news of 9/11, but it is perhaps even more shocking due to the panic that ensued where the world felt under siege and – as MailOnline columnist Piers Morgan remembers – it felt like ‘armageddon’.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists successfully hijacked four California-bound planes, and by 9.30am the World Trade Centre, one of New York City‘s most famous landmarks, had been hit, hundreds killed and many more trapped in the floors above.
Many watching the scenes on televisions across the globe believed initially it was a tragic accident – but it quickly became apparent it was an act of war, undertaken to strike fear and devastation into the hearts of Americans, and indeed the rest of the world.
Now, 20 years later, politicians, public figures and TV personalities have shared with MailOnline where they were when they first heard the news that day and the shock and emotion that quickly followed.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists successfully hijacked four California-bound planes, with the intention of crashing them into iconic buildings. Now, 20 years later, politicians, public figures and TV personalities have revealed where they were on that day and how it impacted their lives for years to come…
Tory MP and former Army officer Johnny Mercer, 40, said the moment the second plane hit the South Tower, he knew ‘nothing would be the same’ again
Lord (Alex) Carlile: QC former Lib Dem MP and Independent Reviewer for Terrorist Legislation
QC former Lib Dem MP and Independent Reviewer for Terrorist Legislation Lord Alex Carlile listened to the radio as the attack unfolded
‘I was in my barrister’s chambers in central London talking to a client with a junior and someone banged on the door and asked us if we’d seen what was happening in New York.
‘We didn’t have a TV, but we turned on the radio and all three of us listened for about 45 minutes and couldn’t believe what we were hearing.
‘It wasn’t until I got home that I saw those images which were so stark and shocking, and they remain so 20 years on. I’d been up one of the Twin Towers only a few months before, so it had extra resonance for me.
‘I knew from that moment that this was going to be not just a big deal, but that it would replace the Cold War, which had finished a few years earlier.
‘And it changed things for me personally as well because earlier that same day, I’d been called by then Home Secretary David Blunkett to ask me if I’d become the new independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.
‘I was told it would take perhaps 10 days work a year, but in that first year, I did nearly 180 days work in that post.
‘My job was to help government and parliament to ensure that new laws brought in to deal with the threat evidencede by 9/11, were proportionate and fair, and developed in a responsible, law-abiding way.
‘I did it for nine and a half years. And it was a very significant part of my life. ‘
Jamie Redknapp: Footballer
Jamie Redknapp remembered playing a match at Anfield but feeling ‘numb’
‘I remember it like it was yesterday. When I heard about it I was in a hotel in Liverpool ahead of a Champions League game that night against Boavista, the Portuguese team.
‘Robbie Fowler called me in my room and said to put Sky News on. I did straight away, just as the second plane hit.
‘As players, we didn’t know what to do. Should we play that night? Was it even safe to play? We didn’t know if the UK was going to be under attack next.
‘There was talk of postponing the match but others suggested we go ahead with the game just to keep spirits up.
‘In the end that’s what we did… we did as we were told and played.
‘I’ve never known an atmosphere like it. It was so bizarre at Anfield, everyone was just numb after everything they had seen, heard and read.
‘I was coming back from injury and was on the bench. We got a draw but it wasn’t a great game. How could it be, under those circumstances?
‘I’ll never forget that day and have been over to New York a couple of times since. The 9/11 memorial is incredible.’
Sir Anthony Seldon: Author and historian
Author and historian Sir Anthony Seldon was worried that it was just the start and that worse might be to come
‘I was headmaster at Brighton College and I was in a meeting with some teachers and my PA came in and told me there was something I needed to know about.
‘We all stood silently in the staff room watching the images on the screen.
‘I remember thinking this was the most important event of my lifetime, and I was also worried that it was just the start and that worse might be to come.
‘I had been in the restaurant at the top of the Twin Towers just a few months before and that really struck home.
‘Afterwards, I met my wife in the school quad and we just hugged in silence as it all sank in.
‘The next day we gathered the whole school in chapel and a student from California stood up and spoke to the rest of the school about what the attack meant to her as an American.
‘She was only 17, and it was very brave of her. ‘
Pandora Christie: Heart FM Presenter
‘I was doing a promo job in Maidstone at the time of 9/11. My team were on a break and we had all gone to the local pub. All of a sudden out of nowhere the bartender shouts to everyone to be quiet and watch the TV.
Heart FM presenter Pandora Christie recalled how strangers were saying it ‘was like a bad dream’
There was silence across the room and we were all glued to the screen. The TV was on really loudly and we were in utter disbelief.
‘Everyone was in a state of shock and none of us spoke to each other. No one, myself included, wanted to believe it was real. How could this be happening?
‘I was deeply saddened from what I was seeing.
‘The team leader at work gave everyone the rest of the afternoon off because we were all in shock and some of my colleagues were panicking.
‘On the train platform (on the way home to London) you could see the panic in people’s faces.
‘Everyone felt uneasy and seemed scared. No one was talking.
‘It was then on the train home strangers were all talking about it and people were saying it was like a bad dream’.
Nick Robinson: Current presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme
Nick Robinson was speaking to one of Tony Blair’s advisers when news broke that a plane had flown into the World Trade Centre
‘I was chatting to one of Tony Blair’s advisers about what I could say on TV about the speech he was about to deliver to the TUC in Brighton.
‘Their phone went. ‘Forget it’, he said, ‘You won’t get on – a plane has just flown into the World Trade Centre.’
‘I ran to the newsroom and watched the second plane hit.
‘Soon after I stood by the Prime Minister’s car to shout a question as he rushed back to Number 10.
‘Our eyes met. He looked haunted’.
Sir Christopher Meyer: Former British Ambassador to the United States
Sir Christopher Meyer said it felt as though the ‘earth shifted on its axis’ when the attack happened
‘I was in the British Embassy in Washington, having breakfast on the terrace with [ex-PM] John Major, who was in Washington to make a speech and we were chatting over coffee and toast.
‘One of my staff came out to tell us a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers and our immediate reaction was that it must be a private plane pilot who got lost or something.
‘Then my wife came down the stairs with our social secretary, telling us there was a second plane.
‘That’s when we knew this was absolutely massive, and it was as if the earth shifted on its axis or something.
‘We didn’t know what was happening, there were reports of more planes in the air, and about 45 minutes later, another hit the Pentagon, which isn’t far from the British Embassy.
‘My wife went onto the roof looking down a hill towards the Potomac and could see smoke going up into the sky. I am sure I can remember the smell of burning jet fuel, but she says that’s my imagination.
‘After that I went straight back into my office in the Embassy and that’s where I spent the next 16 to 18 hours or so.
‘There were a whole bunch of things we had to do. First of all, to try and find out what the hell’s going on.
‘I managed to speak to George Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice.
‘And she said it’s Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and that there were mentions of Iraq, but they didn’t think there was any connection. And so I said my condolences, anything we can do to help.
‘And I told her that the PM wants to talk to the president as soon as possible – because at that stage the Secret Service had George Bush flying around all over the place and wouldn’t let him return to Washington.
‘We knew there were bound to be British victims with so many people in the towers, but we had to try and find out as much as we could as quickly as possible.
‘We had to decide what to do with our staff for their safety in case of other attacks and we decided it was best to send them all home.
‘It was as if the Gods were mocking us that day, really, it was the most beautiful autumn weather, warm with no humidity, then within a short time, the entire city was empty with no traffic and no planes in the air.’
Nadine Dorries: Minister of State for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety of the UK
Minister of State for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety of the UK Nadine Dorries
‘My husband, our daughters, my mother and I returned from a visit to New York just days before the 9/11 attack.
‘We had finished off our trip with a visit to the World Trade Centre where we shopped and had lunch before heading back home for the start of the school year.
‘Three days later I remember very clearly walking in through the door of my kitchen and my husband stood in front of the TV watching the live footage of the 9/11 attack.
‘As I approached him, I saw the image of the plane in the tower and the flames burning.
‘I have no idea why but at that moment, I could recall very clearly the faces of the people who had served us, the waiter in the restaurant and the banter between himself and my husband and the lovely girl working in the bath and beauty store, who gave our girls lots of free samples as we left.
‘I still remember them and to this day have hoped and prayed that they were all safe and were amongst those who survived.’
Lizzie Cundy: TV personality
‘My fence had blown down, and I was outside helping a gardener who I had just met to put it back up.
TV personality Lizzie Cundy ended up watching news footage with a stranger all day
‘I went in to make a cup of tea and saw the footage of the plane going through the towers. It was horrific.
‘I called him in and we sat all day watching the news. It was mad.
‘I didn’t know this guy and we were both hugging and crying with each other.
‘My husband was away playing football and I had just had my baby, so I was very grateful. ‘
‘You never ever forget seeing that, what was unbelievable.
‘I was so in bits to think lives could be taken like this and it was so cruel.
‘We have stayed friends ever since because we shared that awful moment.
Steve Baker: Conservative MP for Wycombe and former RAF engineer
‘I was on Bodmin Moor with my parents at a famous place called the Cheesewring.
Steve Baker feared for his wife who was working in Iraq with the RAF at the time
‘We were sitting outside having a cup of tea and a bit of cake when the owner came out and said an aeroplane had just flown into the World Trade Center and it was on the TV. We all went in.
‘My wife at the time was in Iraq with the royal Air Force and she got locked down there, because once there had been an attack on that scale they were worried about what would happen everywhere. So it was a very worrying time.
‘I think once the second plane had hit the towers it was very clear that it was no kind of accident.
‘Few atrocities shake the course of world history but the 9/11 attack certainly did. The tragedy of all those lives lost was felt right around the world.
‘We now cannot escape thinking about how we behave towards other nations and how we contain terrorism wherever it may come from.’
Dragon’s Den star and gym magnate Duncan Bannatyne initially believed the scenes on TV were a film advert
Duncan Bannatyne: Dragon’s Den star and gym magnate
‘We thought it was an advert for a new film’
‘I was driving around the UK with my proposed new bankers to show them the facilities we wanted to borrow on.
‘We all stopped at a Little Chef for lunch. And as we sat down it started to unfold on the TV.
‘The banker sitting opposite me saw it first because my back was to the TV.
‘He initially said there was a clip of a plane crashing the Tower and said it must be an advert for a new film.
‘The colleague beside him replied: ‘No that looks real’.
‘We called to the management to turn the sound up, and then we all watched the horror unfold’.
MailOnline columnist Piers Morgan reveals what it was like to be a newspaper editor on the day of 9/11: ‘It just seemed like the end of the world, like Armageddon was happening and nobody knew what was going to happen next.’
MailOnline columnist Piers Morgan said it was ‘one of the most shocking things’ he ever had to witness live on television
‘I was down in Sussex at my home in my East Sussex village there, I was recovering from a back operation.
‘The news desk called me at the Daily Mirror where I was the editor and I remember it being just after 2pm.
‘He said the World Trade Centre had been hit, but it looked like it had been a tragic accident involving a small twin propeller plane.
‘It was only 20 mins or so later I was watching sky news and Kay Burley was anchoring and it looked like the footage of the same plane hitting it again and then everyone suddenly realised, including Kay, it was actually a second plane that had gone in.
‘I called the news desk, they saw it too, we then realised this was a massive terror attack.
‘I was supposed to be off work for another three weeks with the back recovery. I got in my car and drove a high speed to Canary Wharf.
‘It was probably a fairly stupid thing to do having just had major back surgery but actually I thought it was quite therapeutic in the sense that the adrenaline probably did it more good than harm.
‘I then covered it like any other journalist for 18 hours a day for the next few weeks.
‘It was the biggest news story until this pandemic that I’ve ever worked on and one of the most shocking things I’ve ever had to witness live on television. Something I will never forget.
‘I remember at one stage as I was driving to London the news desk was calling me every ten minutes to say with the Pentagon, ‘The plane’s gone down in Pennsylvania.’
‘It just seemed like the end of the world, like Armageddon was happening and nobody knew what was going to happen next. It was a scary time for the world and an extraordinary time to be a news editor.
‘The most profound story I remember was, and funnily enough The Mirror went and found this guy, there was an amazing picture we ran on the 2nd day of a New York fireman who was going up in one of the towers after the planes had struck and he was all wide eyed and I remember it being a very traumatic image.
‘We cleared the front page, everybody has assumed he was dead so we sent a reporter to go to his fire station and speak to his colleagues and when he got there he was actually told the guy was still alive and asleep upstairs. He woke him up and got an amazing interview so we had two days.
‘One of this extraordinarily powerful picture where everyone assumed this poor heroic fireman had died and the next a very positive uplifting front page of ‘He’s Alive’.
‘That, I remember, as being sort of it cut to the heart of the story cos so few people survived who were anywhere near the towers when they came down. Mike Kehoe his name was and The Mirror found him again this week.
‘Andy Lines reported back in New York and interviewed him again and was able to tell the story and he’s still going. But I think the heroism of the New York fireman was quite extraordinary and he personified it really because the two prongs element to his story was very moving.
Johnny Mercer: Tory MP and former Army officer
‘I was not far off joining the Army on 9/11. I was working at a life investment company in the City between school and Sandhurst.
‘I remember coming home around lunchtime that day for some reason and switching on the TV and not being able to comprehend what I was seeing.
‘I particularly remember the moment when the second plane went in and that was when it was clear beyond doubt that this was no accident, but a human act.
‘I don’t remember exactly what I said as I watched the screen, but it would probably be unprintable anyway.
‘That split second, and the image of it, changed everything, and I think it dawned on me pretty much straight away that nothing would be the same afterwards.
‘And it wasn’t long before I also realised that my military career was going to be very different from the one I had expected. When we got to Sandhurst and beyond, it defined our military careers.
‘A lot of us joined for sport and self-discovery, but before we knew it we were fighting in the nightmare that was Helmand in 2006.’
Toby Anstis: Radio presenter
Radio presenter Toby Anstis joined a crowd of strangers on Tottenham Court Road watching the scene unfold on a TV in a shop window
‘Actually it was a surreal day, I’d just started on Heart.
‘I will never forget walking down Tottenham Court Road in London and people were crowding around all the windows of all the shops like Curry’s.
‘[Everyone was] watching these horrific pictures and the tragic story unfolding on all TV screens.
‘Gazing in stunned silence.
‘I’d been bouncing down the road, so excited about being on Heart, and then stopping and slowly realising what was happening.
‘It was crushing. No one had ever seen anything like this.
‘I still find it hard to believe such an awful and heinous thing was carried out, and so many people lost their lives.
‘Still odd now when you see the Twin Towers on films pre-2001, and then remind yourself they’ve gone.
‘It might be 20 years since that terrible day, but it’s still so clear in mine and everyone’s minds.’
Alastair Stewart: GB News anchor and veteran broadcaster
GB News anchor and veteran broadcaster Alastair Stewart felt it was ‘an assault on a people I admired and on those Brits who lived and worked there’
‘I was working for ITV’s London News Network and was lunching with an old friend. I returned to a numbed newsroom.
‘From the Shuttle Challenger to Lockerbie, I’d seen the effect catastrophes have on people whose job is to calmly report them.
‘A focussed energy combines with human horror, but the job must be done.
‘As I recall, local news pretty well went as ITN went into what we call ‘Open Ender’.
‘I’d lived in the USA in the late 1960s when my RAF father was stationed there and had been ITN’s Washington Correspondent in the late 1980s.
‘I loved the place, and still do.
‘I recall thinking it was an assault on a people I admired and on those Brits who lived and worked there.
‘What came later was the realisation that the vacuum in global conflict, created by the end of the Cold War, had been replaced by global terrorism’.
Frank Bruno, former world champion boxer
Frank Bruno said he was working at a nightclub in Barking
‘I remember it well. I was working at the Legends nightclub in Barking. It was a lunchtime do for the Freight Club.
‘It was my first gig with my new agent and I was doing the talk. When I stood up no one had seen the TV, so I had no idea what was happening.
‘I was nervous you know, and then I noticed people kept disappearing while I was talking. As I went on no one was interested. At the time I thought I must be doing a bad job.
‘I knew something must be seriously wrong because the atmosphere just changed and my agent cut it short.
‘Straight away about 50 people ran out of the room and got on the phone.
‘At that moment I did not know what had gone on. But afterwards we realised there were people there who knew people in New York.
‘Then when I saw it on TV later, it was unbelievable. I did not believe it was happening.’
Andrew Bridgen: MP for North West Leicestershire
MP for North West Leicestershire Andrew Bridgen confessed he felt the attack was ‘like a horror movie’
‘I was at work running my business AB Produce and it was the fire instructor who told me that there had been an attack.
‘The first plane had gone in and I put the television on and witnessed the second plane going in.
‘I think that’s when I realised it was a co-ordinated terrorist attack.
‘It felt like I was watching some sort of horror movie. It was a feeling of surreal horror that’s what I can remember.
‘It was unreal. I couldn’t believe this was the news. It just looked like a horror movie.
‘It was like watching a disaster movie and it was difficult to comprehend what you had actually just witnessed on television, especially since you knew there had never been an attack on the US mainland in a very long time.’
‘I’m a member of parliament now and I think if anything the terrorists are probably more sophisticated and the world’s a more dangerous place than it was 20 years ago.
‘I realise how much we rely on our intelligence services and cooperation with America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to thwart such terror attacks now and in the future.’
Phil Thompson: Former assistant manager of Liverpool
Phil Thompson recalled a ‘horrendous’ football match the Liverpool team played on 9/11
‘We were due to play Boavista in a Champions League tie.
‘It was our return to the competition for the first time since 1985, and I can remember sitting on the bed in my room at the Marriott Hotel in Liverpool city centre just horrified at was unfolding on the television.
‘It was just horrendous.
‘We were wondering how the players were going to react because it was very hard to focus on a football game as everyone was talking about what they had witnessed in New York. Football didn’t seem worth playing.
‘It was one of the most difficult scenarios in the dressing room before such a game; we couldn’t really concentrate thinking about the poor families in New York.
‘There were concerns over further terrorist repercussions and whether the game would be called off.
‘Anfield was subdued and the buzz around the stadium during the warm up was of fans talking about what had gone on.
‘We drew the game 1-1 but it was very much a sense of ‘was anyone bothered?’
‘It was such a momentous occasion that left a horrible imprint on everyone’s minds.’
Tobias Ellwood, who was born in New York before moving to the UK, was left ‘feeling numb’ watching the attacks unfold
Tobias Ellwood: MP for Bournemouth East
‘I was born in New York and have a huge affinity with the city.
‘Indeed I was in the Boarders bookshop in the World Trade Centre only a week before the attack.
‘On the day of the attack I was prompted to switch on the TV to follow coverage of the north tower on fire, unclear what exactly had happened.
‘To watch, live, as the second plane ploughed into the south tower left me quite numb as it became apparent this was a deliberate act of war.
‘My reflection today is one of deep sadness in our failure to right this wrong.
‘Twenty years after this horrific form of mass murder shocked our world, we are no better at preventing terrorist groups (including Al-Qaeda) from recruiting and training Muslims to target Westerners and blow themselves up in the false belief they will be rewarded in paradise.’
Mark Littlewood: Director general at the Institute of Economic Affairs and former head of media for the Lib Dems
Mark Littlewood recalled doing a television interview about traffic policy and feeling his worries seemed ‘wholly absurd’
‘On 9/11 I was working for the human rights group, Liberty.
‘I’d agreed to do a TV interview with a BBC regional station on the plans unveiled by a county council (Essex, I believe), to attach CCTV to traffic lights.
‘We were concerned that footage collected could be used for other purposes beyond deterring drivers jumping a red light.
‘I hopped on the tube from London Bridge to Westminster, and when I alighted, a friend had texted to let me know a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
‘I thought it was a tragic accident. As I entered the studios, the second plane hit.
‘It was now clear that a horrific and premeditated attack was underway.
‘Thousands were surely dead. Perhaps to try and pretend that there was some sort of normality still in the world, we proceeded with the interview.
‘Once finished, the producer told me that they couldn’t be sure the footage would be broadcast that night.
‘We all knew this before even starting the interview, of course; we were just going through the motions. Heading back to London Bridge, my earlier worries about traffic policy in Essex suddenly seemed wholly absurd. ‘
Paul Merson: Former England and Arsenal footballer
Paul Merson watched the second plane hit the South Tower on a TV in a Range Rover
‘I know exactly where I was, I remember it like it was yesterday.
‘I was driving from the training ground at Aston Villa to the stadium at Villa Park.
I had a Range Rover at the time, and I was with Peter Schmeichel.
‘We were driving back to the club to sort out our bonuses for the year with Doug Ellis, the owner.
‘In those days, Range Rovers had a little TV screen in the front… we got there a bit early, so we just stuck the TV on in the car while we were parked up.
‘We watched it happen, live, as the second airplane hit the tower.
‘We just sat there and thought, ‘F***, how can we just go in and talk about bonuses now? It’s all completely irrelevant.’
‘I’ll never forget it, it’s like it was yesterday. Nothing else mattered.
‘We played a game against Sunderland a couple of days later and I can’t remember a thing about it, but I remember 9/11, and sitting in the car with Peter Schmeichel, like it was yesterday.’
Lord West: Former First Sea Lord
Meanwhile Lord Alan West watched the whole thing unfold on television and recalled feeling it was ‘dreadful’
‘I had just been appointed as Commander-in-Chief Fleet and was in my office at [NATO Allied Maritime Command] in Northwood.
‘I became aware something funny was going on when I had a phone call from CTF345. [Combined Task Force 345 is a secret operations bunker 100ft below ground which controls the submarines carrying the UK’s nuclear deterrent.]
‘They were reporting to me because I was in the firing chain for Britain’s nuclear weapons. They told me something was going on in the States, and I went to look on the TV and I watched as the whole dreadful thing slowly unfolded.
‘I knew even before the second plane hit that it wasn’t an accident. In my previous role I’d been chief of defence intelligence and I knew quite a bit about Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, as they’d tried to launch an attack in the UK in 1998.
‘I didn’t know they’d done this immediately, but I knew they were a threat.
‘I remember wondering what the US response would be to this, and it became clear over a fairly short timescale that they wanted to do something about it.
‘This was an appalling terrorist attack on innocent civilians, many of whom were actually Muslims and all of NATO and the West wanted to swing behind America and show them how much we supported them.
‘It became quite clear that the [Royal Marines] Commando Brigade would be part of the first response to this, and they worked for me.
‘We also had a carrier in the Indian Ocean and as things started happening in Afghanistan, special forces operated from that carrier, across Pakistan and into Afghanistan.’
Meanwhile TV personality Nadia Essex said she couldn’t have imagined a more terrifying experience
Nadia Essex: TV personality
‘I remember living near an army barracks at the time and hearing the alarms and uproar once the news came through.
‘I don’t think I could have imagined a more terrifying experience but watching it play out on TV was like a nightmare coming true.
‘All the lives lost, the families changed forever and the aftermath that changed the world forever.
‘I went to visit NY the year after and cried as I neared the site.
‘It was so quiet and everyone was so sad. I will never forget that day and always pray each year for the people who lost loved ones.’
Chris Sutton: former Celtic and England striker
Chris Sutton remembered seeing support from football fans in the stands in the weeks after the attack
‘We’d trained that morning at Barrowfield, Celtic’s training ground, because the next day we were due to face Rosenborg in the Champions League.
‘By the afternoon I was at home in Thorntonhall with my wife, Sam.
‘The children were at school and we were watching TV in the lounge when it came on.
‘We thought it must have been some awful accident at first.
‘Then the second one hit. It didn’t seem real. It was horrific to see.
‘Our Champions League clash with Rosenborg the next day was postponed as a mark of respect.
‘Our next game was away at Dundee, on September 15.
‘There was a perfectly-observed minute’s silence before kick-off and Celtic supporters held a banner which read ‘America – You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
Boxer Joe Joyce said watching the second plane hit the Twin Towers was ‘almost unbelievable’
Joe Joyce: British heavyweight boxer and Olympic silver medallist
‘I was 15, and I can remember coming back from school and turning on my old-school, wooden effect, widescreen, big-back television, and clicking on every channel.
‘It had the news about one of the towers being hit.
‘When I saw the second plane hit, it was almost unbelievable.’