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2015 was our golden year: Looking back on the last twelve months

By Una Brankin

Published 26/12/2015

Daniel and Majella O'Donnell
Daniel and Majella O'Donnell
Zoe Salmon was thrilled and surprised by fiancé Will Corrie’s romantic proposal at the swish Sandy Lane hotel in Barbados
Zoe Salmon
Meagan with her boyfriend, ice hockey player Craig Peacock from the Belfast Giants
Frank Mitchell

Some of Northern Ireland's favourite celebrities recall their highlights of the past year and tell how they will spend the festive season.

Daniel O'Donnell (61) had a highly successful 2015, winning a new set of fans from his stint on BBC's Strictly, and from UTV's top-rated Daniel and Majella's Road Trip, which has been comissioned for a second series. The arrival in August of Majella's first grandchild, Olive, was the icing on the cake for Daniel, who admits to being a doting step-granddad. Daniel says:

We're at home in Donegal with family and friends in the run-up to New Year's. We do a charity walk on Boxing Day in memory of a young local lad, Darren Mills, who died of a brain haemorrhage after a fall, then we just lie about for the rest of the day.

Baby Olivia is coming to stay with us. She's just lovely, a very pleasant wee child, smiling all the time. She is a great gift. Her arrival was the highlight of the whole year, no doubt.

We were in Tenerife last New Year. We're home this year; I don't know if we going out or staying in, yet. We're heading off on a cruise all round the world on January 1, so we'll probably have a quiet one. It's LA to Dubai - I've been in Hollywood before and did the tour, going around looking at the celebrities' houses, and I've done shows in Australia and New Zealand, but there's a whole load of places on the way that I've never been to before.

We're not back until May.

I promised Majella, when she was going through chemotherapy, that I'd take the time off and go when she was better. We've been on shorter cruises before; LA to Sydney once. This will be the longest yet.

We've had a good year; 2013 was the tough one, with Majella going through the treatment and her father dying, and my mother dying. She was a great age though; we're lucky she lived so long.

I'll record a new album when we get back and I've a Killarney gig and a UK tour in the summer.

I won't be doing any more dancing competitions - God, no. Peter Andre was great on Strictly Come Dancing. I thought he'd go further than some of the others.

He's coming over to appear on an Irish language TV special I'm doing for TG4 next year, all being well.

I'm not very interested in reality shows. I enjoy watching the jungle one but I wouldn't do it. We had a lovely time in Enniskillen and Newtownabbey this year for our road trip series. The Willowbank B&B near the Fermanagh Lakes is a beautiful spot and Joan [Foster] there is a great cook.

We're looking forward to doing a second series in the summer; we'll be taking in Northern Ireland again. God bless.

Daniel's 2015 Favourites

Song: God, I don't know. I'm not into anything current.

Film: Never look at them; I don't go to the cinema.

TV drama: Downton Abbey. I'm a big fan of that.

Book: Bridie Gallagher's life story. I'm big into autobiographies.

Meal: A big plate of mince and tatties when I got home from Strictly. Just lovely. I like good plain food.

2015 has been very special year for London-based presenter/actress Zoe Salmon (35), despite going to court to sue a Belfast tenant for £6,500 in unpaid rent. Currently starring as Cinderella in panto at the Theatre Royal Windsor, the former Miss Northern Ireland, from Bangor, got engaged to Newtownards butcher William Corrie in September, and recently landed her own TV show. Zoe says:

My happiest moment of 2015 was when my boyfriend Will dropped onto one knee and asked the question: "Zoe Salmon, would you do me the great honour of becoming my wife?"

It was a true fairytale moment, not only because it was genuinely a surprise - we had never discussed getting engaged - but because the proposal happened in the intimacy of our private balcony following a private meal in our favourite hotel in the world, Sandy Lane in Barbados.

Will secretly arranged every detail with the hotel management. Our hotel room was covered in red rose petals and candlelit throughout. The engagement ring was served up as a dessert: once the silver lid was lifted, there - in the centre of a plate of red rose petals - was one single red rose and, in the heart of it, the most beautiful diamond ring I've ever seen.

Will designed it himself and just to add to the perfect proposal - astonishingly, and as if by magic - the ring fit my finger perfectly. We feel so blessed and we cannot wait to get married in 2016.

This year, like very year, brought new challenges such as the court case over unpaid rent from tenants of my apartment. But I never see obstacles as anything other than challenges. I am here to live and to learn - challenges are part of the rich tapestry of life and they make me feel alive.

My law degree and being a qualified solicitor has certainly stood to me in 2015, and I am extremely fortunate to have the support of my incredible solicitor friends, especially Alistair Wilson, a partner at Tughans, and Judith Thompson at Herbert Smith Freehills.

On New Year's Eve, I will be kissing not one but two Prince Charmings. I'll be on stage on New Year's Eve, playing Cinderella at the Theatre Royal in Windsor with my theatrical Prince Charming, Jai McDowell [winner of Britain's Got Talent]. Then, I look forward to coming off stage to my real life Prince Charming, Will. We'll ring in the New Year in London.

New Year's Day will be my first day off work after Christmas Day, so I look forward to a couple of extra hours sleep and breakfast in bed - with some champagne, of course! I will spend the day in London with my fiancé before heading back to Windsor for my performances the following day.

I don't make New Year's resolutions. I make resolutions throughout the year as and when I need to - there's never any time better than the gift of the present! As for hitting the sales - I don't like shopping! It's online or nothing, and it's always for a specific reason: if I need something for an occasion I will buy it, but I don't generally go shopping. The only shopping I really love is food shopping.

As a child growing up, I loved spending every New Year's in our family home in Bangor surrounded by my family - my parents Joe and Priscilla, my sisters Lara and Naomi, and my brother Julian. They were special times indeed and the magic of Christmas and New Year, spent as a little Salmon, are among the most precious memories I have and hold on to, with the greatest of love and affection towards my incredible parents, who made all my dreams come true.

I'm extremely excited to have just accepted an offer for a television show, which will undoubtedly be one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I can't wait to start filming. I am bound by confidentiality so unfortunately I can't discuss any details, but I can't wait to share the news with you!

And I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of the talented team at the Belfast Telegraph and all the readers a very happy and healthy 2016.

Zoe's 2015 Favourites

Song: It has to be the opening number I sing in every performance of every day in Cinderella - Jess Glynne's Hold My Hand.

Book: I mainly read plays - my favourite this year was August Osage County by Tracey Letts.

Movie: Still Alice, with Julianne Moore.

TV/Drama series: Suits.

Meal: Dry-aged beef from Corries butchers' deli with their homemade Italian salad. My mouth is watering just thinking about this!

Former Miss Northern Ireland Meagan Green (25) has had two big reasons to celebrate in 2015. The Banbridge beauty recently won the Alison Campbell Agency’s (ACA) Model of the Year 2015, while her boyfriend, ice hockey player Craig Peacock, was awarded Top Goal Scorer of 2014/2015 at the Belfast Giants Awards Night. Meagan says:

This year, Craig and I will be ringing in 2016 with my close family, including my parents, my brother and his other half, Janice, and a few friends. Unfortunately my sister Leanne will be milking the cows, and that’s not a feeble attempt at an excuse — as she would say: “They aren’t going to milk themselves!”

The Green family has always made an effort to celebrate New Year’s Eve, whether it’s with each other, with friends or at a good old party. It’s tradition to celebrate the changing of the year at midnight but for a lot of us, it’s back to porridge come January 1. But that doesn’t stop us ringing the New Year in with a bang.

We always ring it in with Auld Lang Syne. It’s an oldie but a goodie, and ringing in the New Year would not be the same without it playing in the background. I rarely have a tipple, though. I usually work weekends — and hangovers are never a good look in this industry. If and when I do get an opportunity for a tipple over Christmas and New Year, I have to admit I like a vodka and cranberry, with a wedge of lime. I like to think of it as an adult fruit juice; two of my five a day ... no?

Every year, we all try to make and to stick to some sort of resolution. It’s usually to be more active, drink more water, eat more healthily, avoid chocolate, and so on, but I believe in ‘everything in moderation’. If you want some pizza —have some pizza! We only live once and as long as you aren’t going to extremes, then enjoy yourself, eat that slice — or two —and enjoy every bite.

We had a great time last New Year’s. We brought it in with good friends, good food and, of course, a New Year’s kiss at midnight. We had a relaxed evening with Claire and Colin Shields [Craig’s fellow Belfast Giant player] in their home.

We had Back to the Future playing in the background and enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal and a bottle of wine between friends. Comfortable, relaxed and a lot of fun.

It has been a fantastic year in both my professional life and personal life. I was proud as punch watching Craig walk through the audience and accept his Top Goal Scorer award on stage. Craig is very hard-working and dedicated to his team, and it’s lovely to see that hard work acknowledged and awarded in such a way.

I was delighted to be nominated for ACA’s Model Of The Year award for the second year in a row and to win it has been the cherry on top for a great year. I am extremely thankful.

Number one on top of the 2016 to-do list has to be a holiday. Craig and I were able to plan a few city breaks last year, including a trip to London. He surprised me with tickets to see The Lion King musical, which was phenomenal and something I’ve always wanted to experience.

This year we have our sights set on a relaxing beach holiday. We both have Mexico in mind: two weeks of sun, sea and sand. I’m sold!

Meagan’s 2015 favourites

Song: I’m a Taylor Swift fan ... and Craig is, too. Bad Blood was a favourite on my gym playlist and by the end of our gym sessions, Craig would know it lyric for lyric, too.

Film: The Wedding Ringer is the best comedy of 2015.

TV series: Luther is my favourite. Who doesn’t love a bit of Idris Elba? I also love MasterChef.

Book: Some Party In Heaven, by Noel Davidson. It’s a book about family and friends, and really puts things in perspective.

Meal:  Zen is my favourite restaurant. The food, service, cocktails and surroundings are next to none.

UTV weatherman Frank Mitchell (53) has seen ratings for his daily UI05 radio show soar in 2015. Originally from Newry, the former teacher also saw his only daughter, Laura (24), win a major academic award this summer. Frank lives in Belfast with his wife, Helena. He says:

A guy who prides himself on statistics contacted me out of the blue and told me, this December, I’ve finally passed the 42,000 mark on radio broadcasts and completed 32,000 live interviews. I’m not sure if that’s a record, but that’s a lot of information to broadcast in one career.

Competing with Gerry Anderson was one of the great challenges on radio — he was such a legend, it was impossible, and it was a while before people realised there was an alternative phone-in show.

This year we’re up to 116,000 listeners, from 16,000 eight years ago, so 2015 has been really good for me.

The highlight of the year was my daughter Laura (24) winning the medal for Architecture Graduate of the Year. It was open to students at Queen’s, where she studied, and the University of Ulster, and to see her get that on the night was so rewarding. We’re so proud. She’s working in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne now, but is back for Christmas.

My mother-in-law, Betty-Ann McNicholl, has a tradition of holding court on Boxing Day. She’s a wonderful lady for organising on a grand scale and has family coming from all over the world — Canada, the Middle East, Florida, China, Belgium. It’s in our house this year and there’ll be no room to move.

It was a great joy for her this year to discover she’s related to Mark Gatiss, the Dr Who writer, through the Who Do You Think You Are programme. His great-great-great grandfather was born in an old farmhouse she owns in Ashlamaduff, in the wilds of the Sperrins in Co. Derry, that belonged to her great-great-grandfather.

Gatiss spent a couple of days here and my wife’s family got for their whole family tree done for them, through the show.

So Boxing Day is a big one for us. New Year’s Eve, not so much. When I was younger, it was one of the mad party nights and I’d often be the compere or entertainer, but it’s very different now. I sit in front of the TV and listen to the chimes of Big Ben at midnight, struggling to stay awake from sheer exhaustion.

On New Year’s Day, I love to get out for a hill walk, one of my favourite pastimes. I’d highly recommend Divis and Black Mountain; they’re not used enough.

The National Trust has done a great job with walkways and signposts and a coffee house, but, of course, a good walk all depends on the weather. No doubt January will bring big challenges. Plenty of them!

Frank’s 2015 Favourites

Song: Love Yourself — embarrassing to say, as Justin Bieber sings it, but it was written by Ed Sheeran. It’s cheeky but it has a good message.

Film: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, with John Wayne. I never get to the cinema but I love this film and watch it every single time it’s on.

TV series: Homeland. It’s fantastic. The actor Mandy Patinkin (Saul) has me absolutely believing he’s in the CIA, he’s that good.

Book: How The Peace Was Won by Barney (Brian) Rowan. I like biographies and non-fiction and this is great book by a very good commentator.

Meal: It has to be Boxing Day dinner, chaotic although it is.

Belfast Telegraph

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