How Belfast stylists made sure Europe's ladies were always going to be winners as Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke took on Ryder Cup
Darren’s heroes may not have held on to the Ryder Cup but its lady captain Alison Clarke guaranteed the wives and girlfriends scored an extra special memento to bring home from the occasion — photographs from a glamorous photoshoot courtesy of NI beauty artist Paddy McGurgan and photographer Khara Pringle. Stephanie Bell gets the lowdown on the behind-scenes action.
Watching Rory McIlroy win the FedEx Cup in America while sitting in London's Hilton Hotel in the company of the European Ryder Cup team and their partners was something of a surreal experience for two Belfast stylists recently.
And things were to become even more fantastic for make-up artist Paddy McGurgan and top fashion photographer Khara Pringle as they found themselves part of the elite group flying first class on board the team's chartered jet to the US.
Having worked with supermodels and many well-known personalities neither Paddy nor Khara is easily fazed by celebrity, but being invited into the inner circle of the world's greatest golfers was an experience they will never forget.
In a whirlwind two-day trip to Minnesota in the run-up to the tournament, the local style team were treated like part of the Ryder Cup family and given exclusive access to the players and their partners.
European lady captain and ACA model agency boss Alison Clarke, who organises fashion shoots for a living, did what she does best when tasked with laying on entertainment for her fellow WAGS.
Friends with most of the wives and girlfriends, Alison knew they would enjoy having their make-up professionally done for a special photoshoot to keep as a memento of the occasion.
"Rather than take them on a day trip somewhere, I know some of them well enough to know they would enjoy a photo shoot," she reveals.
"It is what I do in my business and there were two people who I knew would make them feel at ease and also have some fun - Paddy and Khara.
"So rather than use an American make-up artist and photographer I decided to bring Paddy and Khara with us.
"I told the girls what to bring with them and they were all dressed in white for the pictures and after the portraits and group pictures were done, Paddy and Khara worked on getting pictures of the players and their partners as a keepsake.
"The girls loved it and they can't wait to come to Belfast and have a reunion with Paddy and Khara. We've talked about them coming over so hopefully they will do so sometime."
An excited Paddy and Khara flew to London and joined the team in the Hilton Hotel on the eve of their departure to Minnesota.
It was the same night that Rory McIlroy enjoyed a stunning victory on the last day of the PGA Tour season to pick up the FedEx Cup and pocket £9.2m.
Paddy recalls: "We all met the night before in the Hilton in London and sat together watching Rory playing live with all the other players and their wives and girlfriends. It was an absolutely amazing atmosphere when Rory won."
The next day the Belfast pair boarded a Virgin Atlantic jet which had been specially chartered for the European team and enjoyed a VIP trip to the US.
The sense of the commitment and camaraderie among the European team captained by our own Darren Clarke left a lasting impression on Khara.
"I found the whole experience amazing - I loved the sense of family and teamwork. There was a magical atmosphere with Darren as the leader," she says. "On the way over on the plane he made a speech which was very uplifting and even made me feel I was part of the team. There was very much a family feeling which was lovely.
"Darren really came across as the protector and guardian of everything and he really inspired and lifted the players. And even though they didn't win he made you feel like they were going to win before the tournament even started and that was a great feeling.
"I actually hate golf, but I couldn't not watch the Ryder Cup when I got home again."
Khara and Paddy worked flat out for two days styling the wives and girlfriends and taking gorgeous images - some of which we reveal exclusively here.
Both of them were impressed by how relaxed the atmosphere was despite the pressure on the players in the build up to one of golf's biggest competitions.
Khara says: "The hotel had a special room for the team which was all done up with golf pictures to inspire them and that's where they relaxed together and spent time.
"They had the mentalist Dynamo there to entertain the team and their partners and everyone just relaxed and had fun even though you knew there was a sense of expectation because of the tournament.
"I was surprised to find that there were no fans gathered outside the hotel. You could see hundreds of huge Mercedes vehicles lined up in the car park waiting to drive the players to the course which was 40 minutes away.
"I was extremely nervous but I found all of the WAGs really lovely women, they were genuinely very nice and Rory's fiancée Erica was really sweet and very beautiful. All of the couples seemed so in love.
"It was a great idea of Alison's to organise it all - she is so good at that kind of thing."
Make-up artist Paddy, who writes a beauty column every week in the Belfast Telegraph's award-winning Weekend magazine, is no stranger to glamorous photoshoots and has worked with some of the world's top supermodels, yet even he was blown away by his Ryder Cup experience.
"Alison knew the exact look she wanted for the portraits and group shots and it was a soft elegant look with the girls all wearing white with a beautiful peachiness to their skin - fresh but stylish," he says.
"They were all lovely girls and easy to work with. I just loved Lee Westwood's girlfriend Helen. I hit it off with her immediately. She loves her make-up and getting glammed up and she really got our sense of humour.
"Danny Willett's wife Nicole was absolutely lovely as well.
"And the vice captain's (Sam Torrance)wife Suzanne was just bonkers, she was so much fun and constantly getting everyone else to have fun. She was also very kind, always checking that everyone had everything they need.
"And, of course, Rory's fiancée Erica was really nice and a very beautiful girl."
After a fun day being groomed and styled and photographed, the girls were joined by the players in the special room set aside for them by the hotel, allowing Khara and Paddy to glimpse the couples at their most relaxed away from the media spotlight.
Paddy says: "It was amazing how calm and collected they all were behind the scenes. I've done fashion shows where there has been more chaos before the event, but on this occasion everyone was really relaxed with each other.
"While you could feel the anticipation of the event kicking off they were just themselves, chatting away and chilling out and there were no airs and graces with the guys at all.
"They just ate together and watched TV and the golf highlights in the team room and it was just brilliant to be with them.
"Out of them all, you could tell Darren was really focused more than anyone and it was obvious he had the responsibility of putting the team together and that he was there to do a job."
Due to work commitments in Belfast, Khara and Paddy both had to fly home before the tournament started, but both feel grateful to have been given the chance to be part of something so special.
Paddy adds: "Alison really put a stylish stamp on it and the clothes she chose for the girls to wear at the opening ceremony were so beautiful that lots of them said they would wear them again.
"It was an amazing experience."