New Miss NI Anna Henry talks beauty and brains as she prepares to sit final university exams
Studying for a degree in the male-dominated world of engineering, newly-crowned beauty queen Anna Henry says the year ahead won’t leave her star-struck.
In photographic circles, she is in demand for her versatile looks, which range from fresh-faced ingenue to sultry sophisticate. And, at 5ft 8ins tall Anna Henry (22) is as busy on the catwalk as she is in the studio and on the promotional circuit.
Add intelligence and charm into the mix, and you have all the ingredients for an archetypal Miss Northern Ireland, and the year of functions and photo opportunities the Ulster University student is required to smile through.
The very idea would have been anathema to most of the grungy female undergraduates back in my day, but modern universities have become ripe breeding grounds for beauty queens, locally and internationally - even in the unglamorous engineering departments.
From Portglenone, Anna is studying Renewable Energy Engineering, and sits an exam for her finals this very day. Her course includes renewable heating burners but she won't be drawn on what she thinks of the Renewable Heating Incentive controversy, and deflects the topic as expertly as a media-coached politician.
"A lot of people have different opinions on that," she says. "We only covered it briefly. I'm more into mechanical engineering - it's a very male-dominated area; there aren't too many girls on the course.
"We all get on very well. They're always asking me how I'm getting on. They know this won't go to my head and that I'm down-to-earth. I haven't had any adverse comments."
Monday night's win at the final in the Europa Hotel in Belfast was second time lucky for Anna, the youngest of her siblings, Ashlee (29), Niall (28) and Desmond (27). Her parents, Raymond and Angela, run their own construction company, and in the time-honoured tradition she was out shopping with her mother when she was discovered and approached to take part in the Miss Northern Ireland 2013 heat in Ballymena.
"I noticed these two ladies in the queue at H&M looking at me and then they came up and asked me if I'd be interested in entering Miss Northern Ireland," she recalls, a strong north Antrim lilt in her voice.
"They were from Walsh's Hotel in Maghera, which was hosting the local heat. I ran over to mummy and asked her what she thought, and she said 'yes, we'll go for a night out'.
"That was four years ago. I've come a long way since then. Those ladies - Joanne and Una - both texted me last night to congratulate me on winning."
Since she was awarded first runner-up in 2013, Anna has been modelling for the Alison Campbell Models agency, which runs the Miss Northern Ireland franchise, fitting photo-shoots, fashion shows and promotional work around her studies at St Patrick's College, Maghera, as well as helping out in the family business.
Impressively, she's also a medal-winning Irish dancer and an accomplished violinist and pianist, having learned both instruments from the age of seven and achieving grade three level in both.
"I can't say that I've overly musical parents or grandparents, but growing up, my mum encouraged us to take on as much as possible, and luckily I had a musical charm," she laughs.
"I played mostly for the school music group. As much as I would love to say I do, I no longer compete or practice, but don't get me wrong, if there was an instrument within reach, I'll be the first to pick it up and give it a go!
"I'm not too fussy when it comes to music. I like anything with a beat that I can dance along to, or a little love song that I can sing my heart out to. However, I do loathe heavy rock".
She tells me she is known in modelling circles for her eyes. They are indeed a beautiful shade of azure blue, framed with naturally dark eyelashes and brows. She also has flawless skin, perfect teeth and God-given full lips. No need for fillers and painted-on eyebrows on this pretty face.
"I'm told I get my looks from my mother's side - I can't say if I look like any one of my parents," she giggles. "I do look after my skin - no going to bed with make-up on - but I like to look as natural as possible.
"I'm not into that whole Kardashian look. I don't follow celebrities at all but, in terms of icons, I like Marilyn Monroe. She was a natural. She didn't have a strictly model look and she did have a bit of cellulite, but nobody's perfect and a good tan can work wonders.
"I rely on (Belfast Telegraph Weekend magazine beauty columnist) Paddy McGurgan for my make-up and Bronze beauty salons for everything else. I like nice bouncy curls. I had extensions in for the stage on Monday night.
"Apart from that, I eat healthily and I have a one-on-one trainer, which helps me keep in shape." Surprisingly for someone who has just been crowned Miss Northern Ireland she loves tucking into pizza or a Chinese meal or chips, and adds: "However, there is nothing I love more than a big home-made dinner, filled with vegetables and potatoes. I'm trying really hard to think of a food I don't like. I don't think there is one!"
Anna beat 23 other finalists in the Miss Northern Ireland gala final hosted by Q Radio breakfast presenter Stephen Clements and former Miss Northern Ireland and television presenter Zoe Salmon Corrie.
"There were a lot of very tall girls in the competition, some quite threateningly tall," she remarks. "They really stood out in the catwalk with their long legs. Very elegant. I'm five foot eight but the taller, the better."
Contest organiser Alison Clarke, who won Miss Northern Ireland 35 years ago, was visibly delighted with her wide-eyed protege's win, giving her a lingering hug before placing the crown on her head.
The rest of May and June will be a whirlwind for the freshly minted beauty queen, between her final degree exams and her Miss Northern Ireland duties, including obligations to her chosen charity.
"The Northern Ireland Hospice is very close to my heart," she says.
"They don't only offer their services to anyone out there that is ill, but they also offer a tremendous support service for the families and friends that have been affected."
She's looking forward to flying to Marbella in July with her boyfriend, Darragh Kavanagh, a primary education student, and some relatives.
Then it's on to Miss World in China towards the end of the year. "I've a nice Fiat 500 now for all the commuting ahead, which will come in handy as I'm still living at home with my parents and the dog," she concludes. "He's just a puppy but he's massive! He still has a bit of growing to do - I don't know what we're going to do with him.
Anna's likes and loathes
Like: I always like to keep plain, elegant and classy, unless I have a big event, where I prefer something totally out of the ordinary.
Loathe: Ripped jeans, clumpy shoes, platform sandals.
I genuinely don't watch any TV. With final year university commitments and Miss NI preparations, there isn't much time to spare.
Like: I love bubbly, caring, positive and supportive people. Someone who is there for you in the good times and the bad.
Loathe: Selfishness, ignorance and rudeness.