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The wedding belle of Ballygowan

A former local beauty queen tells Stephanie Bell how her wedding brought a Co Down village to a standstill as cameramen jostled to take her picture, which made the front page of the Belfast Telegraph

Published 08/09/2015

Beauty queen Jayne winning the Miss Bangor title
Beauty queen Jayne winning the Miss Bangor title
Wonderful memories: crowds turn out in the village of Ballygowan to see Jayne and John Douglas on their wedding day
Jayne strikes her former model poses
Jayne and John Douglas on their wedding day
Jayne as Miss Portrush
Beautiful times: Jayne Douglas with her winning sashes

It was 50 years ago this month that Miss Northern Ireland 1965 Jayne Gourley made the front page of the Belfast Telegraph when she tied the knot with her childhood sweetheart John Douglas.

Jayne’s home village of Ballygowan was brought to a virtual standstill as national press and TV crews descended on it along with hundreds of well wishers who crowded the streets to catch a glimpse of the beautiful bride.

Now a glamorous grandmother, the 71-year-old is looking forward to celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary on September 15, and for Jayne the exciting whirlwind which surrounded her big day in 1965 now feels like a lifetime ago.

It was her daughter Victoria who recently unearthed a pile of newspaper clippings recording the wedding of the much-feted beauty queen, who at 21, held 18 local beauty titles and represented Northern Ireland in the Miss Great Britain and Miss UK finals in England.

A part-time model in her teens and 20s, Jayne was a true siren of the Sixties but soon settled into married life and put her glamour days behind her.

Treated like a celebrity bride, she was bemused this week as she recalled that very special day, which she says took her by complete surprise.

“I actually had forgotten all about it. My daughter must have been hunting through old stuff and came across the clippings. When I looked at them all I just thought ‘did that really happen?’” she says.

“At the time I really wasn’t expecting it. I remember the night before the wedding the minister calling at the house and suggesting that part of the grounds around the church be roped off and I just thought ‘have a titter of wit’.

“I hadn’t far to go to the church, but the crowds were so thick on the road that the car only got so far. My dad and I had to get out and walk part of the way because we couldn’t get through. There was building work going on beside the church, but the work stopped and the builders had climbed up on the site to watch.

“I was really stunned, but it was exciting. The TV crew asked me if they could come to the reception because there were so many people at the church they were concerned they hadn’t been able to get the shots they wanted. Our wedding was shown on the evening news.

“That night when we went to the airport to get flights for our honeymoon the late edition of the Belfast Telegraph was sitting on the news-stands with our picture on the front page — I couldn’t believe it.”

By Sixties standards it was certainly a big wedding with four bridesmaids and two page boys, and the couple celebrated with a reception in Malone House before heading off to Italy on their honeymoon.

Jayne, who worked as a secretary to a consultant at the Royal Victoria Hospital, is now retired as is her husband John (76), who worked in insurance and then retired early to run a small farm.

John is five years older than Jayne and the couple first met as children at Sunday school, and started to date when Joyce was 15. He was her first and only true love.

They have three children Richard (48) a music teacher, Mark (46) an accountant and Victoria (32) a chartered accountant and six grand children, the eldest, Andrew Douglas (20), won the Northern Ireland Young Musician of the Year in 2012.

While life is quiet for Jayne today she recalls the heady days of her youth when she toured the vibrant local beauty scene, competing for titles, usually with John by her side.

Beauty contests were big in the Sixties and Jayne held a phenomenal 18 titles by the time she married in her early 20s.

She was also a part-time fashion model working for shops in local towns and also for brands exhibiting at private shows for retailers in Belfast.

"There are probably more opportunities now for modelling than there were in the Sixties," she says. "I was part of a group of girls who did it part time and went round the beauty contests because it gave us a bit of pocket money. I know it sounds a lot to have 18 titles, and I have loads of sashes, but most of them were just small local contests.

"There were loads of competitions back then. There was Miss TV Post, Miss UTV which I won, The Belfast Dairy Princess, which I also won, and Miss Portrush and Miss Bangor. It was just so big then and very innocent - but a bit of fun at the time."

The glittering Miss Northern Ireland final in the Sixties was held in the old Plaza Hotel and Joyce says it wasn't hugely different from today's format as the girls had their swimwear and evening wear categories.

The prize was a bit different though, with nowhere near the bumper package showered on the winner as there is today.

"I remember the Plaza had a revolving stage and we were all standing on it at the start of the show," she says. "It was a big night and I remember Reg Presley, who was a singer with the Sixties rock band The Troggs, was the adjudicator.

"I think I got £100 and some swimwear for the Miss UK and Miss Great Britain contests and an evening gown.

"When I went over to England for the national contests, I met Eric Morley and his wife, Julia. They were the big chiefs in England. I also went to Bristol to represent UTV in the Miss ITV contest.

"In England, the beauty scene was much bigger and much more professional than here. It was quite an experience stepping out from Northern Ireland into that much bigger pool, but, at the same time, it was exciting.

"Nobody else in my family has even been interested in doing anything like that, it was only me."

Despite getting a taste of celebrity, Jayne had no desire to maintain a lifestyle in the public eye and has enjoyed devoting the past 50 years to her family.

She feels gratitude that she and John will soon be marking such a major milestone when they celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, adding there is no big secret to a happy marriage. "I think you have to work at it and be sure about things. Everybody has their ups and downs and I feel I've been quite blessed. I think there is also a certain element of luck in it, too."

The couple are planning to mark their anniversary with a trip away, which John is organising as a surprise.

"We try to get away to the sun once a year. We don't have an extravagant lifestyle - we are pensioners trying to keep our heads above water," Jayne says.

"I'm not sure what is planned for our 50th, but it has slipped out that we're maybe going away, although it is a surprise."

Belfast Telegraph

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