Co Antrim teen cadet to play special role in the Queen's 90th birthday ceremony
A Co Antrim teenager will help make history this week as she plays a very special role in the Queen's 90th birthday ceremony.
The Queen's birthday will be marked on April 21 with the lighting of a nationwide chain of beacons.
And when Her Majesty lights the first beacon at Windsor Great Park on Thursday, 17-year-old cadet Emma-Lee Wray from Carnlough will be by her side.
The lower 6th student will be representing Northern Ireland's cadets alongside those selected from England, Scotland and Wales.
At 7pm on Thursday the Queen accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, will light the principal beacon which will signal the lighting of 1,000 others across the world.
Emma-Lee said: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and I am absolutely thrilled to be taking part.
"The excitement is really starting to build up now and my uniform has never been more carefully cleaned and pressed.
"I’m not quite sure what to expect, but I know it will be a wonderful day and I will be very proud to represent Ballymena at the Queen’s 90th birthday party."
Proud mum Debbie (43) said words couldn't describe the pride she has in her daughter.
"She always sets her standards high, she doesn't just aim for the stars she hits the sky in everything she does," said Debbie.
"She deserves it very much so. And she is very humble with it - it's not her telling anybody, it's me.
"She stands back and accepts the credit but doesn't go shouting about it, whereas I would stand at the top of Slemish saying look what she's done."
When Emma-Lee found out she had been chosen she immediately phoned her mum in disbelief.
She was picked on the back of her cadet achievements where she has risen to the rank of company sergeant major. She also has completed the Bronze and Silver Duke of Edinburgh Awards - alongside excelling academically at school with 8A* grades and an A in her GCSEs.
"She was like, 'wow, how would a normal working family child be selected to do such a thing? A teenager chosen for such a prestigious event'," said her mum.
But Debbie said her daughter had earned it.
"They thought her personality, attitude and willingness was just right for the job."
She added: "She is very good with disciipline. She has done it herself, when she sets her mind to it she excels."
Looking ahead to Thursday mum Debbie feels it could be an emotional day as she travels with her husband to the ceremony while Emma-Lee's two younger brothers watch at home.
"I would be a big Royal family follower, I just love them, this is one of my dreams come true," added Debbie.
"I woke up the next morning thinking, was I dreaming what she told me?
"I think I'm more excited than her."
She added: "We don't get to see her often in the dress uniform. So it's very emotional."
Members of the Army Cadet Forces will be lighting beacons at the top of the four highest peaks in the UK - including Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland.