Princess Anne pays surprise visit to Dame Mary Peters' fund-raiser at Belfast City Hall
Princess Anne paid a surprise pre-Christmas Saturday night visit to Belfast to boost a sporting fund-raiser, organised by her long-time friend and fellow Olympian Dame Mary Peters.
The Princess Royal flew in specially to attend a gala occasion, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Mary Peters Trust, at Belfast City Hall.
While hundreds of Christmas revellers thronged the Christmas Market, few noticed the Royal visitor enter the City Hall, just yards from the Saturday night party atmosphere, amid tight but barely noticeable security.
Inside, over 400 black tie guests, including many local athletes funded by the Trust, heard the Princess announce and endorse 'Mary's Race To A Million', a legacy campaign aimed at raising a million pounds to enable the Trust to continue supporting home grown sporting talent over the next 40 years and beyond.
It may seem an ambitious project in the current, stringent financial climate, but the Trust, of which the Princess is a Patron, has already raised and donated several millions to over 5,000 young athletes over the four decades since it was founded to build upon Dame Mary's 1972 pentathlon Olympic gold at Munich. Golf major winners Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke and football legend David Healy are among those who were aided in their early years.
The Princess Royal, accompanied by her husband, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, initially attended a private reception and met with Trust aided athletes including Britain's first Winter Paralympic gold medal skier Kelly Gallagher, from Bangor, middle distance runner Michael McKillop, a multiple Paralympic gold medallist, British motorcycle champion Josh Elliott, hockey international Eugene Magee and blind water ski champion Janet Gray.
HRH, a member of the British equestrian team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, then told the banqueting hall audience of her long association with Dame Mary through sport, stretching back over four decades and including handing over her 1971 BBC Sports Personality Trophy to 1972 winner Mary who famously remarked: "Hasn't she kept it clean."
"Mary now wishes to secure the future of her charity, the Mary Peters Trust," the Princess said.
"To ensure this wonderful charity continues for the next 40 years and beyond, the Trust is launching a campaign to raise at least an additional £1million which will secure Mary’s dream of helping young sports men and women continue on their pathway to sporting success
"Sport unifies and gives everyone the opportunity to savour and celebrate in the success of the sporting talent coming from this small country.
"The Trust needs your help to make this happen... individuals, schools, sport governing bodies, local companies and sporting stars. You all have a part to play.
"Please, make this race another one that Mary wins!"
Dame Mary responded: "I'm delighted to celebrate 40 wonderful years of the Mary Peters Trust. My charity has grown over the years and has supported thousands of talented young people, both able bodied and disabled, and from across all of Northern Ireland on their pathway to sporting success.
I believe that we have the raw talent to excel in sport for at least another 40 years and that's why I'm privileged that our Patron, Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal, has come to Belfast and announced my project - "Mary's Race to a Million" - Funding Northern Ireland's Future Champions.
"I need your help... please, please support this charity which is so dear to my heart, the Mary Peters Trust."
Trust chair Eilish Rutherford added: “Over the last four decades the Mary Peters Trust has supported thousands of talented young sportsmen and women, both able bodied and disabled, from across Northern Ireland to help realise their sporting dreams. We do this by selecting the best athletes, financially supporting them and providing access to a team of experts who help and support their pathway to success.”
“Having reached this significant milestone we felt the time was right to make tangible financial plans to secure the future of the charity for many years to come. With the help of our many supporters, schools, sports governing bodies, corporate Northern Ireland and sporting stars, the ‘Mary’s Race To A Million’ campaign aims to raise an additional one million pounds to enable the charity to continue helping our many talented young athletes towards sporting success. We are incredibly honoured that our Patron, Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, came to Belfast to launch the campaign and are very proud that she was able to meet many of the athletes the Trust has supported.”
The evening was sponsored by specialist sports indurers Bluefin Sport and hosted by the High Sheriff of Belfast, Alderman Gareth McKee, himself a former recipient of a Mary Peters Trust grant as a young cricketer.
Entertainment was provided by singer Peter Corry and the cast of his Music Box production.
Among those also presented to Princess Anne were Barry Funston, Chief Executive of the Rory McIlroy Foundation and a Trust director, along with media representatives, broadcasters Ruth Gorman (UTV), Claire McCollum (BBC), Stephen Watson (BBC), cameraman Gary McCutcheon (BBC) and Belfast Telegraph Group Sports Editor Jim Gracey, also a Trust director.