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She's fought anorexia most of her life but now Jilly's ready to forget her troubles and take on world in Clipper yacht race

By Eamonn MacDermott

Published 14/04/2015

Jilly St John
Jilly St John
The Clipper leaving New York during last year’s race
Jilly with David Pollock, Conor Shortland and Keelin O’Kane

A model and rock singer who battled anorexia is one of four people from Northern Ireland celebrating after winning a place in the world famous Clipper race.

Jilly St John was bitten by the sailing bug when the Clipper Round the World Race had its stopover in Londonderry last year.

She said: "When I went to see the Clippers last year I thought 'I would love to do that'.

"I put in for this competition but never really thought I would have a chance, but then I got word I had won. It is the adventure of a lifetime and really amazing.

"I am excited and nervous and really looking forward to whatever leg of the race I end up on."

Referring to her ongoing anorexia battle, the singer said: "I was never particularly overweight. I was actually conscious I didn't look womanly. I was just focused on having a healthy body.

"And I never saw myself as beautiful. I've never accepted others' view of me.

"On the street I'd look at other girls and wish I was six feet tall, or had her body, or her face, or her hair. I always compared myself unfavourably to others.

"I know young girls look at me and think, 'She's so skinny, she's blessed', but that's not the way I think at all. From a young age, I didn't feel great as a person and that low self-esteem, rather than body image awareness, was much more of a factor in my illness.

"I used not eating as a coping mechanism - I couldn't control anything else in my life, but I could control what I ate."

At her lowest point, in her early 20s, she weighed less than five stone but has now fought her way back to almost eight stone.

In spite of her fragile appearance, Jilly has a powerful singing voice and her confident stage presence has earned rave reviews.

The 32-year-old is now looking forward to her new adventure and can't wait to start training.

Another of the four successful entrants, who are all from host city Derry, is Conor Shortland.

He said that it was almost a "surreal experience" when he was told he had been successful.

Conor said: "I can't wait to get going and am really looking forward to this as it should be a fantastic experience.

"I had reached the interview stage and then was simply told to come to the Guildhall today, but they wouldn't tell us why, so it is great."

The winners have no idea at which stage they will join the race, but all will take part in one leg of the world famous event.

Conor and Jilly will now join the other two winners, Keelin O'Kane (19) and David Pollock (31) to head to Southampton for a two-week training course.

After that will be a week at home, then another two weeks' training.

Derry City and Strabane Mayor Elisha McCallion congratulated the winners. She said: "I wish them the very best of luck as they embark on their new experience and we look forward to hearing how they get on in their new seafaring roles."

Legendary yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston said: "When I founded the Clipper Race, my aim was to make sailing accessible to everyone and help people achieve something extraordinary, so I'm pleased to welcome Jilly, Conor, Keelin and David on board.

"This is a fantastic opportunity to be part of the crew of one of the world's most challenging adventures, and represent Derry-Londonderry around the world."

The Clipper race starts on August 30 and returns to Derry in June next year, marking the city's third team entry in the event, with the Derry-Londonderry-Doire team still to be announced.

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