When I'm old and grey I'll stalk City Hall just to admire my portrait, says former Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon
In years to come when she is old and grey, former Lord Mayor of Belfast Nichola Mallon will be stalking the corridors of the City Hall to admire the pictorial legacy of one of the most pivotal times of her life, the politician joked last night.
Nichola made the quip after admiring her image in oil on canvas - the first time she had seen the finished article by award-winning Northern Ireland artist Ian Cumberland.
The SDLP councillor, who only returned to full-time work last week after maternity leave, praised the calibre of the painting.
It is the latest in a series of traditional portraits of former first citizens of the city.
She said the life-size work encapsulated the joy of her time in office, which ended last April.
She said it will forever take her back to a milestone - as she approached motherhood for the first time.
Along with family and friends, Nichola was joined by the artist, as well as current Lord Mayor Arder Carson, for the unveiling.
And following a brief and nailbiting countdown, no one had to feign admiration after the grand reveal.
Admirers praised Ian for capturing Nichola - in mayoral chain and crimson cowl-necked dress, her grandmother's cross around her neck - in a stunning likeness of the blue-eyed brunette, complete with her trademark megawatt smile.
Admitting it was a "surreal moment", the new mum of four-month-old Elana, said she was genuinely impressed by the result.
It was commissioned with 32-year-old Ian, who is originally from Banbridge, Co Down, after Nichola said she had wanted a local, up-and-coming artist to paint the portrait.
She said his "genuine integrity" and "humble" demeanour had won her over and secured him the high-profile commission.
Winner of the prestigious Davy Portrait Award and several others, further work by Ian will soon be on show in the BP Portrait Exhibition at the Ulster Museum, which, usually hosted in London, comes to Belfast for the first time in about 20 years.
"I knew that he was the person to capture this very special moment in my life," Nichola said last night, adding that in future the portrait will serve to stir fond memories of her time in office when "every single day was unique and enriching".
"Every time I look at this portrait, I will think this is a portrait of me and my daughter," she added.
"When I'm old and grey, I'll be stalking this painting in the halls of City Hall."