Belfast Telegraph

From pop to politics, the women who impressed me most during 2014

It's nearly Christmas, which must mean it's time for my traditional annual Women of the Year column. Voila!

1: Monica Grady CBE - a revered Professor of Planetary and Space Science at the Open University. Basically, when it comes to meteorites, she's your woman.

But the reason she's top of my 2014 list is her impromptu response to the Rosetta comet landing last month. Astronomy is often characterised as a world of serious frowny men, occasionally sexed up by the odd Brian Cox. But the most memorable footage of the historic Rosetta landing was a giddy Grady jumping up and down like a schoolgirl at a One Direction gig, grabbing nearby BBC reporters and bear-hugging them, squealing "I'm so excited!" before bursting into tears. For me, it was the moment space science became emotional, huge of heart, absolutely thrilling and totally girlie. I can't quite see Michael Gove wagging his finger at schoolgirls having the same impact.

2: Nicola Sturgeon - she has long been the hardest working woman in showbiz, doing all the heavy lifting while Scotland's starry First Minister Alex Salmond did all the glory-get A-list parties. But this November, with Salmond's resignation, she finally got the big gig and is now the sole female government leader in the UK. Her 50% female cabinet is now, at last, giving due attention to issues like domestic violence and revenge porn, which many men still simply don't understand the seriousness of.

She's only wee, but Nicola has bite and backbone and she will not be cowed by any man. She also knows her stuff, in more detail than the vast majority of MPs. Anyone taking her on does so at their own risk.

3: Malala Yousafzai - the world was left in no doubt of the unspeakable depths the Taliban will go to this week, which makes the Nobel Peace Prize presented nine days ago to 17-year-old Malala, perhaps their most famous victim, all the more pertinent. Indeed, there are augmenting claims that the Peshawar school massacre was carried out in revenge for the award.

This is a girl who not only stood up to a culture of repression and misogyny, but alerted the world to its horror and made it feel angry on her behalf. Her book, I Am Malala, makes you want to stand and salute.

4: Helen Macdonald, Eimear McBride - the book world was awash with great women this year, so choosing favourites is especially hard. But in the end, I couldn't see past this award-winning duo of bold, brilliant game-changers. Macdonald's memoir H is for Hawk is a knockout, a study of grief, passion, literary curiosity and personalised landscape. Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-formed Thing shows how language shapes thoughts and feelings, and exploits its own to draw you into a world of familial tenderness and outside-world jeopardy. Both are a joy.

5: Taylor Swift - this is the year 25-year-old Taylor Swift became the biggest pop star on the planet. She's a phenomenon. Her album, 1989, sold more than a million copies in the first week alone. Her tour sold out before it was conceived. It's great that she's also smart and genuine, involved in charities working for arts education, children's literacy, and LGBT anti-discrimination. But it's even better that world domination has come to a girl who was routinely attacked for "exploiting her relationships" by writing about them (don't remember Bob Dylan getting the same flak) and who just made a video expressing sympathy, with a dab of humour, for the humiliated dumped girlfriend who takes crazy revenge on her callous ex.

Like she might say: Neat.

I'll really miss this compelling drama

So, who else felt angry and cheated at the end of The Missing? I was nursing stomach pains towards the end, praying there was a mistake. That childish drawing of Oliver's daddy; it had become a beacon of hope, of innocence, of continuation. Surely we weren't supposed to accept that moments after it was drawn, the boy had been killed?

And worse, that having made the search for his son the sole focus of his life, all that was left for his father (James Nesbitt) was to go slowly mad with isolated grief.

How dare they make us care so much? How dare they make such compelling, consuming, brilliantly performed drama?

How could Rory lose out to Lewis?

So, who else felt angry and cheated at the end of Sports Personality of the Year? How could a man who has mastered what's probably, psychologically, the most taxing sport of them all (those endless, self-torturing solitary walks!); who has, at just 25, won FOUR majors, and is the current undisputed champion of the golf world, lose to a guy dependent on a sensational car?

Lewis Hamilton would lose every time without his technological dream-machine. Rory McIlroy can put a ball in a distant hole with a stick. If it hadn't been for St Chris Hoy being lovely, I'd have said Bah! to the whole damn show.

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