Jay Beatty: Overall Spirit of Northern Ireland winner is people's champion
Winning the overall award at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers 2015 was the high point in what has been an unbelievable year for Lurgan schoolboy Jay Beattie, his dad has said.
In the past 12 months the 11-year-old has been the toast of Barcelona, been treated like a celebrity in Greece and a hero in Scotland, but it was the recognition in his home country of Northern Ireland which his family say has meant the most to them.
Celtic-mad Jay has become a hero for people with Down’s Syndrome, helping change perceptions and winning the hearts of some of the world’s biggest football stars and their fans along the way.
In the past year Jay has been flown to Greece for the Sports Personality of the Year Awards where he was presented with their Friendship Award, flown to Barcelona for the Sports Personality of the Year Awards where he won the Humanitarian Award and attended the Hero of Scotland awards where he beat new world darts champion Gary Hamilton to be crowned overall Sports Hero.
In February the child also became the only non-professional footballer to win the Scottish Goal of the Month award.
His proud dad Martin has been overwhelmed by the impact his young son has had across the world but says he was never prouder than when Jay took to the stage at our star-studded event in the Culloden Hotel in Holywood last weekend to pick up his Spirit of Northern Ireland award from celebrity judge Louis Walsh. He was also given a £1,000 prize by recruitment and domiciliary agency Peninsula Care Services’ managing director Jonny Cook.
Said Martin: “Out of everything Jay has won, to have this recognition in his own country has topped off what has been an unbelievable 13 months in our lives. We never expected it and it was such a pleasant surprise. Especially when we read the other stories of people who are all very inspirational, it was just fantastic for Jay to win.
“Of course he doesn’t really understand why people have taken to him the way they have, but when his name was called out in the Culloden he was absolutely delighted.
“To have Northern Ireland footballers Niall McGinn and Paddy McCourt on the stage with him was just lovely. The whole night was unbelievable and even though it was a struggle at times to keep your emotions in check it was also a wonderful celebration of what is good about Northern Ireland.”
Martin, 45, a building project manager and his wife Aine, 44, a systems analyst, set up a Down ‘s Syndrome support group called Down’s and Proud shortly after Jay was born.
They also have a daughter Olivia, 17, who is also very proud of her wee brother.
Jay, who features in BBC show One Extra Chromosome on Wednesday at 10.35pm, is the face of the charity which now has 42 members from Portadown, Lurgan and Dungannon.
Jay was born on December 23 and brought home from hospital on Christmas Day when his parents promised to ensure that he would always be treated the same as any other child.
Said Martin: “When we think of what he has achieved we actually laugh now when we think back to that promise. Jay has done so much to change perceptions on Down’s Syndrome, he is an amazing child.”
Jay captured hearts across the world when Celtic manager Neil Lennon spotted him in the crowd at Celtic Park and presented him with his Premiership League winner’s medal last year. Striker Georgios Samaras then took a jubilant Jay in his arms and did a lap of honour on the pitch.
Jay became a big fan of Samaras, calling the Greek star “Sammy”. When his dad captured him on video after his idol scored a winning goal for Greece against Ivory Coast in the World Cup and posted it on Facebook it went viral making Jay a worldwide star.
Said Martin: “Jay’s reaction to the goal was priceless and I put it on Facebook for friends and family to see and it went crazy after that. The next thing we were on a plane on our way to a family holiday in Boston when I took a phone call from the Greek Football Association inviting Jay and the family on an all expenses paid trip to Brazil for the World Cup which unfortunately we had to decline as we were going to Boston and we were devastated.
“We arrived in Boston to find that Jay was in all the newspapers all over the world. Then we got invited to Greece for the Sports Awards and when we arrived at Athens airport and the door slid back I thought One Direction must have arrived as there were so many TV cameras all over the place — but they were there for Jay and he even got his own bodyguard, it was mad.
“Then he was nominated for an award in Barcelona and they flew a TV crew over to Lurgan to film a day in the life of Jay and again we got an all-expenses-paid trip to Barcelona for the ceremony.
“It just kept snowballing.
Jay had asked Santa for tickets for a Celtic away game and got tickets for the match in January against Hamilton.
“At the game, Jay was invited onto the pitch at half time to take a penalty and scored. It was filmed and entered into the Goal of the Month which led to a landslide vote of 97 per cent.
“It led to his nomination as Sporting Hero in the Heroes of Scotland Award, which he won.”
Said his dad: “We joke that we haven’t had any sleep for a year. We are so proud of him. Jay has worked very hard to be the face of our charity Down’s and Proud and helped raise the profile of Down’s Syndrome.
“We don’t take any of what has happened for granted. We are just so humbled by everything. We’ve been to Greece, Spain
and Scotland but getting the Spirit of Northern Ireland Award was definitely the highlight of our year and we just hope Jay
has helped change perceptions about Down’s Syndrome,” added Martin.