Stars of stage, screen and the world of sport turned out in force on Friday night to bring an extra touch of glamour to the spectacular Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards 2014 with Specsavers.
Our 15 finalists and their families were thrilled to meet the celebrities and pose for pictures with a gallery of TV stars and sporting legends at the Culloden Hotel.
Soap and drama fans had their pick of household names from the likes of Emmerdale, Coronation Street, Holby City, Game of Thrones and The Fall.
Mingling with the crowd were Corrie favourite ‘Big' Jim McDonald actor Charlie Lawson, Emmerdale stars Dominic Brunt, who plays Paddy Kirk, Bashkar Patel aka Rishi Sharma and Michelle Hardwick who plays vet Vanessa Woodfield.
On his second visit to the Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards, Bashkar said: “I like to celebrate people's bravery in their day to day lives.
“A lot people think they have a problem but they haven't, they have to come and see what the people we are celebrating are like, it puts a different stance our day to day existence.”
Star of The Fall and Hollyoaks, Bronagh Waugh, who was in attendance with Holby City and The Fall actress Niamh McGrady, said: “I'm absolutely delighted to be back home and supporting the Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards.
“As I said to the rest of the cast on The Fall, this is what real awards ceremonies are about, it's not about celebrating acting, musicians and sporting personalities, it's about celebrating the real heroes of Northern Ireland.”
She joined Sunday Life editor Martin Breen to present the Sunday Life Unsung Hero Award to Brian McDonagh, a fundraiser with Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Charlie Lawson, who is set for his return to Weatherfield in the coming weeks, said: “It's lovely to be here and it's great to see stars from England coming over because they've never seen awards
quite like this.”
Michelle Hardwick, known to the nation as Emmerdale vet Vanessa Woodfield, was astounded by the stories of our finalists.
She said: “There are so many inspirational people and you get very upset but tonight was just a different level. It's real people, real stories and they're real heroes.
“What's wonderful about being at these awards is, as an actress, you get invited to a lot of award ceremonies but these awards are the best you could ever go to, I just feel so humbled to be here.”
Dominic Brunt, who plays fellow vet from the soap Paddy Kirk and has family in Northern Ireland, said: “It's absolutely inspiring and an honour to be here. I've met some amazing people.”
Last year Britain's Got Talent finalist Jordan O'Keefe presented Wee Oscar Knox with his overall Spirit of Northern Ireland Award.
Last night as an emotional video tribute to Oscar was played at the awards Jordan said: “Not having wee Oscar here makes it quite emotional but I'd rather celebrate his life than be emotional about it so I'm hoping it doesn't bring me to tears.”
He was joined on his table by Tyrone’s The Voice 2013 winner Andrea Begley, who performed at the close of the awards ceremony, and The Voice 2014 finalist Rachael O’Connor, from Drumsurn near Limavady.
Champion boxer Carl ‘The Jackal' Frampton and Olympic medal winning boxer Paddy Barnes also weighed in to join the guests at the glittering ceremony.
Ireland and Ulster rugby stars Rory Best and Craig Gilroy were also there to pay tribute to Northern Ireland’s unsung heroes and helped present awards in the Specsavers Overcoming Adversity and the U105 Young Persons categories.
Carol lights up the night, writes Stephanie Bell
The spotlight fell on ordinary people who have quietly achieved the extraordinary in what was a wonderful night of celebration at the 2014 Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers.
A host of top celebrities added a touch of extra sparkle to the special event in the Culloden Hotel in Holywood on Friday but it was our finalists who stole the show and were the undisputed stars of the night.
In what is always an emotive occasion, hundreds of people listened in awe as the moving stories of the 15 very special finalists were read out.
The biggest honour of the night — the overall Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Award 2014 — was presented to tireless Cookstown community worker Carol Doey by Sunday Life editor Martin Breen and Specsavers chairman Tony McGinn.
A visibly stunned Carol rose to a standing ovation as she made her way to the stage to pick up her trophy and £1,000 cash prize courtesy of local care recruitment and domiciliary agency, Peninsula Care Services.
Countless admirers nominated Carol for our award and their testimonies to the difference she has made in the lives of people in her local community, even volunteering on Christmas Day, made for emotional reading when shared with our audience at the Culloden Hotel.
A delighted Carol, who set up The Hub community centre, said: “I'm absolutely flabbergasted but the award is for the Hub in Cookstown. I'll proudly display my award it in the Hub, it's just lovely.
“I just love people and helping them. I never expected this.”
All 15 finalists in our three categories, their families and guests were treated to a four course meal followed by entertainment from The Voice winner Andrea Begley and comic John Linehan, aka Mary McFettridge.
Events were also recorded by UTV for a special programme to be screened this Tuesday night at 8pm presented by Pamela Ballantine and Frank Mitchell who were as usual the perfect hosts on the night.
Spirit of Northern Ireland always attracts a huge host of celebrities who return year after year to be part of this special celebration of local people.
This year more stars than ever from the worlds of sport, TV and music came out to enjoy the event and mingle with the guests, happily signing autographs and posing for pictures.
Britain’s Got Talent finalist Jordan O’Keefe joined boxers Carl Frampton and Paddy Barnes and Corrie favourite Charlie Lawson for our big night.
Emmerdale actors Dominic Brunt (vet Paddy Kirk), Bhasker Patel who plays Rishi Sharma and Michelle Hardwick who plays Vanessa Woodfield also flew in for the event to honour our heroes.
Game of Thrones star Ian Beattie and actresses Bronagh Waugh and Niamh McGrady also joined with stars from UTV and Radio Ulster to add some sparkle to the night. The climax of the evening was our awards ceremony when the inspirational stories of all 15 finalists were read to a hushed audience before our 2014 winners were announced.
The difficult job of selecting our finalists and winners from a record number of entries this year fell to our judging panel led once again by TV personality Gloria Hunniford.
Gloria said: “Every one of our our finalists was a winner. They all represent the Spirit of Northern Ireland.”
There were tears and cheers as each of our overawed winners made their way to the stage to receive their awards.
Picking up the U105 Young Persons Award from UTV’s Julian Simmons and boxer Carl ‘The Jackal’ Frampton was a very special little girl, Rose Doherty from Garvagh who faced a battle to save her life and rebuild her face when she was just six weeks old.
It was clear as she got up with her mum Orla to pick up her award that the five year old had captured every heart in the room with her wonderful spirit.
Her delighted and tearful mum Orla said: “We are just absolutely blown away, we never expected to win at all.
“It's mind blowing because it brought it all back to us and we weren't expecting to relive it all and were so happy that the outcome has been so positive.”
There was similar adulation for our Sunday Life Unsung Hero winner Brian McDonagh when he collected his award from The Fall star Bronagh Waugh.
Brian, 41, had to face coming to terms with the loss of the sight in his left eye when he was 28 due to the condition Glaucoma.
Then five years ago during a horrific attack while heroically protecting his friend’s house he lost the sight in his right eye, leaving him completely blind.
The Omagh man is now a leading supporter of the charity Guide Dogs for the Blind and tours the province giving inspirational talks to encourage people that there is life after blindness.
Brian too was overwhelmed to be singled out for our Unsung Hero Award.
He said: “I was shocked to go this far but to be named the winner has just taken me aback. It lets you know that you're doing something right.”
Inspirational Seanin Smith is known by all who know her for her tremendous fighting spirit in the face of a range of rare debilitating diseases.
The 21-year-old from Belleeks in south Armagh lit up the room on Friday night with her beautiful smile as she picked up the Specsavers Overcoming Adversity Award.
Frail Seanin who is fighting a range of complex genetic illnesses was determined to be at our awards night despite her very poor health.
After being presented with her trophy by Specsavers’ Tony McGinn and Ireland and Ulster rugby player Rory Best, she said: “It's overwhelming, I just couldn't believe it.
“I was just honoured to be nominated but to win the award when the were such great nominations in for it has left me speechless.”