Woman reveals how UUP's Nesbitt ended up on floor in Belfast hotel
The great-granny pictured grabbing Mike Nesbitt’s collar as he lay stricken on a hotel lobby floor in Northern Ireland has revealed what really happened that day.
Marie Hyland, who is aged in her 70s and the granny of boxer Paul Hyland, described their Stormont Hotel encounter as “horseplay”, and hit out at critics of the former Ulster Unionist leader.
Speaking to Sunday Life from the doorstep of her Falls Road home, she said she didn’t punch him and that it was just “a joke”.
Marie said: “It was all a joke, horseplay that has been blown out of proportion. It was a misunderstanding.
“I was at a wedding in the hotel and Mike Nesbitt was there, he had been out playing golf with his friends.
“There was a bit of banter and he lay down on the floor. I got on top of him, we were messing around, and his friend was taking photos. His friend was actually telling us how to pose. I didn’t punch him, in fact I never laid a finger on him.”
Marie, who is well respected in west Belfast, said she was mortified when the innocent snap of them larking around in the lobby of the east Belfast hotel appeared on the front of an English tabloid.
“I couldn’t believe it, I was mortified. It was all a joke because he is a unionist and I’m from the Falls Road,” she added.
“I’ll say this about Mike Nesbitt, he was nothing but friendly to me. I’d gladly have a drink with him in the future.”
Marie says coverage of the incident has left her “upset” as she is battling a number of illnesses which forced her to miss the First Holy Communion of two of her great-grandchildren yesterday.
“I haven’t slept properly since all this nonsense came out. I want to make it clear to the Sunday Life that it was a joke.
“I’m not a well woman, I can’t even walk up the stairs, I have to sleep in the living room,” she said.
“It’s rubbish to even think I could knock a man out. Hopefully now I’ve told you this, people will stop going on about it.”
The photo of Nesbitt lying sprawled out on the floor of the Stormont Hotel in Belfast were taken on April 29.
He had been playing golf with pals and bumped into Marie Hyland, who had been at a relative’s wedding in the complex.
The playful image of the pair has been doing the rounds among politicians for the past two weeks. Most ignored the picture, accepting that they were just banter. However Ulster Unionist sources suspect it was leaked to an English tabloid last Monday to damage Mike Nesbitt’s chances of winning the Strangford seat at next month’s general election from sitting MP Jim Shannon.
Mr Nesbitt has been keen to play down the embarrassing snap but last night issued a statement to Sunday Life after we had told him what Marie said.
He agreed with her version of events, describing it as “a bit of fun, banter and play-acting” where “nothing untoward took place”.
The politician added: “I wish to clarify that my engagement with the wedding party was only a bit of fun, and has been blown totally out of context by the publication of the photograph in The Sun newspaper.”