Miss Northern Ireland and the Ulster rugby star are destined for greatness, says Stephanie Bell.
They are being tipped as Northern Ireland’s Posh and Becks — the golden couple who have it all and together are destined to become a huge and much sought-after brand.
Heads turned on Monday night when Miss Northern Ireland Tiffany Brien and Ulster rugby star Craig Gilroy stepped out for their first major social function together at the Belfast Telegraph’s annual sports awards.
The glam pair, whose romance became public last month, looked every inch the happy couple as they attended what is one of the most glittering nights in Northern Ireland’s sporting calendar.
Well-known personalities in their own right, Tiffany and Craig have each enjoyed meteoric rises in their careers in the past two years.
At only 22, Tiffany is an Olympic class sailor, successful model, charity fund raiser, not to mention the most beautiful girl in the country and the reigning Miss Northern Ireland.
Handsome Craig (21) has been causing a stir in sporting circles as a talented winger for Ulster and Irish Rugby and is a contender for this year’s Lions tour Down Under.
As well as their obvious star qualities, they are also admired by those who know them for their caring natures, each dedicating time out from their busy careers to devote to charity work.
Tiffany has worked hard to raise the profile of Miss Northern Ireland’s nominated charity the Northern Ireland Hospice as well as taking on fearsome sea challenges to boost the work of groups working with disabled sailors.
Craig is an ambassador for the Assisi Animal Shelter and gives up his spare time to walk abandoned dogs.
Their romance has caused a stir in media circles and commentators predict that they are destined to become Northern Ireland’s newest celebrity couple with their appeal extending well beyond these shores.
The parallels with brand Posh and Becks are obvious.
Tiffany has her sights set on a TV career and talented Craig seems destined to become a world sports star.
Together they seem to make the perfect team just like so many other local celebrity couples — Christine Bleakley and her soccer star fiance Frank Lampard, Darren Clarke and his beauty queen wife Alison, as well as Rory McIlroy and his champion tennis player girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki.
PR and marketing guru Cathy Martin has witnessed Tiffany’s talent and dedication as a model.
She says: “Tiffany started work as an intern with CMPR in 2011 helping out back stage at Fashionweek and a short time later she was on the catwalk modeling.
“She has enjoyed a really great rise in her career as a model. Craig is at the pinnacle of his career.
“With Tiffany’s sailing ability and his rugby there will no doubt be lots of healthy sporting competition between them.
“Craig is a genuine and really lovely person and so is Tiffany and they seem really happy and relaxed together.
“I think Tiffany has the quality to appeal beyond Northern Ireland and she has her sights set on TV while Craig is already known across Ireland for his rugby which I think sets them apart as a couple and together they have the potential to go well beyond even Ireland.”
It is believed the couple started dating last October.
At the time Tiffany had just been voted one of Miss World’s Top 10 Beach Babes at the international beauty contest in China while Craig was preparing for his rugby debut with Ireland.
Their lives have followed similar paths. Both grew up in seaside towns and while they each enjoyed sport as children it wasn’t until their teens that they started to compete, their special talents becoming obvious in a very short time. Tiffany is one of three children from a Holywood family while Craig grew up just a few miles away in Bangor with his four brothers and sisters.
Being close to the sea, Tiffany developed a love of sailing from her father Simon.
She is the current Irish number one in the Women's Laser Radial class and earned a place in the Irish Olympic Sailing Team.
A University of Ulster marketing student, she made one of the toughest decisions of her life last year when she decided to withdraw from competitive racing to take part in Miss Northern Ireland.
While it meant giving up the chance to represent Ireland at the 2012 Olympic Games, Tiffany has made it clear that she has not giving up her sport but is taking a break and hopes to return to train for the next Olympics.
It was a brave move as she has confessed: “To be honest, the training was very intense and pressurised and it just all got a bit too much for me. It was a really hard decision, especially with all the training I'd been doing and working towards the Olympics, but I felt it was something I had to do for me.
“I've no regrets. There will be plenty of other opportunities and I'm not giving up sailing at all. I'm certainly not ruling out the chance of trying for the Olympics again.”
As a child Tiffany lived close to the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club with her younger sister Jessica (20), brother Jack (15) and her parents Simon, an estate agent, and mum Juanita.
From the age of seven she said “I lived in my wetsuit” with her friends, spending all their spare time at the local sailing club, doing courses and learning the ropes.
She started to race when she was 14 and got a place on the Irish team at the age of just 16.
Sailing consumed her for the next four years and it was just as the Olympics beckoned that she began to feel burnt out and realised she needed a break.
The commitment she has shown to sailing is now being poured into her year as Miss Northern Ireland.
Putting her sailing career on hold has given her the freedom for the first time to enjoy life as a young woman, indulging her passion for fashion and finding romance.
She does thrive on challenge. In 2007, she sailed the Irish Sea and raised £18,500 to help buy a boat for disabled charity Sailability.
Last summer she joined blind adventurer Mark Pollock in another massive challenge to sail from Portpatrick in Scotland to Belfast in a specially adapted boat, also to raise funds for Sailability and the Mark Pollock Trust.
Her father Simon has expressed his pride at her achievements and said he never had any reservations about her entering the world of beauty pageantry.
“Tiffany is competitive and puts her heart and soul into everything she does. When she decided to enter Miss Northern Ireland she prepared herself mentally and physically and gave it her best shot.”
Tiffany did Northern Ireland proud in August when she competed in the Miss World contest in China and it wasn’t long after that when she met her new beau Craig. In November she took time out from her beauty queen duties to help support his test debut for Ireland.
She tweeted that she had enjoyed an “awesome” weekend in Dublin proudly supporting her boyfriend who she called a “legend”.
With just six months left
until she will hand over her beauty crown, Tiffany plans to go back to university to finish her marketing degree and once again take up competitive sailing.
Last year as she was becoming a media personality in her role as a beauty queen and sailor, another star was rising in the world of Ulster rugby.
It’s just over two years since Craig Gilroy burst onto the Ulster rugby scene when he scored two tries during his debut match in Ulster’s 37-15 victory over Cardiff.
He recently made headlines again when he debuted for Ireland in two international matches which have made him a possible contender for the Lions Tour later this year.
He scored a hat-trick of tries for Ireland in a non-test match against Fiji at Thomond Park and a week later was selected for the test against Argentina, scoring the opening try on his test debut.
His success prompted one local rugby legend to describe him as having “the type of X-factor that could see him go from international novice to Lions starter within a season”.
While few people outside of Ulster would have heard of Craig Gilroy before the November Internationals, locally he was causing a great deal of excitement as a talented winger for Ulster.
A former pupil of Methodist College in Belfast, he played a little bit of rugby growing up but certainly wasn’t rugby-mad: “I played from mini level through school but to be honest, it was for a bit of fun and I didn’t really know much about the rules.” He enjoyed all sports, playing rugby on a Saturday morning for school, football in the afternoon for Bangor Swifts and Gaelic football at Holywood on a Sunday.
He credits his parents with giving him the chance to have a go at everything: “My parents drove me to everything, mum washed all the kit... still does sometimes!”
It wasn’t until he was 16 that he began to take the rugby a bit more seriously once he got to Schools Cup stage at Methody and made the switch to the wing.
He twice won the Ulster Schools Cup with Methody, scoring several tries in his final year before playing for his local club, Bangor, on a Saturday afternoon and then Dungannon
He started University at Jordanstown and continued to train hard going from the seconds to the firsts, got selected for Ulster U19s and then Ulster U20s and the Ravens.
Ahead of the start of his second year of university, Gilroy was awarded a place in Ulster’s Phoenix Academy.
It was also his U20s year and given his involvement with the Irish Squad and the travel and training camps which would take him away from study, he decided to leave his course.
He said at the time: “I just wanted to concentrate on rugby. I knew that it would become clear fairly soon whether or not it was going to work out as a career and I could always go back to studying.
“And thankfully, it paid off. I felt I was making big improvements and I got my chance for Ulster against Cardiff.”
He was promoted to the Ulster rugby first team in 2010.
His goal is to eventually play regularly for Ireland, but for now he is concentrating on Ulster.
Away from rugby he enjoys playing the guitar and is studying to become a personal trainer.
How Brand Beckham rakes in the money
- David and Victoria Beckham are as much a corporate image as a married couple
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- The couple have four children, sons Brooklyn, Romeo, and Cruz and daughter Harper Seven