From being treated like a princess at the Miss World contest in China to feeling humbled by the dedication of the staff in the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice, the past year has been full of what Miss Northern Ireland Tiffany Brien describes as “unbelievable experiences”.
As the search starts for her successor, the 22-year-old Holywood beauty reflects on a busy and exciting year packed full of engagements and opportunities that she says she could never have believed would come her way.
Having entered the competition last year hoping for a change in direction in her life, Tiffany has given her all to the role of beauty ambassador for Northern Ireland.
“I don’t want it to end,” she says of the wonderful year she has enjoyed, adding: “I’ve learnt so much and met so many new people and had so many new experiences, it has been more than I ever believed it would be.”
The enthusiasm with which she embarked on her year has not diminished as the months have gone by, and Tiffany is determined to make the most of every minute of the last three months of her reign.
“The heats for this year’s contest start soon and I am going to be judging every one of them, so I will be flat out between now and the final in May,” she says.
“Miss Northern Ireland has been my priority for the past eight months and no matter what I get asked to do I will be there and do it, I don’t want to look back on my year and regret anything — and I don’t think I will have any regrets, as I have done everything I can.”
Tiffany, who is an Olympic-class sailor, has shown the same dedication and commitment to Miss Northern Ireland that she devoted to her sport.
Last season she was ranked number one in Ireland in laser radial dinghy sailing. Contrary to some reports, she was not selected for last year’s Olympics but does plan to aim for the next Olympics in Rio in 2016.
Tiffany grew up close to the North of Ireland Yacht Club in Cultra with her younger sister Jessica (20), brother Jack (15) and her parents Simon, an estate agent, and mum Juanita.
Tiffany was hanging round the Yacht Club where her dad was a keen sailor from the age of seven.
She started to race when she was 14 and got a place on the Irish team at the age of just 16.
It’s an all-consuming sport and very full-on, which is why Tiffany decided she needed a break last year.
In her teens, while other girls her age were enjoying a social life and going to parties, Tiffany was dedicating every spare minute to her sailing.
The intensity was such that she realised she needed to stop for a while, despite having the opportunity to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.
It was a decision she hasn’t regretted, as it opened up the opportunity to go for the Miss Northern Ireland title. “I was very heavily into my training but I wanted a break and a different direction and Miss Northern Ireland has given me the opportunity to do so many new things,” she says.
“It has given me a different outlook on life. I still want to go back to sailing and hope to aim for the Olympics in Rio. It will be hard work but I like a challenge. I am not making any final decisions about my future until my year as Miss Northern Ireland is over in May.
“The next three months are going to be so busy that I will be putting all my thoughts and efforts into that in the short term and then in May, hopefully, I will go on a nice holiday and then decide my future after that.”
Tiffany is unsure if she will return to university to finish her marketing degree but, whatever she decides, there is no doubt she has the world at her feet. Tiffany has also found new romance during her time as Miss Northern Ireland with Ulster rugby star Craig Gilroy.
As Tiffany’s star has risen so too has her new boyfriend’s. Craig (21) has been causing a stir in sporting circles as a talented winger for Ulster and Ireland and is a contender for this year’s Lions tour of Australia.
It’s a subject she refuses to discuss and instead steers the conversation back to her role as Miss Northern Ireland.
Of the many highlights of her year so far, spending five weeks in China as a Miss World contestant stands out as the most memorable. Tiffany says she still finds it hard to convey to people just how amazing an experience it was. She did Northern Ireland proud by finishing in the top 30 and was also voted one of the contest’s Top Ten Beach Babes.
She says: “It was one of the most surreal experiences ever. Even now, looking back and thinking about all we did in China and the scale of it — with 120 girls being taken around China for five weeks at so many events — is still incredible.
“I can’t even explain to anyone what it is like. It’s something you need to experience first-hand to fully appreciate how amazing it is.
“If you can think about the most ridiculous scenario, that is what it is like — we had film crews following us around and press, we were treated like celebrities, it was just unreal.”
Modelling is something that Tiffany has also enjoyed as part of her Miss Northern Ireland role and something she wants to continue.
It says a lot about her modesty that even after all the media exposure as Miss Northern Ireland, she was flattered and thrilled to recently feature in a new billboard campaign for The Outlet shopping centre in Banbridge.
She says: “For me to be driving round Belfast and see myself on a billboard and see my face was just so cool.
“I do want to keep my hand in with modelling. I have learnt a lot this year and worked with so many good people and photographers and it has been a lot of fun.”
The charity aspect of her role supporting the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice is something Tiffany has taken to her heart.
She has become so involved with the Hospice that she now regards the staff there as friends and is planning to run the Belfast marathon to raise funds for the Hospice just a week before she hands over her Miss NI crown.
She says: “I want to give something back so I decided to do the marathon for the Hospice. The set-up there is fantastic and the girls who work there are all stars.
“I have been shown around it and have got to know the staff. They are more like friends now and I hope to stay involved as it is now very close to my heart.”
Tiffany is already known for her charity work, using her passion for sailing to raise funds for the disabled charity Sailability.
In 2007, she sailed the Irish Sea and raised £18,500 to help buy a boat for the charity and plans to do it all again in April with blind adventurer Mark Pollock.
Tiffany and Mark plan to sail from Portpatrick in Scotland to Belfast in a specially-adapted boat called a skud to raise funds for the Mark Pollock Trust as well as Sailability.
Sailing across the relentless Irish Sea would be challenging enough for a regular sailor, but 36-year-old Mark, who has been blind since the age of 22, was also paralysed in a freak accident in 2010.
Mark is not shy of a challenge and became the first blind man to trek to the South Pole. From sub-zero temperatures, he then endured scorching heat, running six marathons in the Gobi Desert in one week.
He has completed the North Pole marathon, raced through the desert lowlands of the Syrian African Rift Valley to the Dead Sea and competed at high-altitude in the Everest Marathon.
Having known Mark through her local sailing club, Tiffany wanted to come up with something that would get him back to doing the challenges he loves.
She says: “Mark is just the most incredible person and he is a real inspiration to me.
“It will be such a challenge for him. I will be his eyes and there will be a lot of trust involved.
“Mark will have to have a lot of trust in me. We will pick a day when the weather is good and we hope to do it next month.”
Tiffany is still bowled over seven months on by the amazing prize packages she received as the 2012 Miss Northern Ireland winner.
“I don’t think people realise how well treated you are and the prizes you get. As well as a car, fully insured, I got so many other things, including dresses and my hair and make-up free for the year.
“It’s a dream job anyway; never mind getting so many wonderful prizes on top!”
Former winner Alison Clarke has already started the search for the 2013 Open + Direct Miss NI
The search for the 2013 Open + Direct Miss Northern Ireland has already begun.
Organised by a former winner of the title, Alison Clarke, the competition is open to girls aged between 17 and 24 from all parts of Northern Ireland.
The heat winners will go forward to compete at the black-tie final event in The Europa Hotel on May 13, 2013.
The lucky winner of this year’s contest will go on to compete in the Miss World finals in Indonesia in September. The judging panel will be looking for something more than just a pretty face, as Alison explains: “I can see it being a tough competition, but we’re looking for one lucky girl who will stand out and impress the judges to win this title before going on to compete in Miss World in Indonesia. Tiffany has been a wonderful ambassador for the contest and has put a very positive and friendly face to Northern Ireland this past year.”
Title sponsor Open + Direct is very excited to continue its association with the competition this year. Louise Roden, branch manager for two of Open + Direct’s three Belfast branches and a former Miss NI finalist, says: “Having three branches in Belfast for over 25 years, we know the young ladies in the area are as ambitious, intelligent and friendly as they are beautiful. It’s the combination of all these traits which we’ll be looking for at the Cafe Vaudeville heat.”
Siobhan McKeown, marketing manager at The OUTLET, which continues as fashion sponsor, says: “Our partnership with this prestigious event allows us to showcase the latest fashion trends, culminating in a fabulous fashion show at the gala final.”
This year’s overall winner will not only take on the coveted title of Open + Direct Miss Northern Ireland 2013, and an all-expenses-paid trip to Miss World in Indonesia, but will also win a Kia car from Downey’s, taxed and insured for a year by Open + Direct, as well as a wardrobe of designer dresses for Miss World from Beverly Hills and a front cover photoshoot with IN! magazine.
Beauty prizes, which will keep her preened and prepared for her role, include one year’s hairdressing and LA Tanning Treatments from TAN 2 U Mobile Spray Tanning, as well as one year’s eyebrow threading, eyelash extensions and nail treatments by Renu at Michele International, a £500 makeup hamper from Paddy McGurgan’s Make Up Pro store and a makeup lesson with Paddy himself.
There will also be luxurious beauty treatments from Beauty Culture as well as stunning designer sunglasses from Jonathan Keys.
The winner can also keep fit with gym membership at Culloden Spa and her modeling career will also get off to the right start with a photoshoot session with Andy Cameron Photography and a year’s contract with top model agency, ACA Models.
To enter, girls should send a photograph with their name and address to the Open + Direct Miss Northern Ireland Contest, 381 Beersbridge Road, Belfast, BT5 5DT. Competition rules can be checked out on the Miss NI website www.missnorthernireland.co.uk or on Facebook at Miss Northern Ireland Contest. The official website also outlines full details of the competition.