Belfast Telegraph

Stars shine in night of magic at Sunday Life Spirit of NI Awards 2018

Watch the awards on this Tuesday in a one-hour special at 8pm

By Kelly Allen

Stars of sport, stage and screen showed their support for Northern Ireland's unsung heroes in a glittering ceremony on Friday night.

A host of famous faces were blown away by our 10 amazing finalists at the ninth Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The celebs mingled with over 400 invited guests and award nominees.

Dynamic duo Marc Mallett and Pamela Ballantine returned as the perfect presenting partnership on what turned out to be an inspiring night, celebrating our very best Spirit of Northern Ireland.

Two of the stars of the hit Channel 4 show Derry Girls were delighted to be at the event in Belfast.

Awards judge Ian McElhinney attended with his wife, playwright Marie Jones. The Derry Girls and Game Of Thrones actor said: "Being asked to judge for a second year was amazing. The stories are really humbling. Everyone here tonight is a winner. Everyone nominated have put themselves out in a way that, to be the honest most people don't, well certainly I never do. It's extraordinary."

Jamie Lee O'Donnell, who plays Michelle Mallon in the sitcom set in the city in the 1990s, was attending for the first time and presented the Spirit of Youth Award to Emily Magee.

"It's really inspirational listening to all the stories and great to celebrate the people in the community. There's so many good people where I'm from and it's so nice to meet everyone," Jamie said.

As well as Ian, Sunday Life editor Martin Breen, UTV's Sarah Clarke, golfer Darren Clarke and singer Niall Horan helped whittle 1,000 nominations down to the 10 winners.

Judge Niall couldn't be there on the night as he was on his sold-out solo tour in Europe, but he sent a video message to the nine-year-old, much to the delight of the crowd.

He said: "Emily's a little superstar and an inspiration. That's why myself and Modest Golf have voted her youth winner."

The One Direction star, who runs Modest Golf sports management company with pal Mark McDonnell, has offered to meet all our winners at the Northern Ireland golf open at Galgorm Castle later this year.

Some of the biggest names in local sport were at the event, including world champion boxer Ryan Burnett and Irish boxing champ Paddy Barnes. Ryan presented the Spirit of Sport Award to Paul Johnson.

There were soap stars aplenty too, with some of the nation's favourite TV characters presenting awards and happily posing for selfies. Emmerdale's Dominic Brunt (Paddy Kirk) and Gaynor Faye (Megan Macey) both made a welcome return and were impressed by the bravery of our winners.

Dominic said: "I love this night and my children love it. It's a unique part of the world and it's an honour to be here."

He had the audience in hysterics when he couldn't announce the winner of the Specsavers sponsored award for Overcoming Adversity because "I haven't got my glasses on".

Gaynor added: "All the Emmerdale cast want to come and we want them here too but it's making sure that I still get to come too because I love it."

Two of Coronation Street's newcomers, who also attended for the first time, presented the Unsung Hero Award to Community First and partied into the early hours. Ryan Clayton, who plays bad boy Josh Tucker, said: "It's a pleasure to be here to share the room with so many generous, kind human beings."

James Burrow, new GP Alex Neeson, added: "It's an honour and it's all about the guys here. Thanks Belfast for having us."

Charlie Lawson, who played Jim McDonald on the Street, presented the Charity Champion award with Q Radio breakfast show presenter, Cate Conway.

He joked: "Coronation Street needs me back. One of those young ones didn't even have socks on. It's about time they got a man back on the street and he's coming back."

Gemma Garrett, Q Radio's Eoghan Quigg, Tim McGarry and Damon Quinn from The Hole In The Wall Gang and The Fall actresses and best pals Bronagh Waugh and Niamh McGrady were spotted mingling with award winners.

Presenting the 999 Award to firefighter Noel McGee, Bronagh urged the room to be the ones that make changes to our community. She spoke passionately about how our fire service have put themselves on the front line despite being underfunded and underpaid.

She said: "I love the Spirit of NI Awards. I have been here since the first day and it's struck me. The last 20 years has been a momentous time for Northern Ireland but it's not going to be the politicians that move the country forward, but the communities. The winners and nominees are the pillars of this community. The people that are in the emergency services are on the front line and they are underfunded, undercut and they are looking after us and saving our lives."

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