Spirit of NI Awards: Celebs fly in to support local heroes
The Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards are televised on UTV on Wednesday at 8pm
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 the 10 amazing finalists at Sunday Life’s Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers at the five-star Culloden Resort and Spa.
It was the biggest event to date with almost 400 guests in attendance.
Accomplished broadcaster Eamonn Holmes, who was on the event’s judging panel, said the experience was a real eye-opener.
“I am so proud to be from Northern Ireland,” the 59-year-old said.
“For me, this is what being from Northern Ireland is about and I am so proud and humbled to have been a judge.”
The former GMTV and Sky News Sunrise anchor, who presents This Morning with his wife Ruth Langsford, was joined by his Gallopers Craft Beer owner son Declan and his partner Jenny.
Eamonn’s fellow Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards judge Ian McElhinney was also in attendance with his wife, playwright Marie Jones. The Game Of Thrones and Star Wars Rogue One actor presented the Specsavers Overcoming Adversity award.
Some of the biggest names in local sport were at the event, including Northern Ireland football manager Michael O’Neill, Ulster Rugby player Craig Gilroy and newly-crowned world champion boxer Ryan Burnett, who were there to present two of our worthy winners with their awards.
Unfortunately, Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis was on holiday in America with his wife Tracy and their daughters, Chloe and Kaia, but he sent a video message to congratulate all of the winners.
A video message from One Direction singer Niall Horan was also shown on the night. The musician, who now runs Modest Golf sports management company, offered to meet our youngest winner, Cara McCartan, next time he’s in Northern Ireland, as well as providing tickets to the tournament to Spirit of Sport winner, Terry Canning.
He said: “I’ve heard a lot about all the wonderful finalists who are the big stars there tonight and I hope to meet some of you at Galgorm Castle when I’m over with Modest Golf in August for the Northern Ireland Open.”
Adding even more glamour to the night, former Miss Northern Ireland and Blue Peter presenter Zoe Salmon looked elegant in a white fringe dress with husband Will Corrie while current Miss Northern Ireland Anna Henry impressed in a blue full length gown and her sparkling crown. Their model boss Alison Clarke also looked gorgeous in a flowing Grecian style dress.
Alison’s golfer husband Darren Clarke was unable to attend the event as he was in the US, but sent a video message for our Overall Spirit of Northern Ireland Winner, Willie Gregg.
In it, he said: “Hi Willie, just wanted to say a massive congratulations on your Spirit of Northern Ireland award — truly, truly deserved for all your unbelievable work that you do and have done for your orphanage fund and all your charity work. You really are an incredible man.
“I look forward to getting that pint of Guinness with you when I get back again.”
Cold Feet star Jimmy Nesbitt, who couldn’t make the event due to filming commitments, also congratulated the popular bartender.
“It’s my great pleasure to have the opportunity to congratulate you, Willie Gregg, for your Overall Spirit of Northern Ireland Award,” he said.
“If anyone embodies the Spirit of Northern Ireland, it is you, Willie.
“Not only have you helped thousands of children and adults all over the world less fortunate than us, but you’ve enriched the lives of those of us from home and all over the world who are fortunate enough to walk through the doors of the Harbour Bar in Portrush to be greeted by your smile and a pint of Guinness.”
Also mingling with guests in the packed Stuart Suite in the fabulous five-star venue were Tim McGarry and Damon Quinn from comedy group The Hole In The Wall Gang, UTV presenters Paul Clark, Sarah Clarke and Ruth Gorman, and The Fall actresses and best pals Bronagh Waugh and Niamh McGrady, who presented two awards.
There were soap stars aplenty too, with some of the nation’s favourite television characters presenting awards, posing for selfies and dancing the night away.
Lucy Fallon, better known as Bethany Platt, hit the headlines recently with Coronation Street’s controversial sexual exploitation plot. She presented our Spirit of Youth award and enjoyed the Northern Irish craic with her boyfriend.
Emmerdale stars Michelle Hardwick (Lizzie Hopkirk), Liam Fox (Dan Spencer), Dominic Brunt (Paddy Kirk) and Gaynor Faye (Megan Macey) were all in awe of our winners.
Dominic said: “Every year I come here, you thank me for being here, but I feel so honoured to be in the same room as so many amazing people.”
Guests were entertained on the night by Boyzlife, who performed a medley of seven popular Boyzone and Westlife songs including Flying Without Wings and When The Going Gets Tough.
Laughs were shared with panto dame May McFettridge who performed a hilarious stand-up show as well.
Brilliant Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalists, St Patrick’s Junior Choir from Drumgreenagh, Co Down, also sang.
Dynamic duo Marc Mallett and Pamela Ballantine formed the perfect presenting partnership on what turned out to be an amazing night, celebrating our very best.