Belfast Telegraph

Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards 2016: Carl Frampton, AP McCoy, Nadine Coyle, Bronagh Waugh among stars shining on night of incredible achievements

By Ali Gordon

A galaxy of stars turned out to honour our unsung heroes for the 2016 Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers on Friday night.

Well-known faces from the worlds of sport, music, TV and film met our nine inspirational finalists in a wonderful evening at the Culloden Hotel.

World champion boxer Carl Frampton and his gorgeous wife Christine joined fellow Northern Ireland sportsman Sir Anthony McCoy and wife Lady Chanelle, who had flown in from England especially for the occasion.

Spirit of Northern Ireland judge Carl presented our Spirit of Sport award while Sir Anthony gladly handed over the Specsavers Overcoming Adversity award.

It was the first time Sunday Life Sport columnist Carl had seen the former champion jump jockey since his victory over Scott Quigg in Manchester, when a video clip of Sir Anthony and The Secret actor Jimmy Nesbitt went viral.

Sadly Jimmy, who had enjoyed “too much hospitality” on the night of the fight, was filming Cold Feet and was unable to attend the awards. He did however send his apologies through a video message.

Girls Aloud singer Nadine Coyle looked stunning in a black jumpsuit as she took to the stage to present the Sunday Life Unsung Hero award with editor Martin Breen.

Emmerdale stars Dominic Brunt, better known as Paddy the Vet, and Natalie Robb who plays Moira posed for pictures with soap fans after presenting the Caring Spirit Award.

Also mingling with guests in the packed Stuart Suite in the fabulous five-star venue were The Fall actresses and best pals Bronagh Waugh and Niamh McGrady, who presented two awards, and Coronation Street favourite Charlie Lawson and his partner Debbie.

Actor Charlie, who presented the 999 Hero award on Friday night, is always glad to share his support for our fantastic finalists.

He said: “Debbie and I wouldn’t miss the Spirit of Northern Ireland awards, it’s always such a special night that celebrates such amazing, inspirational local people.

“Every year it just gets better and better and this year’s finalists are all wonderful in their own ways.

“I was delighted to present the 999 Hero award, it was a real honour for me.

“Northern Ireland’s a small place but it doesn’t half punch above its weight. As always, I’m very proud to be from this great wee country.”

Former Hollyoaks star Bronagh added: “I always clear my diary for these awards, I absolutely love them.

“It was such an emotional, humbling evening that really puts a lot of things into perspective.

“There were so many amazing finalists who have done such amazing things and I think each and every one of them deserves so much credit for being the incredible people that they are.”

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also enjoyed the evening and gladly took to the stage to hand out the Overall Spirit of Northern Ireland award with Sunday Life editor Martin Breen and Specsavers Northern Ireland chairman Brian O’Kane.

UTV presenter Paul Clark and newly married TV star Zoe Salmon presented the Charity Champion award.

The First Minister said: “It’s been my first ever Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards and it’s a real privilege to attend such a magnificent event and present the overall Spirit of Northern Ireland award.

“I think we should be very proud to be from Northern Ireland — there are so many unsung heroes here in Northern Ireland.

“It is fantastic to be able to join together and recognise the tireless work that those people do.

“We have heard some very moving stories but we can take a lot of inspiration from that.”

The Deputy First Minister added: “It’s very humbling to hear the stories of ordinary people who do extraordinary things within our society.

“It reminds us of the goodness of our people in society, not just the emergency services but the people in their own homes who face huge challenges, challenges that some of us would find unimaginable.”

BBC weatherman Barra Best and illusionist David Meade also joined the host of famous faces alongside Sunday Life’s Cover Girl 2016 Emma Leahy and current Miss Northern Ireland Emma Carswell.

The Northern Ireland football squad were at their pre-Euro 2016 friendly match at Windsor Park on Friday night but captain Steven Davis and boss Michael O’Neill both sent video messages, which were played on the big screen, sending their congratulations to our worthy finalists.

Southampton midfielder Steven said: “Sorry we can’t be there, we’ve an important match against Belarus in one of our final preparation games ahead of the Euros. Everyone’s an inspiration that’s taking part tonight and I wish you all the best.”

Ulster rugby player Tommy Bowe and Stephen Nolan also shared their well wishes through video messages.

Game of Thrones star Kristian Nairn, who plays Hodor, said in his video: “I just want to say sorry for not being there and congratulations to not only the winners but to everyone taking part and hopefully I’ll see you next year.”

Presenting the event was UTV’s dynamic duo Pamela Ballantine and Marc Mallett.

Guests were also entertained by panto dame May McFettridge who performed a hilarious stand-up show as well as Lurgan singer Emma Horan and Britain’s Got Talent swing band Jack Pack.

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