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Relatively Speaking: Mother and child, Elaine and Leanne

By Karen Ireland

Leanne McDowell is the current Miss Northern Ireland and is studying at the Ulster University, while her mum Elaine Simpson works for Age NI.

Name: Leanne McDowell

Age: 20

Occupation: Student and current Miss Northern Ireland

Relationship to Elaine: Daughter

I am a university student studying marketing at the Ulster University. Because of my Miss Northern Ireland duties I had to take a year out of my studies, but it has been the best year of my life.

Every day is different and I am enjoying it so much.

The highlight was travelling to China and spending a month with all the other girls at the Miss World competition.

It was like living with your best friends for a month - and it was the experience of a lifetime.

My diary is full and each day I get to meet new people and do new things, from photoshoots for magazines to interviews and a lot of charity work.

I worked hard to win the Miss Northern Ireland title, having followed the competition for years.

It was something I really wanted to do, so I was over the moon when I won.

My mum has always supported my dream to be in the competition - even my grandfather was routing for me.

As an only child, I am extremely close to my mum.

She is my best friend and my big sister all rolled into one.

We spend lots of time together doing girlie stuff, such as shopping and going out for lunch.

Our next outing is to the Spa at Galgorm in a few weeks. It will be just the two of us, so it will be very relaxing and special.

I admire my mum's ambition and work ethic.

She has always encouraged me to go for my dreams.

My mum told me to have a dream board in my room and as I achieve things I write it on the board.

She is the world to me and I love her company."

Name: Elaine Simpson

Age: 41

Occupation: Partnership Manager with Age NI

Relationship to Leanne: Mother

For more than 20 years I have worked in the charity sector. Having studied sociology at university I always wanted to work with people.

I joke that I am like TV's The Secret Millionaire as I research areas and projects, and then find the funding needed to make changes happen.

Working for a charity gives you freedom to explore and develop your skill sets and fundraising is my talent. For the most part it has just been Leanne and I, and I have always worked full-time. Thankfully, my parents have been a terrific support and were there to do the school lifts when I wasn't.

I couldn't have brought Leanne up without them.

As a single parent, I found myself focused and energised on both work and motherhood. It was important to me to make a success of both aspects of my life. It hasn't always been easy, though, and we have had our challenges but I have always put Leanne first. Weekends have always been about family time and doing things together such as going to the park, the zoo, the cinema and sharing interests and hobbies.

About three years ago, Leanne and I set up a charity aimed at helping people with eczema as she had suffered from the skin condition and wanted to help others. Other sufferers would write and email us their concerns and problems, and we would try to help them out.

When Leanne decided to go for Miss Northern Ireland, I supported her 100% and went along to heats with her, though I thought she was maybe too shy for the role. But when I heard her speaking at the first heat, I was blown away by her maturity and compassion. She also had to put together a presentation on her charity work since she was 16, so it was a proud accomplishment for her.

Leanne is passionate, driven and loving. Before text messages she would write me notes telling me how much she loved me and how thankful she was to me. Now she texts me messages from her room at night.

She is a wonderful daughter and a great friend. Next year will be an exciting one for her as the world really is her oyster and she can do what she wants and be who she wants to be."

The busy life of a beauty queen...

  • Leanne is originally from Cookstown, but now lives in Newtownabbey with her mum
  • Describing herself as a "highly motivated young lady", the beauty queen has already succeeded in a variety of ventures, from setting up online fashion store Pretty Dolly, to helping her mother start a charity for people with skin problems.
  • Highlights of her year as Miss Northern Ireland include working with the Northern Ireland Hospice and attending Miss World in China

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