The NI teen with Down’s syndrome who’s breaking down barriers by forging a career on the catwalk
Cookstown schoolgirl Kate Grant, who has Down's syndrome, hopes to break down barriers for disabled people by taking part in a unique beauty pageant next year. Here, Stephanie Bell finds out how a Facebook post has helped her achieve a childhood ambition.
A Northern Ireland teenager with Down's syndrome is proving that disability is no barrier to achieving your dreams after reaching the final of a local beauty contest.
Kate Grant (19), from Cookstown, is one of 50 beauty queens chosen from hundreds of applicants from around the globe who will compete in the 2018 Ultimate Beauty of the World pageant next summer.
In what is a dream come true for Kate, who is an aspiring model, she will enjoy two glamorous days having her make-up and hair professionally done and being photographed during the final of the beauty competition in July.
The fashion-mad teen who loves make-up and beauty has wanted to be a model ever since she joined her mum Deirdre on the catwalk during a local charity fashion show in her home town of Cookstown two years ago.
However after failed attempts to secure interest from local model agencies, Deidre decided to post an appeal on her Facebook page last weekend and was astonished by the response.
Along with glamorous fashion pictures of Kate she wrote of her daughter's dream to be a model.
"Every door was closed in her face because she has Down's syndrome, but she has the same aspirations as any other girl who wants to be a model. Please support her. Like and share. Just maybe her dream will come true," her mum wrote.
Almost 7,000 people responded to the post and just two days after it appeared last Saturday, Kate was taking part in her first fashion photo shoot for a clothing boutique in Omagh.
She has also had a number of other invitations to model but by far the biggest opportunity was offered by Banbridge woman Taylor-Rae Hamilton who is the founder and director of The Ultimate Beauty of the World competition.
The international beauty pageant was launched three years ago and is open to all women regardless of age, size, height or marital status.
A delighted Kate has been walking on air this week since learning that she is to take part in the beauty event's final to be held in the Seagoe Hotel in Portadown over two days next summer.
"It is my dream come true. To me people are beautiful not just on the outside but on the inside and everyone is special," says Kate.
"I am really so excited about it. It is my big career, my big dream to be a model and I can't wait. I will work hard and do whatever I need to do.
"I want to be a model and I have Down's syndrome and I hope other people with Down's syndrome will be encouraged just like me to follow their dream."
Kate is one of four children who live in the quiet village of Lissan outside Cookstown with her parents Deirdre and John, who run a local veterinary clinic. She has two older brothers, Patrick (28) and Michael (21), and a younger sister Ella (16).
She attends Sperrinview Special School in Dungannon and works two hours a week helping out in a hair salon and hopes next year to study for a qualification in hair and beauty at Parkanaur College in Donaghmore.
School plays a big part in her life and she paid tribute to her school teachers and classmates for their support. Kate says: "The people in my school really matter to me, they are my family too, they are very close to me.
"They are all amazing people and my favourite teacher John O'Hare always believes in me and trusts in me. My sister Ella also believes in me and trusts in me, and she is my best friend."
Kate has dreamt of being a model for two years and her mum Deidre has worked towards helping make it become a reality.
Deidre recalls: "It all started a couple of years ago when I was asked to do a fashion show for a local business in Cookstown.
"On the night, Kate wanted to get up on the catwalk with me and the girl organising it draped an accessory round her and she went onto the catwalk with me.
"Kate is an extremely bubbly and very social child and just loves meeting people. Everyone cheered when she got on stage.
"She has seen models on the catwalk and knew all the moves and how to carry herself. After it she said she would love to be a model.
"I thought it was just a flash in the pan but then six months ago she mentioned it again and I decided to ring round the local agencies to see how I could go about getting her into modelling.
"When I mentioned she had Down's syndrome they all seemed a bit hesitant and told me that it was up to the client on the night to choose which models they would use. It just felt like they were putting me off."
Feeling disheartened for her daughter, Deidre decided to post her appeal on Facebook last Saturday.
She was overwhelmed by the response. One local boutique owner Brenda O'Donnell, who runs Vixen Boutique in Omagh, contacted her immediately asking Kate to model for a photo shoot for her shop on Monday.
The beauty contest invitation has also thrilled both mother and daughter and Kate has already started to search the internet for the perfect dress to wear at the final.
Deidre says: "It has given Kate a wonderful lift and she just can't get her head round it as so much has happened so quickly.
"Brenda O'Donnell, who owns Vixen boutique and doesn't know me at all, invited Kate to model for her photo shoot on Monday.
"It just shows how good people are and Brenda is a very special person to do that. It has really humbled me so much.
"I am trying to keep Kate grounded. She has read some of the lovely comments and I just want to keep her level-headed.
"I've explained to Kate about the beauty contest in a way she would understand and in a way that wouldn't blow her mind.
"She is very excited about it and is already looking at dresses on the internet and changes her mind every half hour.
"She has said to me that everybody is beautiful and that beauty comes from the inside."
Kate's younger sister Ella is a keen showjumper and Kate accompanies her to competitions all round Ireland where she helps out.
Her mum describes her as outgoing and while the two sisters are very different, they are also very close.
Deidre adds: "Kate is a real diva and she loves hairdressing and can do her own make up and all the contouring. She loves style.
"She is so different to our youngest girl who is more outdoorsy and into show jumping. Ella isn't afraid to muck out and get herself dirty and Kate just loves her clothes and make-up.
"Kate is a character, she is a bundle of fun and when we go show jumping she knows everybody."
Deirdre, who helps out in her husband John's veterinary clinic, says that both she and her husband have brought Kate up to be as independent as possible.
They hope that she will enjoy having a job and maybe even a place of her own and also find someone special to share her life with.
Deidre says: "Her father and I just want her to be as independent as possible and to be accepted in her own right. We brought her up to be independent and we would like to see her get a job and maybe live semi-independently in sheltered accommodation.
"It would be lovely if each human being could meet a soul partner and if it happens that Kate met that special person who would love and care for her who am I to deny her that - although not just yet.
"I am absolutely delighted that she will be able to enjoy taking part in the beauty pageant next year and at the same time be able to contribute to their charity Make a Wish.
"If Kate can inspire people with disabilities to give it a go then that would be amazing. If, by Kate's example, she can encourage even one person with a disability to do something they dream of then I will be overjoyed."
Kate will be up against entrants from as far away as Australia, America and the Netherlands when she competes in the Ultimate Beauty of the World competition next year.
Director of the contest Taylor-Rae Hamilton (25), who runs the hair salon Man and the Minx in her home town of Banbridge, set it up as an alternative beauty contest which is open to everyone regardless of their size, age or marital status.
She explains: "The Ultimate Beauty of the World hosts an event for over 50 young ladies from all over the world and promotes the true meaning of beauty.
"We are not like other beauty pageants and believe that everyone deserves a chance to shine.
"To date we have raised over £71,000 for charity and support the Make a Wish Foundation.
"When I saw Deidre's post about Kate I contacted her and I'm thrilled that Kate was delighted to enter and is now one of our 50 finalists for 2018. She will have the same chance to take home the crown as all the other girls.
"I think it is such a brave thing to enter this competition and be a beauty queen and she will do all the things that a model will do over the two days of the final, with a photo shoot and getting her hair and make up done professionally, and she will feel like one of the girls - and why not?
"We believe there is no barrier to beauty and no matter what their height or size, our competition is open to all women and not the stereotypical beauty queen.
"To us beauty is all about what is on the inside and we stage a five star beauty competition."