'I'm happy to be single and I'm not looking for anyone. I think it works best with just me and my son, Brandon'
Former beauty queen Gayle Williamson is happy leading the quiet life as a single mum but still looks back fondly on her life on the catwalk and her relationship with musician Jim Corr, as she tells Stephanie Bell.
Gayle Williamson was leading a fairly normal life - happily working in a nine to five job in a fashion shop and living at home with her mum in Lurgan - when on her 22nd birthday her world dramatically changed overnight after she was crowned Miss Northern Ireland.
Propelled into a world of glamour and celebrity, she went on to be crowned Miss UK the following year and competed in the Miss World contest in Nigeria and the Miss International in Japan.
It was a world that saw her mixing with a whole new crowd and rubbing shoulders with pop royalty including Jim Corr, who caught her eye and captured her heart.
Within two years of entering the beauty contest, Gayle had left her job managing a fashion boutique in Portadown to work as a model with the Alison Campbell Agency and was engaged to one of the most famous men in music.
The couple were thrilled to announce the birth of their son, Brandon, in 2006, but sadly just six months later they again made national news headlines when their relationship ended.
Fast forward 11 years and Gayle, now 36, is as stunning as ever. Her signature blonde hair is now darkened and she wears it longer. If anything, she is even more striking looking than the young beauty that graced the pages of local newspapers and magazines in her 20s.
She is self-assured, grounded and speaks with much confidence about her break-up with Jim and the great friendship they went on to forge.
Jim has remained very much a big part of her life, which for the past 10 years has evolved around her son.
Now with Brandon soon to turn 11 and preparing to go to secondary school in September, Gayle is starting to focus on herself again and building a life outside of full-time motherhood.
She is enjoying a new job working as a sales representative for local celebrity artist Terry Bradley and has also got involved in helping with this year's Miss Northern Ireland contest.
She is excited to have been asked to be chaperone for the finalists during the weekend of the final in May, and recently attended the launch of the competition with new sponsor Insanity Tan.
She says the fact that she won Miss Northern Ireland in 2002 still surprises her all these years later and remains one of the best things that ever happened to her.
Gayle made her home in Crawfordsburn after Brandon was born and remains there in a lovely upmarket development where she is surrounded by good neighbours and close friends.
Far from the glamorous life she enjoyed before motherhood, these days she is more likely to be in bed by 9pm on a Saturday night and is content to be single. She reveals that a health scare two years ago and the shock of the loss of Brandon's granddad, Gerry Corr, to whom she was very close, in 2015 caused her to reassess her life.
She also talks about her great admiration for Jim, who has rebuilt his life after losing a lot of money and becoming embroiled in a financial scandal with a bank over a property deal a few years ago.
The world-famous Dundalk family band The Corrs were at the height of their fame when Gayle met Jim, and after a 10-year break from music they have relaunched their career with new albums and a number of live concerts.
Gayle says: "Jim and I are probably closer friends now than we have ever been. He has been through some bad times and so have I.
"He is a very good, hands-on dad and there hasn't been a week since Brandon was born that he hasn't seen him.
"When his daddy passed away in 2015, it was a big shock to both of us. Just before that I hadn't been well for some time and I think with the grief things got on top of me and I ended up in hospital for two weeks.
"We both have now come out the other end. For me, it really put life in perspective and made me start to look after myself again. I am back at the gym and walking the dog every day."
Gail says she had been feeling unwell for months, and after the shock of Jim's dad's death from a heart attack her condition got worse. She describes it as a "woman-related thing".
Both events, she says, made 2015 one of her worst years, and one that she is glad is now well behind her.
"I hadn't been well for a number of years, but it came to a head in 2015 and I didn't' realise I was as ill as I was," Gayle adds. "Losing Jim's dad took a big chunk out of me.
‘Jim was a rock star but I became a young mother so I couldn’t party anymore’
“Brandon and I were with him when he took ill. I was really close to him and saw him every week.
“I think that with the grief I just went downhill and ended up in hospital for a couple of weeks. Jim and Brandon were up at the hospital every day and I had great support around me.
“Jim went through a tough time too and had financial hardship, and I really admire the way he has turned his life around. In the last few years he has become a vegan and given up alcohol — he hasn’t drunk for three years. If his dad’s death took a big chunk out of me, I can’t imagine what it was like for him losing his mummy and his daddy.”
Jim’s mother Jean died in hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in November 1999 while awaiting a lung transplant. The Corrs later held a concert to raise funds for research into cryptogenic fibrosing alveolitis, the condition which killed Jean.
“He has managed it brilliantly and he is so good to Bradley and to me. He is now 52 and I admire that he has done so much.”
The couple’s much publicised split was blamed at the time on Jim’s party lifestyle, but Gayle insists it was more amicable than the tabloids reported.
The age gap really didn’t help, nor did the fact that the Corrs were at the height of their fame and Jim was very much still caught up living the popstar lifestyle.
Gayle completely understands and there isn’t a shred of bitterness about their break-up.
She says: “Looking back, it was for the best and it meant Brandon has the best of both worlds. We were both in different places in our lives. He was a rock star. I became a young mother and I had no choice — I couldn’t party because I was a full-time mum.
“The emphasis is always on the women, but I think men go through things too, and it was a big shock to Jim’s system becoming a dad. He was 42 when Brandon was born, and it took him a little bit longer to adjust.
“He spends a lot of his time in England now, where the band is doing another album, and he comes over and sees us and brings Brandon over there to the studio.
“Brandon is a big part of their family and very close to his cousins. I have no brothers and sisters, so I am glad he has them.”
Brandon has just had his transfer results, which Gail says were very good, and he is hopeful of getting into Campbell College in Belfast next year.
His dad has made sure that music has been a big part of his son’s life, and he is proficient at playing both the guitar and the piano.
While he studies hard at his music, his mum says it is not a struggle for him because he inherited the Corrs’ natural talent. But at the moment has no plans to follow in his father’s footsteps.
It is clear that he is very much the centre of Gayle’s world: “I love every minute of it,” she says.
“He is like a wee friend. I pick him up from school and he chats away about his day.
“He is at a lovely age when I can ask his opinion on things. He would love to get into Campbell College — it is his dream school, so we are keeping our fingers crossed.
“He did one of his music exams the day before his AQE transfer test and got a distinction.
“He is very talented musically. Of course, his daddy made sure he was involved in music, but he doesn’t struggle with it — he is very, very good. At the minute, he has no plans
to become a musician... his dream is to be a rescue pilot.”
After years of staying at home with Brandon, Gail is now happy to carve out a life for herself while enjoying watching her son grow up.
She says: “I’m in a really good place and very happy and content. I have a really good circle of friends and neighbours who are my best friends.
“I’ve no interest in going out and I’m happy to be single. I’m not looking for anyone. I think it works better with just me and Brandon.
“I’m enjoying working with the Bradleys, and they are planning to expand and open galleries in England. I hope to be part of that.
“I’m also delighted to have been asked to be the chaperone for Miss Northern Ireland this year. I’m really excited about it.
“I will spend the weekend in the hotel with the girls just helping them and advising them. I remember myself that weekend and how exciting it was.
“Now that Brandon will soon be going to secondary school, I feel that I need to start to branch out on my own again as I know he is not going to need me as much. I think it is time to start thinking about what I am going to do next.”
Gail, who grew up in Lurgan and is still a regular visitor to the town where her parents live, was persuaded by colleagues in the boutique she worked in to enter Miss Northern Ireland in 2002.
She recalls feeling stunned that she won her local heat in The Coach Inn in Banbridge, and says she will never forget the final when she was crowned Miss Northern Ireland.
“It changed my life — nothing was the same again after it, “Gayle admits. “It was the best day of my life. I couldn’t believe I had won. I really couldn’t. I was so shocked and literally I still can’t believe it.
“It was a brilliant experience. You have only one year to be Miss Northern Ireland and I wanted to focus on it and make the most of it. That was the best decision I made.
“It was a very busy year. It is more about the year of work than actually just receiving the crown. I think it is important that girls go into it knowing that and not just enter because they might get a crown.
“People think it is really glamorous. It is, but you do work hard. I never got carried away with it. I met a lot of nice people and got to a lot of nice events, and it was great to win Miss UK in 2003 and get to Japan for Miss International.
“It was fantastic, and when I look back on it now I have great memories I will never forget. If was a once in a lifetime experience.”
For this year’s contest, Gayle says she would love to see natural beauty dominate because she believes too many young women are turning unnecessarily to Botox and cosmetic treatments. “I think it is nice to see natural beauty — I think too many young girls are having Botox and breast implants,” she stresses.
“At the moment it’s not for me, although I’m not ruling it out in the future, but at this stage I don’t think it is necessary.”
Life is good for this single mum who certainly does have her feet on the ground. No doubt now that she has decided to get back into the world of work again, we will be seeing a lot of more of her.