Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland trio invited to Harry and Meghan's wedding day honoured and excited

By Aine Fox

A former soldier from Ballymena and a mother and daughter from Londonderry will be among the guests at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle next month.

Julie-Ann Coll and her mum Catherine Cooke, both from Derry's Waterside, received separate invites around 90 minutes apart and spoke of their delight.

Mrs Cooke (53) said she could not believe it when the postman arrived with the news, not long after coming off the phone to Julie-Ann, who had already learned of her own invitation to the couple's big day on May 19.

Mrs Cooke, who was chosen for her work with Foyle Women's Information Network, which provides opportunities for women's groups across Co Derry to meet and discuss various issues, said she was "very excited and very honoured". Her husband, who will be on a stag do in Krakow that weekend, was "devastated" that he cannot attend she said, adding that she will take another daughter, Stephanie, instead.

Mrs Coll (35) was nominated to attend for her work with child bereavement support group Life After Loss, having lost her son, Mark, in 2004 at 22 weeks old.

She will be accompanied by her mother-in-law Marcia Coll who she joked is "probably online shopping as we speak".

"I'm just over the moon but I can't picture myself being there to be honest. I'm just so excited," Julie-Ann said.

Ex-Royal Irish Regiment soldier Phillip Gillespie said it was "a wee bit surreal" to think he will be there next month with his girlfriend Kirsty Crawford.

"It's a massive privilege, it will be a huge spectacle," he added.

The 30-year-old, who lost his right leg in Afghanistan in 2011, is also eagerly awaiting news as to whether he has made the rowing and archery teams for the next Invictus Games, the brainchild of Prince Harry. Mr Gillespie, who is involved with ABF The Soldiers' Charity, said he was looking forward to a busy few months with the Invictus trial results, the wedding and then a Royal garden party following his BEM award last year.

He said he had not told many people yet but expected his friends' reaction to be muted compared to the feedback his girlfriend was getting.

"I think Kirsty has got more of a reaction, I think it (a wedding) is more of a girl thing," he laughed.

Mr Gillespie won't be the only former soldier at the wedding.

Grant White (52) spent 23 years as a commando, leaving in 2008 as a warrant officer after being medically discharged, and is now head of operations for the Race2Recovery charity.

The charity, which runs an off-road team that has competed in the Dakar Rally, provides opportunities in motorsport for people who have suffered life-changing injuries. Mr White, from Dorset, who lost his right leg below the knee in a hit-and-run road accident, said of his invitation: "It was a very pleasant surprise and it caught me slightly off-guard, I must admit."

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