Belfast Telegraph

Stars shine at the Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards 2015 with Specsavers

A-listers admit that our finalists are the real heroes.

By Christopher Woodhouse

A Galaxy of stars came out to shine on Friday at the 2015 Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers.

Our 15 inspirational finalists were overjoyed to meet the famous faces from the worlds of music, TV, film, stage and sport who turned out to show their support for our awards at the luxurious Culloden Hotel in Holywood.

X Factor judge Louis Walsh joined stars from soaps Emmerdale and Coronation Street and hit fantasy show Game of Thrones and Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody and Nathan Connolly at the gala ceremony.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill and his football aces Niall McGinn and Paddy McCourt even popped in to show their support ahead of yesterday's Euro clash with Romania.

Mingling with the hundreds of guests were Kristian Nairn - famous for his role as giant Hodor in Game of Thrones; Emmerdale stars Gaynor Faye, Katherine Dow Blyton and John Bowe; Coronation Street actor Charlie Lawson; and The Fall actresses Bronagh Waugh and Niamh McGrady.

Also there on the evening was nine-year-old Co Armagh girl Jesse-Jane McParland, fresh from dazzling the nation with her martial arts skills on Britain's Got Talent.

However, the A-listers were humbled by the real stars of the evening, our 15 Spirit of Northern Ireland awards finalists.

"It's a brilliant night because it's about normal people with real stories, about them overcoming so many difficulties but who are happy with their lives," said Louis Walsh, who sat on the judging panel for the awards.

Similarly awed by our inspirational awards finalists was Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody.

"It was a really staggering night, hearing all the stories of those who have struggled and strived through so much adversity but who are happier and more in touch with their humanity than most of us who are blessed with all the gifts we take for granted," he said.

"All of the people that were nominated are extraordinary, the whole night was humbling with the most spectacular array of humanity with such grace, charm and positivity," he added.

"It's really nice to see something like this happening in Northern Ireland, I think things like this are really important," added GoT star Kristian Nairn.

Corrie actor Charlie Lawson - known and loved by millions as Big Jim McDonald - is always glad to show his support for the awards on the night.

"It's fabulous, very inspirational. This year was the best Spirit of Northern Ireland awards yet," said Charlie.

Emmerdale star John Bowe, known by soap fans as Lawrence White, said: "People regard us as the celebrities but I think everyone will agree the real stars are the nominees we have seen.

"It's an extraordinary evening, I feel very humbled to have been here tonight."

The Fall's Bronagh Waugh joined co-star Niamh McGrady at the ceremony.

"I was so excited that Niamh and I could make it specially over from London for this because I think it's the most important award ceremony that Northern Ireland hosts," said Bronagh.

"We are celebrating the real heroes of Northern Ireland."

The guests were also surprised with video messages from stars that couldn't be there on the night.

Golfer Darren Clarke, who is currently in the US preparing for the US Open, congratulated all the finalists, saying: "You're all winners in my eyes."

Renowned actor Jimmy Nesbitt was tied up with filming commitments in London but said he was "with everyone in spirit", adding: "Congratulations to all the finalists and winners."

Co Down comedian Paddy Kielty was also stuck in the capital but didn't miss a chance to rib awards judging panellist Louis Walsh.

"I know it's a very exciting night, especially for Louis Walsh, as this is the first time Louis has been a judge on anything without Simon Cowell telling him how to vote," he joked in his video message.

He added: "To the nominees, well played, and to the winners huge congratulations."

In a message from an empty TV studio, BBC NI's Stephen Nolan said: "Nobody has turned up to Nolan Live tonight, not a sinner, because they're all at the real biggest show in the country, the Spirit of Northern Ireland awards.

"I'm really sorry I can't be with you but it's a fantastic occasion, have a nice night!"

World champion boxer Carl Frampton couldn't make it as the Belfast man is in training ahead of defending his world title in America next month.

However, he wished everyone well, telling the finalists in his video clip: "Always remember, you guys are the real heroes."

Fellow sportsman, Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty was resting ahead of last night's clash with Romania, but echoed Carl's message to our finalists.

"Remember, you are the real heroes of Northern Ireland," he said.

Emmerdale stars Bashkar Patel, aka Rishi Sharma, and Kelvin Fletcher, known to millions as Andy Sugden, are currently on Kelvin's stag do.

"Good luck to all the nominess and all the recipients, well deserved and have a great weekend," said Kelvin with Bashkar adding: "Have loads of Guinness on my behalf!"

Local leading lights that turned out for the night included Hole in the Wall Gang comedians Tim McGarry and Damon Quinn; West End star Niamh Perry; TV presenters Julian Simmons, Sarah Clarke, Paul Clark and Sarah Travers; Cool FM's Pete Snodden; mentalist David Meade; and telly weatherman Bara Best.

Presenting on the night was UTV's dynamic duo Pamela Ballantine and Frank Mitchell.

The guests were also treated to entertainment from Louis Walsh's hot new boyband Hometown and local comedy favourite May McFettridge.

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