Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Northern Ireland's next big stars - why 2019 will be a pivotal year for these young hopefuls


Kate Grant (Benefit/PA)
Kate Grant (Benefit/PA)
Brand New Friend
Kate Grant, model
Eileen O'Higgins, (C) BBC - Photographer: Stefan Hill

By Sarah Henderson

Northern Ireland never fails to deliver fresh new talent year on year.

From music to movies to modelling, we take a look at the next big things to make waves in 2019.

Some are already established but their stars are on the rise - while others are the new kids on the block just starting to shine in their chosen fields.


She grew up on a farm in Co Antrim but these days Melissa Riddell enjoys a much more glamorous lifestyle as a presenter on Cool FM and a model.

The 25-year-old from Portglenone hosts the Cool Nights slot on the local radio station, her favourite show when she was growing up.

Melissa Riddell

A graduate of the University of Liverpool, where she studied drama, she landed a placement at CMPR as an intern and while there, tried her hand at modelling, at which she was a natural. She then secured her dream job with Cool FM but continues to model in her spare time.

A keen blogger and vlogger, Melissa is well known locally for giving tutorials on make-up, hair and fashion. She has over 11,000 followers on Instagram and over 4,500 on her YouTube channel.

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Last year was a busy and fruitful period for Castlerock four-piece Brand New Friend. The indie pop brother-and-sister-fronted band wrapped up 2018 with an Ash support tour and unveiled the news that they will perform with Snow Patrol at their Ward Park gig in May 2019.

Brand New Friend

Their debut album, Seatbelts For Aeroplanes, has been voted one of the best Irish albums of the year by Hot Press who described it as "a punk-pop riot that lives up to the advance hype. It got us excited for what we might hear from them in the future."

The band has also toured with Feeder and supported Kodaline at Custom House Square, Belfast. They have received support from Annie Mac, Huw Stephens and Phil Taggart on Radio 1, John Kennedy on Radio X, RTE2FM, Cool FM, BBC Radio Ulster and 6 Music's Steve Lamacq. And Brand New Friend has just rounded up a three night residency at the American Bar in Belfast.


Cookstown's Kate Grant took the world by storm in 2018 with a number of lucrative modelling appearances. Now the 20-year-old is well on her way to becoming the first supermodel with Down's syndrome.

Kate's journey began when she was invited to take part in Belfast Fashion Week by organiser Cathy Martin. She started to garner widespread Press attention and was the subject of a television documentary, charting her experiences.

She then appeared on ITV's award-winning magazine show This Morning, modelling in a fashion segment, which brought her more attention.

Just recently, she was unveiled as a brand ambassador for leading cosmetics company Benefit.

Kate Grant

A Benefit representative said: "We saw one of the news videos in the summer of 2018 on social media and fell instantly in love with her. Her amazing energy was so infectious and we were captivated by her incredible zest for life and determination. She embodied everything we stand for as a brand so we knew we had to find a way to work with her."

Speaking about the campaign and her future ambitions, Kate said: "The sky is the limit. You should always follow your dreams. And I want to be the first supermodel with Down's syndrome. I'm not stopping now, I want to go to London, Paris and Milan"


An established stage actress, Castlewellan's Eileen O'Higgins got her big screen break in the Oscar-nominated romantic film of 2015, Brooklyn.

The former Assumption Grammar School pupil, who trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, played the role of Nancy, best friends to Saoirse Ronan's main character Eilis Lacey. The actresses bonded on set and have been best friends ever since. Eileen even attended the Golden Globes with Saoirse as her plus one in 2018 and was given a shout-out from the stage by the Carlow woman as she was collecting her Best Actress gong for Lady Bird.

Eileen O'Higgins, (C) BBC - Photographer: Stefan Hill

Eileen went on then to star in the BBC NI wartime drama My Mother and Other Strangers before landing a part in the lavish new film Mary, Queen of Scots, currently showing in cinemas. She plays the part of Mary Beaton, one of the Four Marys - companions to the Scottish Queen. The film sees Eileen work again with her best friend - Saoirse Ronan stars as Mary, Queen of Scots.

Next up for the rising star is a role in a television series about the life of Pablo Picasso and a new movie, Misbehaviour, about the 1970 Miss World pageant.


Derry teenager Roe, aka Roisin Donald, wrapped up last year by winning the Oh Yeah Contender Award for best emerging act at the 2018 Northern Ireland Music Prize. She also kicks off this year supporting Snow Patrol on their arena tour around the UK, at the personal request of Gary Lightbody, and plays her first ever Irish headline shows in February before heading to Austin, Texas, to perform at the world famous SXSW festival in March.

The 19-year-old electro pop artist is about to release her latest single, Down Days, taking on the stigma of mental health.


Speaking about the new song, due for release next month, Roe said: "I was having a really bad day. I felt like I couldn't talk to anyone without annoying them, and I was angry and frustrated at myself. I felt like my brain was about to explode, with no idea how to handle it.

"That night I came home and started to write this song as a way of trying to make myself feel better. It's okay not to feel okay. At a time when it can feel that we're surrounded by negativity and constant social pressure, it's important to remember that no matter how shitty you feel, you are not alone."

Down Days will be released via Fictive Kin Records, available worldwide via all major digital retailers on Feb 1.


Derry model Joanna Cooper was discovered several years ago when the European casting director of Urban Outfitters plucked her from obscurity after spotting her on Instagram.

Joanna Cooper

A few weeks later she was whisked off to London and signed to a manager. Since then her modelling career has been on the rise. The former Miss Universe contestant, who is in a relationship with Irish rugby player Conor Murray, has modelled both at home and across the globe and made headlines when she appeared in a photoshoot for lingerie company Agent Provocateur.

A former journalism student, Joanna's look has been compared to that of British supermodel Cara Delevingne.

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