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Tiffany Brien plans to make the most of her year as Miss Northern Ireland

By Stephanie Bell

The newly-crowned Miss Northern Ireland tells us why she gave up on her Olympic dream, how she plans to spend her year as a beauty queen and her love for a Belfast student.

Tiffany Brien began her first official week as Miss Northern Ireland on Monday relishing the fact that she had a packed diary of engagements. The same hard work and dedication which saw her achieve Olympic standard in her chosen sport of sailing is now being poured into her new role as Miss Northern Ireland and she is bursting to get started and give it her all.

At 9am on Monday, as she makes her way to the first of many appointments for the week, she uses the time to chat via hands free in her car to Weekend.

You suspect that not a single moment of the year ahead will be wasted as Tiffany’s motto in life is to give everything 110%.

It’s why she is a world-class sailor who could have been heading to the Olympics this year only for taking a break last February after living and breathing the sport for five years.

It is only a week since she was crowned Miss Northern Ireland 2012 and she is still riding the crest of the wave of high emotion which comes with the title.

“I have woken up every single morning since and had to think twice before reality kicks in and then I’m thinking, is this really happening?

“I am absolutely over the moon, I just can’t wait. It’s only a year in my life and I will be making sure that I am there for every single job and that I give it my all and make the most of every minute.”

It was 21-year-old Tiffany’s second time taking part in the contest. Last year she finished in the top seven and enjoyed the experience so much she wanted to do it all over again.

Her competitive streak kicked in and she immediately set out to discover how she could improve, although she insists the winning wasn’t her ultimate aim.

“I started working for Alison Campbell doing some part-time modelling and picked up as much as I could and spoke to everybody and got feedback on my hair and makeup and clothes and the best way to present myself.

“I took it all on board and came back this year having fixed everything that I could and gave it 110%.

“I bought a dress one week after last year’s competition and it was my goal to wear it at the final and it has been hanging in my wardrobe every since.

“I knew from taking part last year it was a lot of fun and I really, really enjoyed it and it was just the most incredible experience and I just thought I am so young I might as well do it again.

“I wasn’t going into it to win but to just enjoy it all again and I honestly was shellshocked when they announced I was the winner. I am just over the moon, it is amazing.”

Tiffany, who has just finished her first year of a marketing degree at the University of Ulster, lives in Holywood with her younger sister Jessica (20), brother Jack (15) and her parents Simon, an estate agent, and mum Juanita.

The family live close to the North of Ireland Yacht Club in Cultra and her dad Simon is a keen sailor.

From the age of seven Tiffany and her friends lived in their wetsuits and spent all their spare time at the local sailing club, doing courses and learning the ropes.

She started to race when she was 14 and got a place on the Irish team at the age of just 16. Sailing consumed her for the next four years but last year, just as the Olympics beckoned, she was beginning to feel burnt out and realised she needed a break.

“Sailing took over my life, I loved it and I lived for it,” she said. “It is very time-consuming and a lot of hard work. I learnt really quickly, my dad is a good sailor and I learnt a lot from him as well.

“When I was 16 I realised I wanted to go to the Olympics and every season I got better until I reached the Olympic class.

“Then last February I decided to take a break. It is incredibly intense and I had missed everything other girls my age were doing — school formals, parties — to dedicate all my time to sailing and I think I reached a point when I realised I needed to take a break or I would not enjoy it anymore.

“It was down to me or another girl for the 2012 Olympics and for me the focus just wasn’t there so I decided to call it a day and come back to it after a break.

“Sailing is something that when you have it, you will always have it. I didn’t feel like I was quitting and now it seems like it is the best thing I have ever done as I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t taken the break from sailing.”

Last season she was ranked number one in Ireland in Laser radial dinghy sailing and is still dipping into her passion, having competed in a race in Dublin last weekend, missing first place by just one point.

It’s a male-dominated sport and there was some light-hearted ribbing of the new Miss Northern Ireland from her fellow competitors, as she explains: “I don’t think as guys they wanted to be beaten by a Miss Northern Ireland as it would have been so embarrassing.”

That Tiffany is made of stern stuff is not just apparent in her success as a sailor but on a personal level as she loves to challenge herself.

In 2007, she sailed the Irish Sea and raised £18,500 to help buy a boat for disabled charity Sailability.

She plans to do it all again next month with blind adventurer Mark Pollock sailing from Portpatrick in Scotland to Belfast in the specially adapted boat which she helped to buy.

Tiffany and Mark will be aiming to raise funds for the Mark Pollock Trust as well as Sailability.

Sailing across the relentless Irish Sea would be challenging enough for a regular sailor, but 36-year-old Mark, who has been blind since 22, was also paralysed in a freak accident in 2010.

Mark is not shy of a challenge and before his accident became the first blind man to trek to the South Pole. From sub-zero temperatures, he then endured scorching heat, running six marathons in the Gobi Desert in one week.

He has completed The North Pole marathon, raced through the desert lowlands of the Syrian African Rift Valley to the Dead Sea and competed at high-altitude in the Everest Marathon.

Having known Mark through her local sailing club, Tiffany wanted to come up with something which would get him back to doing the challenges he loves.

She said: “I really admire Mark and I wanted to take him back to his roots of being an adventurer again and I approached him about the idea last year of the Irish Sea Challenge, but at the time even though he loved the idea, he was still quite sick.

“His health has improved a lot and he is much stronger now and we are both really looking forward to the challenge on June 9.

“His last challenge was a sailing challenge and this will be the first time he has been in a boat since his accident.

“I will be his eyes on the water. I will be helming the boat and it’s my job to make sure he is comfortable and confident with me.”

After her Irish Sea Challenge Tiffany will be getting ready for the Miss World contest in China.

It couldn’t be more different from her last trip to China four years ago when she was a training partner in the Beijing Olympics.

“Four years ago if someone had of given me a snapshot of what my life would be like this year going to China for the Miss World I wouldn’t have believed it.

“Last time I went, I had wet suits and ropes in my luggage, this time I will be travelling with bags full of gowns. It is crazy.

“I can’t even begin to imagine what it is going to be like. I have arranged to meet up with last year’s winner Finola Guinnane and Lori Moore to get the low down on what to expect.”

Tiffany has been dating boyfriend Oli Loughead (19), a finance student at Queen’s for four years. Oli, from Bangor, is also a sailor, which is how the couple met.

She says he is thrilled that she won Miss Northern Ireland and although he knows he will see a lot less of her in the next year, he is supportive and happy that she is doing what she wants.

Her dream job is to present sport on television but her degree is now on hold as she puts all her efforts into her year as Miss Northern Ireland.

She adds: “I put a lot of effort into everything I do and Miss Northern Ireland will be no different. I plan to make the most of my year and enjoy every minute.”

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