Abbii Badmus

First Published December 2021


On December 12th Katherine Walker from Belfast will represent Ireland at the 2021 Miss Universe final in Israel. Katherine, a nurse, is the fourth Miss Universe Ireland of Brittany Mason’s ‘Moxie’ era, following on from Cailín Toibín in 2017, Grainne Gallanagh in 2018, Fionnaghuala O’ Reilly in 2019, and Nadia Sayers last year.

While Katherine sets her sights on writing her name into the record books by bringing home the biggest prize in world pageantry, the same ‘Moxie’ era has given Offaly its own history maker in the shape of Edenderry’s ABBII BADMUS, who became the first black woman to hold the MISS UNIVERSE OFFALY title in 2020.

For Abbii and her Miss Universe Ireland (MUI) class of 2020, the opportunity to be part of one of the planet’s most prestigious pageants was certainly a little bit different. Under normal circumstances, the weeks leading up to the aforementioned gala Grand Final in the famous and historic Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House would be filled with glitter and glam filled events, with flashbulbs and champagne corks often popping in equal measure.

These events usually give all of the contestants –  including Abbii who was one of 2020’s twelve finalists – a chance to get to know each other as they share in what has always been a line-up of unforgettable experiences organised by Brittany Mason and her MUI team. Covid-19, however, changed all of that in 2020, with the entire MUI competition taking place online.

While the 2020 crown eventually went to Nadia Sayers, Abbii has flown the Faithful flag high and proud, proving herself to be as outstanding a representative of the county as we could ever have wished for on a national stage.

And, as Covid continues to cast its cloud of confusion across the world, and with restrictions preventing the MUI organisation from holding its annual Grand Final for a second year, Abbii is still – at the time of writing at the end of November 2021 – our Miss Universe Offaly.

And that title couldn’t be in better hands.

A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of catching up with Abbii – one of the loveliest souls you could ever meet – and I began our chat by asking how her time as Miss Universe Offaly has been?

“Oh, my time has been amazing! I’ve loved every single moment of it. From the very start, even until now, everywhere I go people are like, ‘Oh, you’re Miss Universe Offaly.’ So you’re part of the whole Miss Universe Ireland crew, that gang, the sisterhood, and I think that’s something that’s very common. Pageantry is not something that’s very common in Ireland, but that’s really starting to change. So I’m delighted that I have the title Miss Universe Offaly, and that I’ve been able to represent the country very well. Everywhere I go people are always like, ‘You’re such an Offaly girl’, and I’m like, excuse you, my name is Miss Universe Offaly [laughs]. But yeah, it’s been amazing, it’s been a great year.”

For Abbii, and her fellow 2020 contestants, it was a very different Miss Universe Ireland competition, with everything happening entirely online. But since restrictions had begun to ease, I wondered if Abbii had finally had a chance to meet any of the other Miss Universe queens from around the country?

“No, I haven’t actually met any of the girls that were finalists with myself. And yeah, obviously our year was very different with the pandemic, so everything we did during the year was virtual. But at least now restrictions are lifting bit by bit, which is great to know because if the competition does go ahead again this year, it can be in real-life. But because it was virtual last year, we all met each other through Teams, and Skype. But it didn’t feel like we were doing things virtually, because we were still able to get so much out of it, and with some of the girls, we’ve become like friends for life now, sisters for life! I’ve made closer friendships with some of those girls than I have with some people I see in my life on a daily basis! [Laughs]. And that’s so great to have.”

So why was getting involved with the Miss Universe Ireland organisation something that Abbii wanted to do in the first place?

“The reason why I wanted to get involved was that I wanted to make a difference in the world, and I still want to make a difference. I believe that the Miss Universe Ireland title should be mine [laughs]. That’s something that I’m very, very passionate about. So, behind closed doors, I’m still practising. For people that don’t know, it takes a lot of work! And obviously last year was my first year running in pageants, so I didn’t expect to go and win it first time around. And some of our previous winners have run twice.  It just takes practise and experience. I’m a woman who’s true to herself, and I love sharing my experience, and being able to meet new people, and representing my county, and my country. I carry that responsibility with me everywhere I go.”

What has been Abbii’s favourite moment of her time as Miss Universe Offaly so far?

“My favourite thing in the world is just having the title! That just means so much to me. I’m someone who has so much potential, but so many things in life can hold me back. It could be yourself, could be friends, could be family. Things can hold you back, but I believe that if you want to do something and want to achieve something, you need to have the right mindset. And when I ran last year, I wasn’t in the best state of mind during the whole competition. But what I’ve realised is that even while not being in the best state of mind, I was still able to achieve something. That just shows that if you really put your mind to something, and believe, it can be yours. So I enjoy every single moment of this. I still have my title, and everywhere I go, people are always pointing that out.”

At the time of our chat, one of Abbii’s fellow Miss Universe Ireland 2020 queens, Laura Nolan – who wore the Miss Universe Leinster crown – was killing it on RTE’s hit show, Ultimate Hell Week. I asked Abbii if she’d been following Laura’s progress, and if she could ever see herself following in Laura’s footsteps on a show like that?

“I actually haven’t been following the show because I have so many things going on right now. Outside of the whole Miss Universe side of things, you get so many opportunities that arise from that, so many people reach out to you because you’ve been part of the MUI organisation. You do get that advantage from it. So I haven’t been following the show, but I keep up with Laura on Instagram, and it’s so great for me. And it’s so great to see that someone can get so much, and gain so much, from the M.U.I. experience, and I would love to be in Laura’s shows one day!

What kind of opportunities have come Abbii’s way from being involved with Miss Universe Ireland?

“I’ve become involved in modelling, with the ‘Not Another Agency’, I work with them. Lots of photographers reach out to you as well to work with them. Because of being involved with something like Miss Universe Ireland, everybody sees your social media and even just walking by people, the feedback is great. And sometimes someone would say to me, ‘I can see that you’re gonna make it!’ So that’s what I’m hoping to do, and to help others along the way as well.”

Has getting involved in modelling been something that Abbii enjoys?

“I do! I love modelling! But I’m shy, and I need to grow legs! [Laughs]. I need longer legs, I’m only 5 ‘ 4’’ [laughs].”

But even at just 5’ 4’’, Abbii has never been afraid of a challenge, and, lest anyone doubt it for a moment, has always proud of her country, having donned the famous green, white, and gold to represent Offaly in Gaelic football…

“Yeah, I played county for Offaly, I loved it. That’s one thing that actually weighs on my mind daily, and it’s something that I regret, giving up football. Every single day I say to myself, I’m gonna take up football again. I go for training the odd time, with some of the lads or whatever, but I need to actually find a club down here [in Galway, where Abbii is living and working right now] and join up. I was going to this year, but then the championship finished so quick, before I even opened my eyes! [Laughs].”

Although Abbii has since changed career-paths, back in the early days of the pandemic she was working with a medical devices company in Galway. I wondered what it was like being in a job that was important to begin with, but suddenly, as everything in the world changed so dramatically, she found herself in a job that would potentially become one of the most vital on the frontline?

“Yeah, back at the beginning of the pandemic, when we didn’t really know where we stood, that’s where I was working. We were making ventilators and shipping them worldwide. That’s what we were always doing, but then the pandemic struck and we became very, very busy. And as a frontline worker, what else could you do except go into work each day, get your head down, and work hard. We knew we were making a difference, not just here in Ireland, in our own country, but worldwide as well. And that was great to know. We were caring for others in a kind of a way. We weren’t physically, in person able to help, but we were making ventilators to help keep people alive around the world.”

However, Abbii recently changed jobs and returned to the world of finance, something she studied in college…

“Yeah, I recently – well, back a while now – started this new job. So basically what happened is that after working so hard in that medical devices company, things then went a little bit quiet, because there’s only so many ventilators you can make and ship out, because they last for years and years and years. So a lot of us were made redundant, and to go out and look for a job – because there was so many of us, and because the pandemic was still going on – was very difficult. Personally, I decided I was going to take a couple of weeks out to rebuild myself because the last few months up to that had been very, very tough. Obviously the competition was on, I was going to work full-time, and I was dealing with my own mental health as well. But then I actually got sick for a few months, and I couldn’t work for a few months. But health is wealth, so I had to take care of myself. Before I realised I was that fragile, I was still going into work for a long time. But when May came, I started looking for a job, and because I studied accounting in college – in GMIT – I decided to start working in what I actually studied again. I had been in a finance job before the medical devices company, and I needed to get back to that. So now, I ‘m working with AIB, and it’s very cool because it’s obviously one of the big banks in Ireland. I just love coming into work here, I love everybody. The team I’ve met, I can’t thank them enough, and they’re really great people. It’s not every day that you meet people like that. I’m so happy that I’m in a job that I love, and where I’m happy.”

This year, Miss Ireland has its first black queen in Pamela Uba, but that was a milestone that the Miss Universe Ireland organisation reached back in 2019 when Fionnghuala (‘Fig’) O’ Reilly took the crown. But Abbii, as the first ever black Miss Universe Offaly, is also a history maker. What does it mean to her to have that honour, and to be that role-model?

“To me, honestly, it means so much! As you said, I am the first black person to be crowned Miss Universe Offaly. Watching Fig be crowned Miss Universe Ireland in 2019, she has literally set the way for black people. I’ll speak for my generation growing up. As a black person, as a minority to be honest, our opportunities are limited. So this – what Fig has done, what I’m doing – this sets the bar for what can be done. Because even now some people are still just beginning to realise that there is such a thing as Miss Universe Ireland, AND black people can actually be part of that, and earn that title. The Miss Universe Ireland organisation is very, very fair in that, and I do hope that we can have more black people crowned, and different cultures, too. And that’s great, because at the end of the day, we’re all Irish!”

Abbii continued, “If anyone wants to do something, you need to do it, you can’t let anyone stop you. That’s one thing I’ve realised, and that I’ve learned so much from last year. When I ran last year, I wasn’t letting my whole self go, be seen, there was so much that I hid. It’s only now I realise that there’s so much more I could have given. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very, very proud of what I’ve achieved so far, and what I’ve gained from being part of the Miss Universe Ireland family. But sometimes, as a black person, even that can hold you back because you might be afraid to post things on your social media because of the culture. At the end of the day, I’m still black, and I want to respect my culture. And I’m still Irish, and I want to respect that culture as well. But it has to be about what YOU want to do. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Focus on yourself. Build yourself. “

~ You can follow Abbii (@abbi_badmus), the official Miss Universe Ireland account (@missuniverseireland), and Miss Universe Ireland 2021 Katherine Walker (@katwalker21) on Instagram. 


Nadia Sayers

First Published May 2021


Imagine your life being at a stage where the surreal somehow seems to become the norm. On the one hand, of course, life has probably been a little bit surreal for all of us over the past year. But for Belfast native NADIA SAYERS, the level of surreal she’s been living through is certainly something she’ll never forget. In fact, while most of us will look back on 2020 and the first half of this year with a fairly mixed bag of emotions, it’s unlikely that Nadia will ever do anything but smile when she remembers that same period. 

On December 21st last year, Nadia, a psychologist-in-training who works with the Hope4Life charity, and who is the reigning Miss Universe Ulster, was crowned MISS UNIVERSE IRELAND 2020…via Zoom! Normally, that most magical of moments would have taken place in front of a sold-out audience in the spectacular surroundings of the Round Room in Dublin’s historic Mansion House, shared not only with family, but with friends, all of the other contestants, and the fantastic Miss Universe Ireland team. But, needs must, as the saying goes, so Nadia – sitting in front of her laptop, with just a few close family members in the next room – found out that she had become the fourth Queen of Brittany Mason‘s Moxie era at Miss Universe Ireland. Crowned without a crown, and without even meeting any of her fellow contestants. Pretty surreal, by any measure. 

Last week, Nadia finally made it to Miami where she’s representing Ireland at the Miss Universe finals, with the Grand Final set to take place on Sunday next, May 16th. And it’s fair to say that a few more surreal moments have already come Nadia’s way while she’s been in Florida! More about that soon. Regardless of whatever happens on the night, it’s already clear that Nadia has been doing us proud, and will continue to do so over the days and nights ahead by building further on the legacy already created by her predecessors; Cailín Tobin, Grainne Gallanagh, and Fionnghuala O’ Reilly (whose reign as Miss Universe Ireland ended up lasting for an incredible 508 days!). 

Having first spoken to Nadia back when she was only a few days into her reign as Miss Universe Ireland, we had the pleasure of catching up with the lady herself once again as her official Miss Universe finals adventure got underway at last. So, having finally made it to Miami, and with the Grand Final moving ever closer by the day, I began by asking Nadia to give readers an idea of what the day ahead held in store for her…

“Of course. So today is the day before check-in with Miss Universe, so thankfully I am still with my team today. And today is going to consist of preparing and packing all of my wardrobe, and finalising wardrobe for going into Miss Universe. Because we don’t have the full itinerary, we don’t know what we need, so we need to prepare for every eventuality; interview practise, photoshoot practise, catwalk practise. All of these things take time and effort to perfect. And to be able to get them right on first go, which is what needs to be done whenever you’re there at Miss Universe. So there’s going to be a lot of training, a lot of preparation, and then – hopefully! – a good early night’s sleep for tomorrow! [Laughs].” 

Nadia mentioned that she was still with her team as we spoke. So I wondered if, after she checked in the following day, that meant she would be on her own from then on? 

“Well initially when I check in with Miss Universe, I’ll do a Covid test and I’m in isolation for the first day and night, until my Covid test result comes back. Then, once that comes back, I’ll be able to go and do the daily activities with Miss Universe. My first day out of isolation will consist of doing orientation, doing fittings for outfits for the final show. So my team will only be able to contact me by my phone. They’re not allowed to be around me at the hotel, they won’t have access to contestants’ floors, nobody does. So we’re pretty much gonna be in our Covid safe groups with the other contestants, and the only people who can access us are Miss Universe staff.” 

Are those procedures all new this year because of concerns around Covid? 

“No, typically the contestants can’t see their directors or their teams anyway during that time period. The girls are very much let out on their own and they have to represent their team individually there. Obviously we can touch base on the phone and that, but not in person. However, the strictness of the initial isolation, the smaller groups, the lack of events – and even it’s a shorter time-period, [that is] because of Covid. Typically it would be two to three weeks, whereas this year it’s ten days long.” 

One of the biggest moments for Miss Universe Ireland every year is the reveal of the national costume. What little hints could Nadia give us about what could be expected this year? 

“So, preliminaries for the costume are next week. If everyone keeps an eye on the Miss Universe Ireland Instagram page, they’ll be announced. And the preliminaries are also streamed online so everybody can watch the reveal online. With regards to my costume…! Oh! You’re gonna love it! [Laughs]. The team and I, we talked about a lot of ideas, a lot of different concepts, because we like to get creative and we like to look into the history of Ireland. The mythology, the legends, every area of culture. We like to delve into all of them and see what we can pull out to create an elaborate costume. Now this year, the costume is THE most elaborate costume that Miss Universe Ireland has ever brought! It is the most detailed piece, containing over…I think…seven-hundred individual pieces! It’s just going to be phenomenal. And this costume is actually a concept that my director – Brittany Mason – had an idea for before she even took over Miss Universe Ireland. So this is something that stood out to her from the start. And now, from talking with me and with the team, we all kind of had a similar idea. And that’s the amazing thing. With regards to that and the evening-gown, we’ve all been on the same page, even when individually making our decisions from different countries.” 

As of a week ago today at this stage, there has been the most amazing ‘get-to-know’ Nadia video on the Miss Universe Ireland Instagram. It’s spectacular. I’d go as far as to say STOP reading this right now, and go and take a few minutes to check it out. I asked Nadia to fill me in on the filming…

“That was so much fun! Oh my goodness! I’ve been sitting on that for a while! [Laughs] I’ve had that for a while and I couldn’t say anything, and I’m so bad at keeping secrets! [Laughs]. I can’t believe I didn’t let it slip to anybody. Because we were in ‘lockdown’ for so long, there was no hair and make-up, no big teams, no nothing! It was done when restrictions lifted and six different people from two households could meet outside. So when that happened, we were able to dig in and find out if we could get permission to film, take a day and a half, and film for Miss Universe. I did my own hair and make-up. I sourced my own wardrobe and it was dropped at my door [laughs]. Everyone was working from a distance and in masks, oh my goodness. But it was so much fun, though, so much fun. We saw some of the most beautiful parts of the country. The team we worked with, the film crew, they’re a new team, we hadn’t worked with them before. I actually came across them on Instagram, and they’re so talented (full details of the film and production team areavailable on the Miss Universe Ireland Instagram). They made the whole process a lot easier and smoother. When I first saw the video, I was just in awe [laughs]. It’s so cool. I like that it’s a bit different than the norm. It’s more me! [Laughs].” 

My next question was one that only Nadia could answer, because only Nadia has ever had this experience! Normally, as mentioned earlier, on the night a new Miss Universe Ireland is crowned, the winner actually IS crowned on the night, in public and in front of family and friends. This year, of course, that wasn’t possible, with Nadia finding out the coveted crown and sash were hers in a live online broadcast! But, when that moment finally came her way, when the crown was right there in the same room as her, right in front of her eyes…and eventually, at last…upon her head…what was that moment like? 

“Ohhhhhh my goodness! So, it arrived in the post! [Laughs]. And I wasn’t expecting it. This box came, and I had no idea what it was. At this point deliveries were coming every day anyway. I was kind of caught off guard. I opened the box, and dug through all of the packing, and saw it. And honestly, I sat back on the floor, and I cried a little bit [Laughs]. But it was because, I think, it was something that for so long I had looked up to and admired. In my younger years, when I followed Miss Universe Ireland, it was something I never, in my wildest dreams, thought that I could ever achieve. So to have it there in front of me… And then finally, it was a couple of hours later because I wanted to get ready, I wanted to do my hair and make-up, I put it on. And I was thinking I don’t think I’m ever gonna take this off my head! [Laughs]. It was just so overwhelming.” 

I couldn’t believe that Nadia had the patience to wait and do her hair and make-up before trying it on!

“[Laughs] I was like, if I’m gonna do it, I wanna do it right! [Laughs]. But it was, it was so overwhelming, and amazing. It’s been sitting out in my dressing room on a shelf since, I look at it every day when I’m working [Laughs].” 

Because Nadia’s reign as Miss Universe Ireland is completely different to anyone who has ever preceded her, and probably to anyone who will one day follow her, I wondered how she is actually enjoying her experience of being…Miss Universe Ireland? 

“It’s definitely a different year! [Laughs]. But do you know what it is? I believe I was given this year for a reason. I know I can do it. I know I can make the best of it, and I am. I’m making the best of this year. I’m just trying to be creative and think of new ways of delivering the same messages we want to deliver every year, and with the same force and passion, But obviously, virtually. The biggest difference for me was obviously coming here. At home, we were in a little bubble. Because we were still in my house! I’d been Miss Universe Ireland in my house! [Laughs]. So although I was putting in the work, and making my own photoshoots, and doing interviews, and creating content for Miss Universe, it was all within my bubble. So whenever I left that bubble to travel to Florida, it was a bit of a culture shock at the beginning because I hadn’t really seen anybody since October.”

Nadia continued, “All of a sudden, I’m in an airport. Then on an airplane. Then I’m somewhere where it’s really warm and there’s loads of people around! Then to have people see me and address me as Miss Universe Ireland, people other than my family [laughs], and online, that was a little bit strange to begin with. But it’s hitting me more, solidifying a lot more now, from actually being here. But I love it. I know that it’s not a typical year, it doesn’t have all the same events and things like that. But, in a way it’s giving me more time to speak to people online, talk to younger kids, do Zooms with schools. Things like that that I’m passionate about, and that I really want to be able to give time to. Because the busyness of daily life was taken away for so long, I was able to focus on Miss Universe, and on being the best Miss Universe Ireland that I could be. And to prepare myself the best I could to get here. So I’m grateful for that. And I do think that it was all for a reason. I’m so excited just to be here, and to show Miss Universe what Ireland has! And then, moving forward, to continue to support the next queen, and really be a part of that sisterhood and help other girls that follow in these footsteps, and will surpass them, no doubt. I want to help those girls to be the best versions of themselves, and feel fully supported because they have the strongest team behind them.” 

I wondered if there’d been any particular moment since Nadia arrived into that Miss Universe bubble in Florida that felt just completely surreal? The kind of moment where you sometimes have to check yourself, and think, ‘Wait…how is THIS my life right now?!’ 

“Actually, yesterday! I did a photoshoot yesterday, and one the day before. Obviously it’s been so long since I’ve been able to be on-set anywhere. The shoots that I did at home were outside, or against walls! [Laughs]. So just being able to do one for a start. But I was in shock, because there’s this phenomenal photographer who I had admired because I’d seen his work with Grainne [Gallanagh] a few years ago. And I remember looking at Brittany and Grainne images and going, oh my goodness, they just look PHENOMENAL! LOOK at them! [Laughs]. Then, after my initial video came out, he contacted Brittany to see about shooting with me! That was cool. When I was on-set, I had my team around me – Brittany, JScot, Katie – the photographer was there, we were on a beach in Miami, I had these gorgeous dresses on…and at one stage I just stood there and I was like, this is my Wednesday! [Laughs]. Normally I’m sitting in my house in front of a laptop with my hair in a messy bun! [Laughs].” 

In Miami, Nadia is representing the Miss Universe Ireland organisation, she’s representing Ireland, and of course, she’s representing herself – Nadia Sayers – as well. I asked her to tell me what she wanted to show the world about each of those during her time at Miss Universe this year? 

“With regard to the Miss Universe Ireland organisation, I want to show the world – contestants here, but especially girls at home – how dedicated the team are. How much they give you, personal growth-wise. How much they support you in your personal development. I want to show them that Ireland, even though we’re a small country, compared to the others that are here – and we’re a small team as well – but although we’re small, we are ready! We’re ready, we’re feisty [laughs], and we are here! And we’re a lot stronger, I think, than people give us credit for. So I want to show them that Ireland is here to be noticed! And with regard to me…? I want to show them that you can be strong, and fiesty, and powerful, whilst being genuine and allowing that level of vulnerability through. To me, vulnerability is so important. To be able to be open with people, and build those connections, that doesn’t mean weakness. Being genuine and sweet isn’t a weakness. It adds to strength. I think that’s a misconception globally. So, I want to show them that we’re a strong country, we are here, we have so much to offer the world, and…it’s our time to get noticed!” 

~ The MISS UNIVERSE GRAND FINAL takes place this coming Sunday, May 16th, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Hollywood, Florida. To stay up to date with the journey of MISS UNIVERSE IRELAND NADIA SAYERS, and for further information on how to view the Grand Final, you can follow Miss Universe Ireland on Facebook and Instagram. 


Laura Nolan

First Published February 2021


Part 2

In Part 1 of our chat with LAURA NOLAN, the World Champion dancer, tv star, model, reigning Miss Universe Leinster, and MISS UNIVERSE IRELAND finalist (Top Three) 2020, took us on a journey from the earliest days of her dancing career right up to being on our screen week-in and week-out on DANCING WITH THE STARS Ireland with her celebrity partner Brian Dowling in 2020. 

The duo certainly became one of the show’s iconic couples during their time on DWTSIrl, but their time in the spotlight came to an end waaaaay too early due to what can only be described as – at least in my opinion – some seriously dubious voting by the Irish public! That fact aside, I asked Laura to talk about the challenge of taking a non-dancer, who is also a celebrity, and trying to teach in just a week routines that they then have to perform on ‘live’ television…

“It’s a lot of pressure! Trying to teach somebody first of all who has never danced before, it’s a lot of work. I don’t think people realise the amount of work that goes in behind the scenes, the amount of hours a day. You’re talkin’ ten hours a day. And you know, when you have somebody who’s never danced before, you’re adding in even more pressure on their behalf. Somebody who has been in the public eye for so many years, and is loved by so many people, that’s an extra pressure on them. They’ve always been a certain type of person, always seemed very professional. Now all of a sudden, you’re taking somebody out of their comfort-zone and asking them to dance on ‘live’ TV. So, there is a lot of expectation, you know, to get this dance right. It takes a lot of courage on the celebrities behalf, and a lot of work. For me, as the professional, I’m there to try to encourage them, to really bring them out of their shell, and to be there for them through every step, to make them realise that this is ok, that they are doing well. It’s about nourishing them through an experience and bringing the best out of them each week. Because it is very difficult, and very emotional. I don’t think people realise that on the show people are exhausted. They’re after putting everything into it. And they’re being asked questions week on week that are actually very personal to them. And because of the exhaustion, because of the amount of work that they’ve put in, because of all the emotion that’s coming up, you do get very caught up in it. And it is a very emotional thing! And you [the viewers] can see that on the actual show. It’s not until you come out of the experience and you look back on it, you’re like…ok, that wasn’t half as emotional as I thought it was, but when I was actually in it I was just so engrossed in it AND it was so emotional [laughs]. Yeah, it’s a very unique experience, but at the same time, it’s an amazing experience. And it’s one that you’ll only get on Dancing With The Stars.” 

As Laura had mentioned, being on DWTSIrl brought her into the public-eye in a huge way, even more so than she had already been. To the extent, in fact, that talk of romance between her and hurling great, Kilkenny’s Aidan ‘Taggy’ Fogarty, began to fill the nation’s gossip columns. I wondered if that sense of being in the public-eye in general was something that Laura found she enjoys, or is it more something that she just accepts as part of the job? 

“Well, I knew that going on the biggest show on TV I had to expect that. You have to expect people to want to know about your personal life, because they want to know a little bit extra about you. I knew that came with it, and was part and parcel of it. However…[laughs]…when you’re seeing people walking down the street after you, and you’re thinking ‘Ok, is that someone with a camera?!’…you do have to adjust your life slightly! It is something that you have to get used to. It’s not every day that you have somebody waiting on a corner to take a picture of you [laughs]. But I was very lucky that I did have Brian Dowling, because being so used to it, he almost helped me in that sense. He was helping me in one aspect, and I was helping him in another, so we worked together on it! Myself and Aidan thought it was so funny when speculation came out that there was romance between us! We were actually crying laughing because we were great friends. There were four of us that were very close; myself, Brian, Grainne Gallanagh, and Aidan. We’d been going out on nights-out together. Everyone on the cast knew that I was single at the time, and they also knew that I was single, and they were like, ‘Oh, you two!!!’ And we were like absolutely not! [laughs]. So it was being put to us from the beginning, but then when it came out in the papers the two of us just couldn’t help laughing. They were speculating about something that was just completely wrong. But sometimes you just have to take these things and laugh at them, because that’s all that you can do [laugh]. You have to just take it light-hearted and not take it personally.” 

Joanne Clifton, the 2016 winner of the show with her celebrity partner Ore Oduba, was one Strictly Come Dancing connection in Laura’s life which I wasn’t actually aware of until the day we spoke. But there was, of course, another connection between Laura and the show too, in the shape of Kai Widdrington, who had been Grainne Gallanagh’s professional partner on DWTSIrl last year. Kai went on to feature in the last series of Strictly as well. Would Strictly be something that’s also on Laura’s list of goals? 

“Oh, it absolutely is! Stepping into the world of Dancing With The Stars was completely new for me and I was keeping my options open. Everyone was saying, ‘Strictly, Strictly!’, but I said, you know something, let’s just see how I feel after Dancing With The Stars. I’d been in the world of competitive dance for years, and I just wanted to see how I’d feel after it. I wanted to keep my options open. But after experiencing Dancing With The Stars, I can say 100% yes, Strictly is something that’s a big goal of mine, and it’s something that I would absolutely love to do.” 

The reason we aren’t seeing Laura on Dancing With The Stars this year, of course, is because of the ongoing Covid 19 crisis, which has made the last year a pretty tough one for everyone. How had Laura been dealing with that side of things herself? 

“It’s very difficult to adjust, knowing that this time last year you were getting ready for a ‘live’ show. And you’re so caught up in, and so busy with something for a couple of months, to think this year that that’s just completely gone…I’ve been thinking, ok, yes it’s Covid time, and yes, things have been cancelled, but it’s not going to be like this forever. So I keep putting goals down for each day for what I want to do. And I’ve come up with a lot of creative ideas. Knowing that Dancing With The Stars wasn’t coming back, I knew I was going to have this time free, so I had to say, well what am i going to do now? So I started this Dance-Fit class, and even though that can’t happen in person, it’s going to happen online. I’ve also put something in motion that is an ultimate goal for me. I’ve really started thinking outside the box about contacting people and making things happen for summer time. That’s really all you can do. You just have to keep looking forward, and keep putting goals into each day for yourself, long-term and short-term, and try to make them happen. Even if it’s not happening right now, you have to believe that it will happen down the line.” 

Even with 2020 being as bad and as weird a year as it was, Laura still managed to end it on a high by being crowned Miss Universe Leinster, and by making it to the final three of Miss Universe Ireland, fantastic achievements both. What prompted Laura to enter the Miss Universe Ireland pageant and how did she enjoy the whole experience? 

“Back in 2012, I did a show for the final of Miss Universe Ireland. And since then, I’ve always been interested in Miss Universe Ireland, but I never really had the opportunity to do something like that as my whole career was based around dance. But then I came to a road where Dancing With The Stars had been cancelled, I was supposed to go on another show but that was also cancelled, so I thought well I now have time in my life to maybe explore different options. And also, of course, I was looking at Grainne’s role. I was very close with Grainne during DWTSIrl. So, as I did have an interest in that kind of pageant world, I was thinking to myself, right, I have these few months, a blank year…let’s try something different. Let’s try something that I haven’t tried before. And that was really what prompted me to do it. The experience was obviously unique and unusual because of Covid, it was all online. I know that usually it would be a one or maybe a two-day show, but this actually went on for four and a half months online. But it gave us the opportunity to do things that you wouldn’t have usually done. As in creating videos, doing different types of interviews. And it also gave us the opportunity to get to know the girls a bit more even though we haven’t met in person. At this stage we all know each other for so long, and yet, we haven’t even met! It’s very unusual [laughs]. But I have to say the whole experience overall was amazing.” 

As we wrapped up our chat, I wanted to come back to something that Laura had touched on at the beginning of our conversation. Everything about Laura, from her ballroom dancing, to Dancing With The Stars, to Miss Universe Ireland, all of that screams glamour, and glitz, and showbiz. But, there’s simply no way that Laura could perform to the standards that she always does at everything without being a fiercely determined person. So I asked her to tell me about that side of her, the fighter that sometimes people might not see or acknowledge as much as is deserved…

“I actually love that question. People see that glitz, and see that glam, they see the final product. But they don’t realise the sacrifice and the dedication it takes to get there. And like in any sport, there’s always going to be ups, and there’s also going to be a lot of downs that people don’t see. They don’t see the times that you got knocked out [of competition] and you were standing on the side of the floor wishing you were in that final, after dancing twelve hours a day, dedicating yourself, and sacrificing so much. And after your parents sacrificing so much money-wise for you. And after all that, you don’t get the placement that you deserve. That’s heartbreaking, heartbreaking. Like in any competitive sport. But every time, you have to pick yourself up, pick yourself off the ground, and teach yourself that it’s just one competition, so you need to keep going. It’s not easy to get up every single day of the week – your feet would be hurting, your toes would be bleeding – to end up dancing ten, twelve hours a day. Yes, it’s very difficult, but you do it for the love of your sport. And in myself, I have this want to be the best. When I’ve had a goal in my head, I’ve always been like this until I reach that goal. Someone once said to me, ‘You’re the most relentless person I know.’ And when they said that, I was like, that’s exactly what I am. I just won’t quit until I actually reach the goal that I want. You’re dead right in saying that to be successful, you have to have that want inside of you, that competitive spirit. Because it’s not easy. It’s definitely not.

Laura continued,“The last few years of my dancing career were the most challenging for me. My partnership wasn’t this beautiful, easy thing that people see. They see that you’re World Open champion, or you’re International champion. But my partner was, unfortunately, not the best partner. And actually, I’m due to appear on a programme where I actually speak about this. I’ve done a lot of work in the last couple of months for Women’s Aid, and the reason why I’ve done that is because of my own history, and what I experienced. To do something that you love, but to have someone beside you who’s not 100% with you all the time, is very difficult. You do need to have that extra want in you to succeed. And that’s how I am as a person. I always try to look at the positive in life, and I try to never dwell on the negative. If things don’t go my way, if I get knocked back, I always just say to myself, ‘What’s your end goal?’ Everything in life is not going to go your way. You have to expect the ups, and the downs. Yes, there has been a lot more downs and difficulties in my career than there would have been in somebody else’s, maybe somebody else in another country who has a federation who supports them, and actually funds them. But at the same time, it makes the journey even sweeter when you reach your end-goal. Through my career, I had a federation over here telling me, ‘You won’t make it to an international final. You won’t make a World Open final.’ They didn’t believe in their own dancers, because it was never done before. So that’s also an extra thing that keeps that fire in your belly…well I’ll show you…!””

I’ve always had that inside me”, emphasised Laura, “that grit, the grind, the graft to succeed, to be the best. So yes, people see the glamour, and they see the glitz, but you have to understand that didn’t come without a lot of tears, a lot of sweat, a lot of blood, a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of dedication. It’s like any sport, you have to prepare for it. If you want something enough, those are the things you’re prepared to do to be the best. And once you are the best, those sacrifices aren’t really sacrifices. They’re actually moments that make you, and make the journey that bit better.” 

You can follow Laura on Facebook and Instagram. 


Laura Nolan

First Published January 2021


Part 1

Far too often there are far too many people who make the mistake of judging others – especially celebrities – based on the now, what they see of them today, without ever giving a moment’s thought to how they actually got to where they are today. To say it’s an easy mistake to make is too lenient a verdict to settle upon where such folk are concerned. Because what it really is, in fact, is a lazy mistake to make. And there’s a big difference between an easy mistake and a lazy one. Dubliner LAURA NOLAN – world champion dancer, one of the pro-dancers on Dancing With The Stars Ireland, and as such, among the most famous faces in Irish entertainment – knows all about such rushes to judgement. 

Some people would have you believe that Laura was somehow just dropped into the world of celebrity out of nowhere, and that her life has always been as glamorous, perfectly measured, and controlled as it appears when we’ve seen her on our screens on DWTSIrl. But here’s the thing, you see, moments like that really are just ‘the now’, they’re not the whole story. They never are. Everything is glamorous, perfectly measured, and controlled NOW all right, because Laura is one of the very best in the world at what she does. But once upon a time – and for a long time – things would have been anything but perfect by anyone’s measure. 

But those moments – and this is crucial because, as you will discover, it gets to the very heart of who Laura is as a person – the hours and hours in rehearsal studios, the aching limbs, the bleeding feet, the travel, the living far away from home, the sacrifices made in so many ways – those are the moments that made Laura the star we know today. 

Last week we had the pleasure of sitting down with Laura for a chat about those same moments, the ones that nobody else might ever see or even know about, but without which, Laura’s story would not have been possible. And as far as her story goes, while we don’t have DWTSIrl to look forward to in 2021, Laura at least, has still managed to make it back onto our TV screens by teaming up with RTE Kids recently. So, that’s where we began our chat…

“They contacted me a little while back asking me to do a little dance class for children as schools aren’t open and there’s not much activities going on for them. So this was something that they could do that would be a little bit enjoyable, and also, it would help to keep dancing alive as it’s not on our TV screens this year. It’s very popular with children as well. So they wanted me to do an easy kind of class that would keep children interested and just, you know, keep them occupied for a half an hour [laughs]. I said absolutely, that was something I was really interested in doing and hopefully it’s going to become a regular thing. It went really, really well, it was very successful and the feedback was great. Positivity all round, really.” 

And Laura’s own dancing career began at a very young age, too, dancing competitively from the age of just five years old, I’d once heard. So if she began dancing competitively at five, I wondered, did that mean that she first began learning to dance even earlier? 

“Yes! I started to dance when I was three years old. My Mam was a dancer. So the minute she could, she put me into dancing. So I started ballet, ballroom, and latin all in the one week. And it kind of went from there. I know that for my first competition I was actually only four, but I’d say competitively from five because that was when I did a proper, proper competition. But my first competition was solo, and it was just  asic routine that I had to do. Now, this story has been told to me so many times, and I do remember parts of it [laughs], but I wouldn’t have a recollection of all of it. However, everyone reminds me of this story all the time [laughs]. So in my first competition, I was out on the floor. And I was obsessed when I was younger with diamonds and fluff! So I saw a diamond on the floor, and I stopped in the middle of the competition when all the judges were looking, and I started biting the stone on the floor! [laughs]. It was very popular at the time to have a boa of feathers at the end of a dress, so I saw this girl sitting down and I ran over to her and I got the fluff and put it up to my nose! [laughs]. So that’s how my competitive career started!” 

Was there a long line of dancers in Laura’s family, or did it just begin with her Mam and move on to Laura? 

“It just started with my Mam and it moved on to me. She was the one who really guided me through my career. She understood what it took to become a top dancer. It was a lot of sacrifice and a lot of dedication, not only on my behalf, but on my parents behalf. They really pushed me, and understood my career choice. And it was really because of them that I got to where I am now.” 

One thing I never realised about competitive dancing is that people can be in a partnership for so long. Laura had been partners with Stanislav Wakeham for about four years, and then with the brilliantly named Alessandro Bosco for about four more. I asked Laura what, from her point of view, makes someone a great partner? 

“I think trust is a huge part of any relationship, not just in dancing, but also in life. So you need to be able to trust your partner, and you need to be able to work as a team. A man has a huge role in leading the partnership, you know, when you’re on the floor and there’s many couples around he would guide you into the open space. You have to have that trust that you know you’re on the right path together, and that you have the same dreams and you have the same goals. I also think it’s important that the two characters get on. If you’re two different types of characters and you keep bashing off each other, it’s very difficult because you spend so much time together, especially in the studio. I had that last experience where the two of us were very different characters and it is very difficult. You need to be able to manage how you are as people together. And I suppose in dancing, it’s important that they have the same amount of commitment and drive as you do. You have to have the same goals, and the same wants, and the same determination, because if you don’t it can be very difficult. And I’ve also experienced that in other partnerships throughout my career. Especially in dance, because not everyone has the same goals as me. Everyone used to think my goals were ridiculous and unachievable, but I always had that determination needed to get there, and I did. But that meant needing to work that extra bit harder. A lot of people will just see dance as a hobby, I didn’t. So you definitely need to have the same level of determination to work the hours that are required to reach the top.” 

So Laura obviously found all of those positive qualities she mentioned when she teamed up with Stanislav in 2009? 

“Yeah, it was late 2008, I think. I’ve had many partners here in Ireland. My first partner, his name is Luca Mastropietro, he was an Italian living in Ireland, he was my longest ever partner. We danced as children together through the juvenile ranks, and we were together for like seven or eight years. I switched from partner to partner because people were stopping to dance, or just different circumstances and stuff. My coach was very well known around the world of dance, and he used to have a lot of people coming over to take lessons from him from other countries. And there was this couple staying in my house at the time, and it was actually Joanne Clifton, who went on to be on Strictly [Come Dancing], and she actually won Strictly. She was staying at my house at the time, and obviously she was English, and her and her partner at the time, Marco Cavallaro, they used to teach a lot in England. Everyone kind of knows each other around the world of dance, and it just happened that I was looking for a partner at the time and I mentioned it to them as they were staying in my house, and they said, ‘Yeah, we know this boy.’ And it just so happened that he had actually approached my coach as well at a competition a few months before that. So I went over to try out a few weeks later and we started dancing together. And when we started, I was only fourteen at the time, but he was already seventeen at the time, so we were in the adult ranks. There was a competition seven days later, the British Closed Championship, we danced it and we actually came second after just seven days dancing together. That was Under-Twenty-Ones, so even to make a final of that was a huge thing, never mind to place! Everyone was like, ‘Oh my God, what’s after happening?’ [laughs]. 

Laura continued, “That partnership went really, really well. For the first six months of that partnership I was actually travelling over every weekend to England because we had a lot of our coaches in England at the time. And we were doing the English circuit competitively. So, what I used to do was I used to leave school on a Friday at one o’ clock, dad would collect me, I’d get changed in the car, and he would drop me off at the airport. I had to fill out this cert to say that I was allowed to travel by myself, because my parents used to just drop me and I’d get collected on the other side. Once I got collected on the other side, it was straight to the dancing hall, have lessons, the competition practise, then on a Saturday I’d have a full day of lessons,and a full day of practise. Sunday, competition. Monday, I’d get on the first flight back to Dublin, my dad would collect me again on the other side, I’d get changed back into my uniform, and go straight into school! And that was my life for around six and a half, seven months. Then we realised, look, we need to be able to practise during the week as well. So he ended up moving over here and living in my family home. So yeah, that was a very successful partnership in that it got me to a different stage of my career. We were the first ever couple to make the final of a World Championship from Ireland. That happened in 2009. We were also the first ever to make an International Open Final, that was in 2010. We made the final of a British Open Championship, so really, that launched me in my career. I was still really young at the time, so I should have been dancing junior, but I was dancing adult. Youth is from sixteen to eighteen, but I was out of that by the time I was fifteen because of my partner. But I should have still been in junior. So it went really well. We were teaching over here, we had a huge school over here, but it got to the stage in 2021 where he had grown very, very tall! And it was actually too much then if we wanted to reach the next level. So we were like, look, this isn’t working height-wise, so we need to think of something else. So we went looking for different partners and we just went down different roads. He moved back to Moscow where he was originally from, and I went on to dance then with somebody from Italy. So yeah, he left first, and I was left without a partner for a couple of months. But then I started dancing with this Italian, and went and lived in Rome for three months. Big, dramatic story! [laughs]. Ended up coming home after three months, I wasn’t mad about it over there, and a few months later then I started dancing with Alessandro Bosco and moved down to the south of Italy.” 

I had been planning to ask Laura about some of the reasons why partnerships might come to an end, but literally, in one instance for her, it was just because her partner became too tall??

“Yeah! Everything was going quite well, and our results were going quite well, but in that case we decided to stop because of our height difference. We knew that if we wanted to get to another level, which would be in the amateur-ranks the final of the World Championship. We were in the final of the World Championships for Under-18s but then when you move into amateur, you’re against people who are in their thirties. So we were in the Top Twenty-Four, sometimes the Top-Twelve, and we wanted to get to the Top-Six. To do that, we knew that height was having a restriction on how we were dancing. So we just made a mutual decision to move on. In other cases, I’ve been in partnerships where I just didn’t get on with a partner, it just wasn;t working as people to people. Then you’d have some people who were like, ‘Look, I’m just not committed to this role, it’s not what I want anymore.’ Every partnership is unique. And every relationship you have with a person is unique. So they can end for different reasons.” 

When a partnership like Laura’s one with Stanislav comes to an end, especially after being so successful both on and off the dancefloor, is that a very difficult time? 

“Yeah, it is difficult. But that was a unique case for me, in the sense that we had already made that mutual decision that it was done. So I was almost ready for it and expecting it. But it is difficult, because you have to readjust your life, you know, after spending so much time with somebody. I remember being heartbroken at the time that it was over, but in the end, it ended up being the best thing for me. You don’t always realise these things when they’re happening at the time. But afterwards, looking back on it with hindsight, it was the best thing that I ever did. Once I started dancing with Alessandro Bosco, I would say that was probably the most successful career partnership that I’ve had. That launched me into a different part of my life in the amateur ranks, which is professional almost. And that was my longest as well, I was there for five and half years in Italy. In 2014, just two days after Christmas, I moved over to the south of Italy. We were representing Ireland, but the reason why I was living over there is because he had a massive studio beneath his house, and our coach – who was his coach as well – had his school set up in Alessandro’s studio. All of our lessons, all of our practise with the whole club was in his studio. So it just made much more sense [to be there]. Over here, it’s difficult to find studio-space to practise the hours of the day that we need. A lot of studios over here wouldn’t be only dedicated to ballroom and latin, it could be dedicated to hip-hop or ballet, and then you’d have your classes in the evening and stuff. So it’s just difficult to find what you need here. Whereas over there, it was his own so we could spend as long as we wanted in there.”

Fast-forwarding a little bit to 2019, Laura and Alessandro had retired from ballroom as a partnership, and Laura had joined the Dancing With The Stars Ireland team. When DWTSIrl first reached out to her, I wondered if Laura had been surprised to hear from them, and if it had taken her long to say yes? 

“A couple of years before 2019, in my partnership with Alessandro, I would have been one of the most successful dancers that ever came from Ireland, because of that partnership. I was doing really well in the competitive world, I was one of the top dancers in that world, I became World Open champion in that time, and International champion as well. And DWTSIrl actually reached out to me for the very first season. And I said no because I was competing at the time. A lot of my friends, a lot of my colleagues from Ireland, had gone through the audition and that’s how I got news of it [their interest], but I was like, no, I’m in my competitive career at the moment and I wouldn’t be able to dedicate my time to it. So, season-one went on, season-two went on, and then I got contacted for season-three by the producers and I turned it down again because I was still competing. Then, it came to January 2019, a huge event happened [in my life] and I ended up back home. I said to myself, right, I’m after being put in this position where I’m now after splitting from my partner, and I started looking at my life in a little bit of a different way. I was like, you’re after achieving all of your goals, you’ve become World Open champion, you’ve become International champion, so now it might be time to actually try something new. The producers reached out to me again…and I was like, it’s time, it’s time for me to go on the show. It’s time for me to change things up [in my life]. So because I’d been contacted a few times before, I was almost ready for it, I was expecting it. And yeah, it went from there. It was honestly the best decision I’ve ever made in my life, that little switch over. Because I’ve now opened doors that I would never have thought even possible.”

~ Stay tuned for Part 2 of our chat with Laura – including her memories of working with Big Brother legend Brian Dowling on DWTSIrl and much more – coming your way in the next few weeks! 


Nadia Sayers

First Published January 2021


Ever since model and entrepreneur BRITTANY MASON took the helm at the organisation, the annual crowning of the new MISS UNIVERSE IRELAND has become one of the most glamorous events on the Irish social calendar. Up until this year, the event has always been held in the famous Round Room at Dublin’s Mansion House, where the first Dáil Eireann met in 1919, and which has also been graced by the presence of Pope John Paul II and Princess Grace among others. In August of 2019, under that same spectacular domed roof, FIONNGHUALA O’ REILLY was crowned Miss Universe Ireland, taking over from the 2018 Queen, GRAINNE GALLANAGH.

Fig, as Fionnghuala is affectionately known, made history that warm summer’s night by becoming the first woman of colour to take the Miss Universe Ireland title. Little did anyone know back then that perhaps the strangest of all possible years lay just up ahead. When the time eventually rolled around to crown her successor, Fig had gone on to make more history by becoming Ireland’s longest serving Queen, being an elegant, inspirational, and always amazing ambassador for Ireland for an incredible 508 days. However, on December 21st – in a magnificent virtual ceremony for which Brittany, Jscot Reid and their team must be commended – Miss Universe Ulster, NADIA SAYERS, was finally announced as MISS UNIVERSE IRELAND 2020, the fourth Queen of Brittany’s Moxie Era (CAILÍN TOBIN was the first in 2017).

Only a few days later, on New Year’s Eve morning, we had the pleasure of spending some time in conversation with Nadia. And, as you would expect, we began by saying good morning to Nadia, but equally so, of course, we could just as easily have said, ‘Good morning, Miss Universe Ireland’, because that is officially Nadia’s new title. But, is that fact something which Nadia has started getting used to yet, and is her family under orders to only address her as such from now on? 

“[Laughs] Oh I’m so not used to it at all! [laughs]. I think because of the lockdowns obviously, we haven’t been seeing people as much. But all of my family did have great fun writing me cards that said Miss Universe Ireland, and that was really strange to see, and it gave me butterflies. So I’m still not used to hearing it, not yet [laughs].” 

I wondered if Nadia felt like it’s something that she will ever get used to? Because, whatever about right now, it’s definitely  going to get to a stage where she will be hearing it a lot. But might it always feel something like an out-of-body experience of some kind? 

“I don’t think I ever will [get used to it]. The day after I was announced as the winner, I was messaging some of the past winners, because thank goodness, they all took the time to send me a message and congratulate me. And I was just saying to them that this all feels so strange. It feels like a dream, but I don’t know if it will ever not feel like a dream! And every one of them said that you’re in a bubble right now, but it will never ever not feel like a dream [laugh].” 

As if to prove that you should never give up on a dream when it’s something that you really want in your heart of hearts, this was actually Nadia’s second time to enter Miss Universe Ireland, having also finished in the Top Ten – alongside eventual winner Fig – in 2019. But before we came back to why she decided to enter a second time, I wanted to find out how her Miss Universe Ireland journey had first begun…

“Miss Universe Ireland had always been a goal that I had looked at. But in all honesty, when I was younger I thought it was a goal that I was never going to achieve. Then it kind of died down for a few years here as well. But then whenever Brittany and the Moxie team took it over, I straight away bought tickets and went and watched it that first year, the year that Cailín won (Cailín Tobin, Miss Universe Ireland 2017). And it was just because I had always seen the likes of Joanna Cooper and other Miss Universe Irelands who had always done so well, not only within the pageant, but they seemed to grow so much as a person throughout and then afterwards. And I really respected how much was invested into them, and how much people reached out to support them. So obviously, to cut a long story shorter [laughs], whenever I saw that it was coming here, I bought tickets straight away, me and a few friends, to watch Cailín that first year. And I was in complete awe. Of one, the range of girls who were in the Top Thirty. They were not, by any means, carbon copies of each other or moulds of what a particular pageant girl should look like, which is sometimes dictated by society. They were all backgrounds, all ages, all shapes and sizes, all their own unique beautiful. And that was the first thing that really struck me. Then obviously the production of it all. You really got a feel for the family that was Miss Universe Ireland, even from just sitting in the audience. So I became very attached to it then. When Cailín was crowned, I followed her journey that year. And again, I saw how she had grown as a person. And at no point did it seem that they had tried to put her into a mould. They just simply helped her to embrace herself more. That really just struck me. And I thought that again then the next year with Grainne. So, I just sucked it up eventually, and I thought I have to apply! Cos’ I’m never gonna get there if I don’t give it a go!” 

So it sounded very much like Nadia had probably made her mind up that first year, even just sitting in the audience watching Cailín, that she was going to enter herself some day? 

“Yes, it was more like a goal. Like, I would love this, but I don’t know if I’ll get there. If that makes sense? But it was definitely something in my head, I’m gonna try this. I need to. Because otherwise I’m gonna regret it.” 

In 2019 Nadia did enter, and it obviously lived up to her expectations. I asked her to tell me what that first year was like…

“It was great! I’d seen, again, how much Grainne had come on as a person because I’d actually competed with Grainne the year before, so I’d known her before she became Miss Universe Ireland. Again, the same kind of thing had happened, I’d seen how much she had grown, but how much she had stayed true to herself, but highlighting that and embracing it. So whenever I applied – I shouldn’t have been shocked, but I was – of how much time Brittany and the rest of the team actually give to you one-to-one to try and teach you on all aspects from interviews to styling, even just having check-ins with you to see how you are and what you want to achieve. It was phenomenal the amount of personal growth I went through in that time-period. It was surprising to me. The team were so welcoming and friendly, and all of the girls were lovely. It really did seem like a little community.” 

Until just a few years ago, I have to confess that I was never aware that you could enter a pageant like Miss Universe Ireland twice. So what prompted Nadia to go for it again in 2020? 

“After last year, I kind of took a step back. I was like, ok, I’ve done it…am I done? [laughs]. My family were like, well give it a month or two and have a think about it. Have a rest first. But as the time was going on, and especially coming into 2020 and how the year was presenting itself, I kept seeing the Miss Universe Ireland stuff popping up on my social media. And every time I saw it I got a little bit of butterflies in my stomach. Do I go for it? I very much live along the lines of am I gonna regret it more if I try it, or if I don’t? Because who wants to pile on the regrets?! Obviously we’ll all have some, but you want to try and have that amount be as little as possible [laughs]. So I just went for it. I actually applied and I told nobody! It wasn’t until I found out that I’d made it into the Top Twelve that I actually told anybody [laughs]. I kind of said to my fiance, ‘So, what would you think if I thought about doing this…’, but I’d already applied [laughs]. My mum actually found out on Facebook! [laughs].” 

Right now, of course, with the way everything remains due to Covid and all of the health restrictions associated with it, making plans of any kind is quite the challenge. So have Nadia, Brittany, and the Miss Universe Ireland team been able to put any shape on what might be happening next? 

“Well like you said, it’s just so difficult. Because even with the competition, there were four, five, six, seven versions of everything because things kept changing and restrictions kept changing. We have had a few initial meetings, brainstorming ideas and the goals we want to reach before the end of my reign, and what we want to reach before going to Miss Universe too. So we have a few things in the pipeline, but again, we’re just having to be flexible, and roll with the punches as Brittany always says, because we don’t know what’s coming around the corner. There’s nothing else you can do at the moment. So it’s just about keeping the goals clear, and keep moving forward.” 

Although Nadia isn’t actually in possession of the Miss Universe Ireland crown just yet, as the official crowning by and handover from Fig has yet to take place, this won’t be her first crown either, as Nadia was Miss Intercontinental Ireland in 2017…

“Yeah, I held that title in 2017. And there was one before that, the Miss Earth Water crown, which was a runner-up title. They crown Miss Earth, and then three runners-up. That was the first pageant that I’d ever come across that was kind of available to me. So I decided to enter because someone had said, ‘Sure imagine you up there on stage in a big sparkly dress, you’d look ridiculous!’ So I said ok then…and I went to my Uni room and applied! [laughs]. Yeah, cos’ I wasn’t always the girliest of girls, and I would still be the same. That goes along with that stereotype that if you’re gonna be a model or gonna do pageantry, then you’re going to love everything that’s pink and sparkles, and that’s that. So yes, that little bit of stubborness kicked in and that’s what started me in pageantry! [laughs].” 

My next question was going to be just that: what had actually got Nadia started in pageantry in the first place, but according to herself…it was basically stubbornness?!

“Basically, yeah! [laughs]. I’ve been modeling since I was sixteen, and I come from Tyrone, so none of my friends had really come across anyone who was going out to try and do modeling at that time. I had a lot of friends who were guys as well, and I was quite…tomboyish. Well that’s what you would have said then, but I just like my Converse! [laughs]. And I like my rock music. So yeah, they were just like, imagine you up there in a big sparkly dress, you’d be ridiculous up there! And I was like, right, well I’m just gonna show you that I would NOT be ridiculous! [laughs].” 

Going back to what Nadia had said about knowing Grainne since before she was crowned Miss Universe Ireland in 2018,  I asked her about when the pair first met…

“We actually met in that Miss Earth competition. In that year, a girl called Maire Lynch won, and Grainne was I think the first runner-up, and I was the second runner-up. So we had met while we were competing there and had just kind of kept in touch ever since. So obviously when I saw that she was competing in Miss Universe Ireland, I was very excited to follow her journey in that. And even still, her Instagram cracks me up every day! [laughs].” 

Having seen what Grainne has gone on to do since her time as Miss Universe Ireland, and indeed, everything that Fig achieved during her reign and everything that’s about to happen next for her, how excited does that make Nadia feel about the opportunities and the challenges that could be about to come her way? 

“It’s unbelievable. And that’s a part of the whole I still can’t believe this is really happening thing [laughs]. Like you said, I competed with Fig, and I knew Grainne beforehand, and both were amazing girls, lovely girls. And now I’ve seen how far both have come in a relatively short space of time. It seems like a phenomenal jump and phenomenal growth. So I just cannot wait to meet the team in person and get working as soon as we can, and especially after the holidays, because with Christmas and New Year’s and everything they all deserved a break too! [laughs]. I cannot wait to see what comes along. I was actually writing out a little list of goals and stuff before our call.” 

Nadia had mentioned that a lot of people assume that pageants are all about pink, and all about sparkles, and how there are just so many assumptions like that which exist. Something that most people probably wouldn’t put pageantry alongside is psychology, but Nadia is actually a psychologist-in-training and working with the Hope 4 Life charity. Part of the work Nadia is involved in centres around comics and what I think is one of the most fascinating , innovative, and praiseworthy concepts I’ve ever heard of. I’ll let Nadia explain…

“Hope 4 Life is, in basic terms, a mental health early intervention charity. So they specialise primarily in training in early intervention projects. They aim to give people the skills to support themselves and help themselves to look after their well-being, so they don’t get to the stage where they’re in crisis. One of the projects that they do is around youth work because after my boss had met with teachers from all over the country to see what would help them, their primary issue was that they were worried about the mental well-being of our students. And we can’t do anything about it because we’re not trained to. We don’t know what to do. They had basically said that the best thing we could do for children across the country was to develop something for the children that can help them. The team was amazing, and before I joined them they had come up with this concept. They got a group of young people together into a forum, and said look, this is what we aim to do, how best should we do it? Go away for a few weeks and think about it, and come back. The Hope 4 Life team, as well as these young people, both came back and said superheroes! Superheroes will work because kids agree that superheroes represent good things. They represent justice. They represent saving the day. And supervillains represent all these negative, external things that aren’t a part of you, but are an external influence that affects you. So they took that then and decided well, if we’re going to do comic books and superheroes, we want them to actually be relevant. Because even me, at twenty-six, I can’t tell a thirteen year old I know exactly what they’re going through, because I don’t. Society and life is constantly changing. So when I was thirteen is very different to when someone is thirteen now.”

Nadia continued, “So basically, they decided they’re going to use real stories. So people who have maybe been through their own difficult times, and come through it, or who are coming through it, and want to share their stories – because sometimes it’s closure for them, sometimes it’s cathartic, sometimes it’s to know that out of a tough time – they’re drawing a silver lining which is giving hope to other people that they will get through their tough times too. We developed a comic, and there’s thirteen now. The most recent one is a lockdown comic. What we do, and what I do, is we go into primary schools and secondary schools and community youth groups, and we’ll go through the comic. In non-Covid times, kids would get up and they’d role-play the comic and then we’ll talk about some of the issues that might have come up in it, and come to solutions and find tools that will help the kids in the future should they come across these problems. Now, normally you could break up into little groups and have a more intimate conversation, but because of  Covid we can’t do that. But it tends to work really well. One of the key things that the charity always does is we never put a child on the spot when we’re talking to them. So for instance, the lockdown comic – which is all about lockdown and was written by young people for young people – is based on their experiences of lockdown, their fears, anxieties, confusion. Instead of asking them, ‘Why were you scared during lockdown?’, which, in the middle of a classroom can be terrifying for a child to have to answer, we say – the lead character is called Sophie – so we say, ‘Why might Sophie be scared? What might have been goin’ on in the comic that might have been making her scared?’ And so often then, the kids come forward with THEIR answers, but in their mind it’s just what Sophie might have felt.” 

One of the things that Miss Universe Ireland director Brittany Mason always puts a very strong focus on is that each year’s winner uses their platform to highlight a cause or an issue that’s very personal to them. With Fig in 2019 it was about concentrating on women in S.T.E.M. With Grainne the year before, it was about womens’ health. It sounds like Nadia’s focus in this regard will be on mental health, and if indeed it is, does she have any ideas on what ways she might be able to use her platform over the next year? 

“I would say mental health, and in particular, early intervention [will be my focus]. There’s amazing people working out there in mental health at the moment, and they’re saving lives. But waiting lists are still growing. Services are still feeling the pressure. So we need to start putting in the foundations now for the future, by teaching people how we might be able to stop you from getting to that stage. This is what we might be able to do ourselves, and then, if you still need to get more help, obviously go and get more help. But it’s just about trying to be pro-active as opposed to being constantly reactive. That’s something that I want to highlight a little bit more. I think, again, this stigma [that exists] around talking if you’re not feeling ok, and just saying, ‘You know what, I’m not having a great day.’ And the stigma around journaling and mindfulness, the way people find them a bit airy-fairy but no-one really understands them practically or how to do it. I want to have meetings with some of the smaller grassroots charities that are there that can provide help, and highlight what they’re doing, and create awareness for them so that people can go to them if they need to. But also to spread the word and learn more about what is going on in your own area for young people, and what can we provide or what can we teach to help them in the future. And as well, I think, just in general creating a little bit of hope that if you are struggling – like we all have, like I have, and I talk very openly about it – that’s not going to be your struggle forever. So I’m working my way through a potential check-list of things that are fully dependent on restrictions, but we’re very lucky to at least have the technology that means I can still reach out to people and to organisations, and start having those conversations.” 

Even though we’re all back in another lockdown right now, I think it’s fair to say that Nadia probably has happy enough memories of the first one last year seeing as how she mentioned her fiance a little earlier in our chat. She said yes back in May…

“Yeah [laughs], he’s called Calvin, and bless him [laughs], he’s doing really well! His phone blew up as well, with people kind of having a joke with him. I think he’s very proud and he’s very excited. To be honest, I was at one of my lowest points whenever we got together, so he’s seen me come through that, to where I could say I want this, and this is what I’m gonna go get. And now I’ve done it! He was a bit speechless, as much as I was, after it was announced, but I think he’s just proud. And God bless him, now he has to take on more wedding planning responsibility because I’m a busy bee! [laughs].” 

As it was New Year’s Eve morning when we spoke, I had to ask Nadia what kind of a New Year’s Eve person she usually is, and what were her plans for later that night?

“I’m very big on traditions, and sticking to traditions, and trying to make my own. I’m a real sucker for them! So, typically, in every other new year for the past…maybe ten years…, myself and a group of friends that I went to school with – I’ve known them since I was ten – we all would get together at one of our friends houses and just have a little new year’s party, because that way we actually got to spend time together. And every year on New Year’s Day, we set out what we think is going to happen. We make predictions for the next year. That means that every New Year’s Eve at 11.50pm we read out the predictions, and you have a good laugh at them because some of them are just ridiculous. And some of them might have come true. We make the predictions for each other, for our wee group as a whole. So it could be that someone is going to meet someone, or someone is going to get a house, and there’s always some random ones in there. But it’s always funny to look back and think what were we thinking a year ago at this time?! [laughs]. Tonight is going to be a lot quieter than every other year [laughs]. We’re just going to get in some indian food, and me and Calvin are just going to chill out in the living room with our cat, Espresso, and just ring in the New Year together and be grateful for what we do have, even though this year has obviously been so unprecedented! Nobody could have imagined what it was going to be like, but I know I’ve taken in and learned and reflected a lot this year. So yeah, I think we’re just gonna sit-in, chill-out, and be grateful for everything that’s happened, and all the little things that we have, and hope that next year we can…go out and have a cup of coffee! [laughs].” 

~ You can follow Nadia’s Miss Universe Ireland journey by following Nadia and Miss Universe Ireland on Facebook and Instagram.