EMMA DEIGHAN discovers there is one politican with serious style credentials in the corrdiors of Stormont
THE Ulster Unionist Party’s Jo-Anne Dobson has caused quite a stir at Stormont’s Parliament Buildings since 2011 when she was elected into the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Since then she has single-handedly and unapologetically injected colour and glamour into the world of politics.
The Upper Bann MLA emanates glamour and style among the suits, she’s the ‘ray of light’ and vibrancy counteracting any element of weariness in the house on the hill and she has been labelled in the press as ‘the mum who made the UUP sexy’ and even the ‘pin-up’ of politics!
“It’s actually very flattering and if it gets people talking about politics, people who wouldn’t normally discuss it, then it’s also a positive thing,” Jo-Anne told NL Woman.
Since becoming a regular and fashionable fixture at Stormont, Jo-Anne’s style has been the topic of many conversations but she says this has by no means undermined her role as credible politician.
“I’ve had no problems to date,” she continued. “It’s been very well received and I love when I talk to the ladies in the canteen and they comment on what I’m wearing, which leads to what I’m up to or where I’m going and in turn and it allows them to find out what the issues are. It leads to discussion and that is never a bad thing.”
The staff at Stormont refer to Jo-Anne as a ray of light for bringing a touch of sparkle to the surroundings and it’s no surprise.
No matter what the occasion, Jo-Anne is always finely turned out, groomed to perfection and clad in colour. Her hair is always styled and her make-up is fresh and well-applied. In fact, she is something of a model girl for local politics.
The common perception that Jo-Anne carefully selects her outfits for every event she attends though couldn’t be further from the truth.
Jo-Anne has her plate full. Not only is she the MLA for the Upper Bann area but she is the only female on the agricultural committee, she sits on the education committee, plays a role in the Department of Rural Development, and she promotes organ donation through the Northern Ireland Kidney Patients Association while balancing farm life with her husband and two sons, Mark and Elliott.
When she’s not fulfilling her political duties, Jo-Anne can often be found passionately fundraising for worthwhile charities and attending and even hosting key events throughout her constituency. When talking to NL Woman, Jo-Anne had just completed a fund raising campaign for the RLNI and hosted a Life After Loss Event, an affair that she deemed a ‘powerful and touching’ experience.
“People think my outfits are very carefully co-ordinated but the truth is, I don’t have the time to do that any more. I’ve so much going that I don’t have that luxury. It’s certainly not planned if that’s what you think. Very recently I attended the Ulster Covenant Gala Dinner at Titanic Belfast and I literally got home from work, put a dress on and left.”
It’s a good thing then that Jo-Anne has been an ardent supporter of local boutiques here before her diary filled up. The relationship she has built with these retailers means she no longer has to waste time shopping anymore!
“I am a great supporter of local boutiques and we’re very lucky in the Upper Bann area because we have such a diverse range to choose from. I’m very lucky to have built a rapport with the owners of these boutiques who know my style and what I like and when something comes in that they think will be to my taste, they’ll give me a call and let me know so I don’t have to go in and browse, which I can’t really do anyway as I don’t have the time.”
And she really doesn’t have the time. When she runs through her diary of events and roles as an MLA, it would make even the most energetic person feel tired.
“I always have so much going on and because I’m on the agricultural committee, I always ensure I’ve a pair of wellies in the boot of the car,” she adds.
One area of her work that Jo-Anne is very keen to promote is her interest in creating awareness of organ donation. “That’s something I’m very passionate about. My son had a kidney transplant three years ago and I often have kidney transplant patients up at Stormont to talk to them and discuss their problems and let them know that renal failure is not the end and it perks them up a bit and I’m keen to push that. For me this is a very rewarding part of my role.”
Jo-Anne’s 19 year old son Mark suffered from renal failure and received a transplant. She lives with Mark and her husband on her farm in Waringstown where she has been extremely active in the community, pushing for a nursery to be built in the area and getting out and meeting those who voted for her. “I do like to meet the people from my constituency, after all it was them who voted me in and I want to fulfil that role to the best of my abilities,” she continued. “My friends are forever asking me how I fit it all in but I think if people are kind enough to invite me to something, I should go but it’s not just that, I do enjoy everything that I do. I have tonnes to do but it’s all about structure and good diary management and I’m blessed to have the energy that I do. That energy comes from being committed and giving 100 percent.”
Jo-Anne’s dedication to her role has boosted her reputation within the world of politics. It has also proven to anyone who believes otherwise that a working, glamorous woman can effectively carry out a demanding role in the world of politics.
“I think I’m fortunate to have the role that I have and I can prove as a woman that it can be done. It’s a very positive thing for me to be able to do and since I’ve been brought in, other constituencies have called on me for help or to assist them because I do a good job, regardless of how I look or if I’m a woman,” explained Jo-Anne.
“Northern Ireland is such a small place and I don’t think we can afford to be stereotypical here. I’m always very well prepared for any role and I’m not afraid to stand up and say what I think and say what I can do,” she added.
Jo-Anne’s achievements as a mother who balances political duties with family life all with the ability to look fabulous has not gone unnoticed either. She was recently short-listed for the Most Glamorous Professional at the IN! Glamour Awards which takes place next month. This sees her sit alongside other high profile women from the world of business here.
“I was delighted to hear that I’d been short listed,” said Jo-Anne. “It’s really nice to be thought of in that way and my mother was over the moon. My mum, sister and I were always into fashion and putting outfits together so it’s really nice to know that someone appreciates that.”
It’s not all high maintenance dressing up for Jo-Anne as she’s quick to point out. Being a farmer’s wife demands a certain ability to dress down on demand: “I do like to relax and have a no make-up day when I can,” she added. “And I love going out on the quads into the fields. I’ll stick on a pair of jeans, a zippy and wellies and I enjoy being able to do that with the hair scraped back.”
For Jo-Anne however, glamour aside, it’s all about her work and while she is genuinely flattered that the general public appreciates her penchant for style, she adds: “For me, wearing a smile is the best thing you can put on. A smile can get you anywhere and makes you very approachable and I’ve found that out while working at Stormont. I think through my image I have built up a lot of friendships and if clothing gets people interested in what I do, then that’s great.”