HAPPIEST rushing over the water in her Laser Radial with the wind in her hair, 22-year-old Tiffany Brien from Holywood is the first seafaring Miss Northern Ireland.
And it’s not just a pastime; Tiffany is seriously talented on the waves, even trying out for the Olympics (she just missed out on the chance to compete in London 2012) and becoming the number one Women’s Laser Radial Class Champion in Ireland, 2010-2011. She has also competed at the British Sailing Championships.
Tiffany grew up by the sea and learned her port from her starboard and how to put up sails to catch the wind earlier than most. Her father, BTW Cairns director Simon Brien, is an avid sailor and taught her all the tricks when she was very young.
“My dad is an incredibly good sailor and I was brought up sailing, playing at the yacht club and out on the water. It’s what I grew up with.
The Laser Radial is like a tiny dinghy. It’s just me out there. It’s really fast and intense, like wind surfing.
“You have to be really fit and strong to do this well. Plus, like any sport, a lot of it is in the mind. You have to find ways to outsmart the competition.
“Sailing is in my blood. If I didn’t have this I would feel lost.”
The gorgeous brunette with the mega-watt smile was crowned Miss Northern Ireland last May and since then has posed and sashayed at a whirl of events and photocalls as well as helping fundraise for the NI Children’s Hospice, adorning billboards for The Outlet in Banbridge in a sunshine yellow dress designed by Lizzie Agnew, and heading out to represent the Province in the Miss World contest held last August in Ordos, China.
Not that she’s always been set on a modelling career. A friend advised her to enter the competition just “for the craic”; to her surprise she walked away with the tiara.
Tiffany’s Twitter feed gives an idea of the pace of her glamorous life: catwalk shows; awards ceremonies; modelling wedding dresses in Victoria Square with a besuited male model. Then there’s the off-duty Tiffany, minus the glittering tiara: there are pictures of her with her dog Coco; with her younger brother Jack; flexing at the gym looking very happy between all the exercise machines and boasting incredible upper arm definition; posing wearing a silly moustache alongside her friend Holly Sweeney, ex of Rory McIlroy; cooking a birthday dinner for her mum (including an awesome looking chocolate cake); looking fabulous on the cover of IN! Magazine.
And there’s a Twitter pic of a telling inspirational quote on there too: “Act like a lady, think like a boss.” Tiffany is in control.
Brien attended Sullivan Upper before taking A-levels in biology, French and geography at Methody. She began a degree in sports science at the University of Ulster, then switched to marketing, but left to sail and then to keep up with all her Miss Northern Ireland commitments.
So far one of the highlights of her reign has been her trip to China to compete in Miss World.
“It was held in Ordos, a town which is about a two-hour flight from Beijing. There were 120 girls competing and it was crazy, just all go. There were camera crews everywhere, and you had to compete in so many different categories like beach beauty, sport, talent and so on.
“There was a sports day as part of it and I was in my element. I came second out of the 120 contestants, so I was pretty chuffed.
“I came in the top 30 overall. It was mad.
“When I came back from China I flew out the very next day to compete in the British Sailing Championships.” As well as speed at sea, Brien also has a passion for fitness. She works out at the gym every day for two hours and is meticulous about her diet.
“Running, spinning, weight lifting - I love it. The gym is my chill-out time and it really lifts me. I work really hard because when you’re involved in any sport your body is your machine. So I wouldn’t eat processed food, sweets or fizzy drinks. I stick to meat, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables. I drink lots of water and avoid bread, pasta and rice. Being healthy is my priority.”
When she’s not pumping iron she’s playing netball or shopping in Zara - her favourite high street chain. Her main vice, she confesses, is that she’s a spender.
“I absolutely love shopping. Plus my fashion inspiration is Millie Mackintosh from Made in Chelsea. She’s stylish but classy and wears simple pieces. It’s an effortless look. I think the secret is all about how you put clothes together.
“When I’m not working the make-up definitely stays off. I like the whole pretty, girly style for events, but I’m also really into chunky knits with my biker boots and skinny jeans. I live in skinny jeans.”
Unbelievably, Tiffany is single and would love to meet a sporty guy who looks like Bradley Cooper. Until then she enjoys “chatting and nattering with the girls over relaxed dinners and drinks”.
The forthcoming challenge for Tiffany is helping model agent Alison Clarke - herself a former Miss Northern Ireland and proprietor of ACA Models - to pick the next beauty queen.
On February 28, heats for the 27th annual competition, sponsored again this year by insurance company Open + Direct, begin at Belfast’s Cafe Vaudeville. Throughout March and April there will be heats in Antrim, Ballymena, Limavady, Banbridge, Cookstown, Maghera, Dungannon, Omagh, Moira, Newry and Bangor before the final on May 13 - hosted by Zoe Salmon and Marc Mallett - at the Europa hotel. Brien stresses that contestants will need more than a pretty face.
“There’s a lot more to this than just dresses.
“At the competition I’ll be looking for a girl with her head screwed on. Yes, we are looking for someone gorgeous, but you also need to be outgoing and hardworking too.”
Until then Tiffany’s reign continues.
“Winning Miss Northern Ireland opened up a completely new world for me. I drive past billboards and see a picture of myself and I just feel ‘wow’. I’ll be gutted handing over the crown to another girl because it’s been so much fun.”
For more information on the Open + Direct Miss Northern Ireland Contest 2013 and how you can enter visit www.missnorthernireland.co.uk.