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Miss NI's mission is to win for 'the country she loves'

Melissa Patton has her feet firmly on the ground – even if her head is soon to be in the clouds as she wings her way to the Miss World finals in China.

The north Belfast girl and reigning Miss Northern Ireland is easy to talk to – though there is still a hint of uneasiness with all the media attention.

BUSY

Despite having loads to do before catching a fast plane to China, she is determined to have as much fun as possible while making the most of the opportunities presented to her.

Entering the Miss Northern Ireland competition was Melissa's first modelling experience.

After leaving Belfast Girls' Model School two years ago, she worked as an air hostess for Jet2.com, flying mainly to Spain and Italy. She has taken a year out to fulfil her duties as Miss Northern Ireland.

It was Melissa's mum who entered her into the competition, sending photos of her to a model agency. Family and friends persuaded her to go along to the Belfast heats in April.

"It was never something I thought I would do, just a whole lot of friends and family were saying 'you could do it, with your height (she's 5' 9"] and everything, why don't you try for it'.

"I went along for the fun of it, not expecting to win at all," said Melissa, who only turned 20 a couple of weeks ago.

COMPETITION

"At the final I was really enjoying myself, having a ball. I was actually sad at the end of the weekend and it was over.

"All the girls were staying at the Europa and we were having so much fun – I was sad it was over, but also excited that I won."

She said she's "still in shock" at being thrust into the limelight: "It's all just happened so quickly, I can't put it into words."

Melissa flies out to China for the Miss World contest on November 1.

She will be on her own for the first four weeks (sharing a room with one of the other girls), meeting the judges and taking part in the fitness tests, before her parents fly out to support her in the final week.

"Just to know they are watching me when I'm coming on stage, it's going to give me goosebumps," she said.

"It'll make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I will be so emotional that night, I will probably cry my eyes out."

In keeping with her making-the-most-of-a-rare-opportunity mindset, Melissa plans to take part in as many of the categories as she can, and looks set to impress the judges in the talent contest.

TALENTS

Although she hasn't decided what she is going to do yet, her options include a poem about her experience as Miss Northern Ireland, which she is currently writing, and hip-hop dancing (although it's not clear if she will be doing this in one of the 15 specially made one-off dresses she has been given for the competition).

Being part of something which promotes Northern Ireland to the wider world is an aspect of the competition which is important to Melissa, who sees it as a way to help change the image of a 'war-torn' community and encourage people to visit and see what Ulster has to offer.

"I love my country and the people in it. To go and represent Northern Ireland, which not many people have visited, to give them an insight to what our country is, to be encouraging people to take a weekend break and visit the country, is just great.

"Just to be able to tell people about your country and be there as an ambassador, it's amazing."

But she insists being judged the most beautiful and talented girl in the Province hasn't changed her one bit.

REGULAR

"I'm still a normal girl, I'm still me. Everything just stayed the same; my life has changed but I haven't changed as a person.

"I still do the same normal girl things, like a DVD and takeaway on a Saturday night. I still go out with my friends. I still get spots and streaky tan lines; although I do try my best and make more of an effort now because people will be comparing me."

But even this public scrutiny doesn't faze her, as she said she was used to good grooming as an air-hostess: "Getting up at four in the morning I was always quite used to that standard."

The most important thing for Melissa, however, is the support she gets from her family and friends.

"Everybody has been amazing, they never stop talking about it. When we go out my friends introduce me as Miss Northern Ireland. It's crazy," she laughed in an 'I'm cringing inside' kind of way.

Proving she isn't letting all this go to her head, she said she would still like to go back to her flying job after her year as a beauty queen ends – while still doing a few modelling jobs, of course.

 
 
 

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