As her year as Miss NI comes to an end, Katharine Walker is channelling her ambitions into a new role as a radio broadcaster. She talks to Helen McGurk about why she loves a bit of banter!
With her model good looks and stunning figure, current Miss Northern Ireland, Katharine Walker, perhaps doesn’t qualify as a ‘face for radio’, but the 24-year-old is taking to the airwaves today as a presenter on Cool FM - and in so doing, is realising a dream she never expected would come true.
Throughout spring, Katharine will be joining the Cool Saturday Show with Stuart Robinson and Deputy Dave. As Northern Ireland’s biggest weekend radio show with over 100,000 listeners, the programme features pop hits, phone ins, competitions and a little bit of banter to kick start the weekend.
And, Katharine, from Hillsborough, Co Down, is in her element.
‘‘I am so excited to be part of it, I can’t wait,’’ she said.
Katharine grew up in a household which was, and still is, ga-ga for radio - her parents Wendy and Fred loved listening to the late Gerry Anderson, whilst Katharine enjoyed the music and repartee on Cool FM.
And she’s hoping to bring her own sense of humour to the mix.
‘‘I love the way we take the Mick out of ourselves in Northern Ireland.
‘‘On the show we will be talking about things that are current, things that are trending - if there’s something funny that’s happened on social media that week and events that are happening in Northern Ireland, because that’s where my interest is - I just love all things that are born and bred here, and having a laugh.
‘‘I am really into music that’s current, Cool FM has that and it’s very much involved in events that are happening in Northern Ireland - it sounds really daft, but I just love everything that’s going on here - I love attending events and I think a lot of the time you don’t realise how much there is going on and I love being a part of it.’’
Katharine will combine her broadcasting work with her full-time job as a paediatric nurse in intensive care at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children and also her duties as Miss NI.
‘‘I keep a really tight diary and I keep on top of things, so it’s just a matter of making sure that I am not double booking myself. I love being busy. I wouldn’t have it any other way.’’
Katharine admits she would like to follow in the footsteps of another Miss Northern Ireland - Zoe Salmon - who secured a presenting role on iconic children’s TV show, Blue Peter.
‘‘For me the whole Miss NI thing started with Zoe; I saw how it launched her into a presenting career. Zoe and Pamela Ballantine are my big media heroes.
‘‘I would love to be involved in television that is produced in Northern Ireland. I am a big sports fan, especially golf, rugby, tennis, hockey, so if there was any sort of commentating I would love to get involved in that. Also, when I was younger I wanted to be a weather girl!’’,
However, Katharine admitted it would be wrench to give up her nursing.
‘‘I feel a bit selfish saying that I would leave nursing, it’s not that it would be an easy decision, but I need to make the most of opportunities and I’ll find a way to get back to nursing or helping people in another way.’’
Heats are currently underway to find the new Miss Northern Ireland, and, on May 4, Katharine will relinquish her crown.
‘‘I will be sad because it’s something I wanted for so long and never thought I would actually achieve and now that I have, I don’t want to let it go,’’ she admitted.
‘‘I followed Miss NI for probably 10 or 15 years. I followed the girls’ journeys through their whole year. I thought it looked like an incredible opportunity, but I never really believed I could do it. I just had to take a leap of faith and had to believe in myself that I could get it.’’
One of the highlights of her year as Miss NI was spending five weeks in China for the Miss World competition, where she got into the top 30.
‘‘That was insane, it was so cool. I was there with 117 other girls - we were shown all around the island that we were on - Hainan Island; we didn’t just learn about China, we learnt about every other country’s culture and everybody was teaching each other things; it was really funny to teach them about Northern Ireland - I was trying to explain our sense of humour.
‘‘I didn’t put much pressure on myself with Miss World because I just wanted to go and enjoy it. Some of the other girls, like from the Philippines, are celebrities at home - it was funny whenever we were talking about what we do at home and I said I worked in a hospital as a nurse - they couldn’t believe I had a job.’’
In the era of #METOO and standing up to sexism, many believe beauty pageants are a throwback and should be abolished, but Katharine said: ‘‘I think some people think it’s a meat market and you are being stared at and ogled and it’s not like that. The nature of the competition has changed in the sense that it’s not all about looks. There’s still a bikini round and the dress round, and that’s what the girls would have previously just been judged on, but now it is so much more. It’s about your interviews and what you do for charity and who you are as a person - it’s about the girl in the dress, or the girl in the bikini, rather than the body. I found it really positive - everyone was so supportive of each other.’’
And she added the bikini round gave her confidence a boost.
‘‘It was a bit of challenge in a way because I wasn’t overly confident in my body, but it made me just embrace myself.’’
With only a few weeks left as Miss Northern Ireland, Katharine said: ‘‘I am so grateful for everything, especially to my agency ACA Models and to my family and friends for being so supportive. I was scared of the negativity and I’m really pleasantly surprised by how people have reached out to me and have been so lovely with their comments.’’