Anna Henry: ‘You don’t have to be a diva to be Miss Northern Ireland’

PACEMAKER BELFAST  25/05/2017:'Student engineer Anna Henry from Portglenone in Co Antrim the new Miss Northern Ireland 2017 pictured in the Newsletter Offices in Belfast.'Picture By: Pacemaker.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 25/05/2017:'Student engineer Anna Henry from Portglenone in Co Antrim the new Miss Northern Ireland 2017 pictured in the Newsletter Offices in Belfast.'Picture By: Pacemaker.

Anna Henry is take-your-breath-away beautiful, exquisitely boned, with lips as plump as pillows, and eyes the colour of Mediterranean skies.

But aside from her head-turning looks, it’s her infectious laugh and down-to-earth sensibility which makes the new Miss Insanity Tan Northern Ireland so instantly likeable.

She’s a no-nonsense country girl from Portglenone, and although she’s dressed to the nines for our interview, she loves nothing more than kicking off her high heels and getting into her casual clothes.

‘‘You’ll not find me in a happier place than when I’m in my gym gear with no make-up,’’ she says in her soft Co Antrim lilt.

Indeed, when she wears make-up to university (she’s just finished her final year in Engineering at the University of Ulster in Londonderry), Anna says her classmates ‘‘take the hand out’’ of her.

“The boys are like ‘Oh, you’re a girl’,” she laughs.

Growing up in the country, with parents Angela and Raymond, who own a construction firm, sister, Ashlee, 29 and brothers Niall, 28, and Desmond, 26, Anna says she was ‘‘a complete tomboy.’’

‘‘I still am, believe it or not.

‘‘I would have been very close with my cousin Mark, so we would have been out in the fields or building treehouses or out in the hay field, or playing football. I would have always come home covered in muck.’’

She adds: ‘‘I was never in the house. I was never a TV child; I still don’t watch TV or those reality shows, it just doesn’t interest me.’’

She also admits she’s not impressed by celebrity.

‘‘I don’t like these footballers or Essex people, that everyone’s into.

‘‘I’m just a laid-back country cratur,’’ she says, laughing uproariously.

The person she does like, however, is Darragh Kavanagh, from Clogher, the student primary school teacher she’s been dating for a few months.

‘‘He’s a wee dote,’’ she says, eyes lighting up.

‘‘He’s very proud of me and he’s very down-to-earth as well. He’s my top fan, he’s so supportive.

‘‘I can’t thank him enough, he’s been so good.’’

Anna, who was crowned 2017 Insanity Tan Miss Northern Ireland at a glittering event in Belfast earlier this month, impressed the panel of judges on the night with her beauty, charm and personality, giving her the winning edge over 23 other finalists, to acquire the coveted crown from previous titleholder, Emma Carswell.

But what the judges didn’t know on the night was that behind the scenes, Anna was having a nail-biting dress dilemma.

‘‘I got a dress made by a local designer, now living in Las Vegas, but it got stuck in customs,’’ she says.

‘‘So, I had to get a new dress the night before the final.

‘‘Then I had to take it to the dressmakers because it was too big, so I actually got my dress half an hour before my judging.’’

It was a tense moment, but this unflappable beauty queen took it in her stride.

‘‘Whether there was pins in that dress, or not, that’s how I was going to the judges,’’ she laughs.

Anna was equally unfazed by the bikini round (she went on to scoop Miss Beach Body in the competition), when she had to parade in front of a scrutinising judging panel.

‘‘I think if you can stand in front of nine judges in your bikini and be interviewed, I think you can probably do anything,’’ she laughs.

As well as her obvious beauty, Anna is also blessed with brains - she did A levels in Maths, Chemistry and Psychology at St Patrick’s College in Maghera - although she admits she wasn’t ‘‘one of those people that loved school.’’

Her degree is in Renewable Energy Engineering, but, ever the diplomat, she won’t get drawn into commenting on the RHI scandal.

‘‘I have no opinion at all.

‘‘At uni we just focused on the theory of biomass burners, we didn’t go into the whole scandal.’’

Anna hopes to graduate this July and will then mull over her career options.

‘‘I did my final exam two days after I was crowned Miss Northern Ireland, so that was a crazy couple of days. I’ve got my presentation about my dissertation on Monday and then that’s me completely finished uni.

‘‘Obviously I have my year as Miss Northern Ireland and I will have my degree, so I have nothing set in stone , but I’ll be in a stable position where I’ve got the two.’’

However, she does admit a career in television is on her radar; her ultimate ambition would be to follow in the footsteps of former Miss Northern Ireland, Zoe Salmon, who became a Blue Peter presenter.

‘‘Yes, that’s something I definitely would love to do,’’ she admits.

But whatever she ends up doing, it’s obvious this young lady has a steely determination to succeed.

‘‘I am a worker, and I am a perfectionist,’’ she says.

‘‘Whatever I do, I do it properly. I don’t go half-heartedly at anything.’’

Anna’s journey into modelling was a typical one of being in the right place, at the right time.

She was spotted at the age of 18, when she was out shopping with her mum in Ballymena.

‘‘I was in H&M picking up a wee dress for Easter. I was going into the changing room to try it on and there were two women in the queue who said ‘we’re going to try on some clothes, but can you please wait here till we come out’?

‘‘I waited really anxiously because I had no idea what they were looking and they came out and said ‘would you be interested in entering Miss Northern Ireland’?”

Up until this point Anna had never done any modelling, and had never even considered it.

There was a regional heat in Walsh’s Hotel in Maghera and Anna’s mum said they should go along.

“My mum said ‘sure it’ll be a night out if nothing else’.’’

It was a daunting experience for the then teenager, but Anna got through the regional heat and ended up in Miss NI.

‘‘It was completely amazing because I was literally pulled out of nowhere.

‘‘Looking back I was so naive about the whole thing, even about the things I wore, my hair, my make-up, everything was so different.’’

Coming second that year meant Anna was automatically into a contract with Alison Clarke’s modelling agency, ACA Models.

‘‘That was probably the biggest year of my life in terms of my personal development because I was doing promotional jobs, I was doing catwalk, I was doing all these things I had never experienced in my life before.’’

She decided to enter the competition the next year.

‘‘I’d be head strong; when I take a notion, that’s it. So I entered it the next year and got runner-up again.”

At this point, Anna wasn’t sure if she should go for it again, but her heart overruled her head.

‘‘I thought, maybe it’s just not for me. But when you are watching the competition, and you are not in it, it’s horrific because you want to be there, you know what those girls are going through, the excitement, the nerves, it’s an unbelievable feeling.’’

So the determined Co Antrim girl decided to give it one last shot.

‘‘It got to January and I set myself two goals, to graduate and to become Miss NI.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.