Paralympic skier has a gong to go with gold medal

Charlotte Evans (left) and Kelly Gallagher who will be awarded MBEs
Charlotte Evans (left) and Kelly Gallagher who will be awarded MBEs

A visually-impaired skier from Northern Ireland, who won Great Britain’s first Winter Paralympic gold, has been named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Kelly Gallagher, 29, triumphed in the super giant slalom event at Sochi in March.

She and her guide Charlotte Evans become MBEs for services to sport for people with a visual impairment.

Gallagher has oculocutaneous albinism, a condition with affects the pigment in her hair, skin and eyes.

The sportswoman from Bangor in Co Down started skiing for the first time when she was 17 on a trip to Andorra and began working with Evans, from Kent, in late 2010, just months after finishing fourth in the giant slalom at the Vancouver Games with previous guide Claire Robb.

The pair communicate via bluetooth headsets on their way down the slopes at speeds of up to 100km/h.

Since linking up, they have won silver and bronze medals in the 2011 and 2013 World Championships as well as World Cup honours.

Kelly said the recognition meant a lot.

“My mum cried a little bit with joy when she heard the news – it’s like winning the gold medal all over again. It’s just such a surprise,” she said.

“Because we haven’t been competing it feels even more special and is just really exciting. Without sounding arrogant, I know how much work we put into this and it is really nice to be recognised by people from outside our sport.

“The coverage we have received means so much to us because it means people have recognised that commitment, and it proves to others that they are capable of achieving great things whatever their goals are in life.”

Also named on the honours list is retired deputy chief constable Judith Gillespie, given a CBE for services to policing and the community in Northern Ireland.

Mrs Gillespie, formerly the PSNI’s highest ranking female officer, left after 32 years in policing within the PSNI and its predecessor, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

She said: “I see this as recognition for my 32 years, including service in the RUC. I served for a long time in the RUC and that gave me the foundation.”

She already held an OBE and this latest award is also in recognition of her role over the past decade in helping the force shift focus towards the community despite the dissident republican threat.

Mrs Gillespie added: “When I compare policing when I joined to now, while we are not totally trouble-free and there are all sorts of challenges today, they are very different to the challenges then, patrolling with the Army, security was first and foremost.”

A total of 95 people from Northern Ireland were recognised in the honours list, fairly evenly split between women and men. Half the list involved people working in the community, some within the economy and some within the education and health sectors.

Dr Glynis Henry, chief executive of the NI Practice and Education Council for Nurses and Midwives, received the CBE for services to health care.

She is from Fintona in Co Tyrone and played a key role as a nurse in dealing with casualties and deaths from the Real IRA 1998 Omagh bomb which killed 29 people.

The other CBEs went to Professor Alastair Adair of the University of Ulster, Daniel Harvey, chair of National Museums Northern Ireland, and Bernard Joseph McGahan for services to public transport.

Local businessmen recognised included Howard Hastings, managing director of Hastings Hotels Group, and Bill Wolsey, who owns the luxury Merchant Hotel in Belfast.

People from other spheres who were recognised included Neill Morton, the head teacher at Portora Royal in Enniskillen. Mr Morton, a former senior master at Campbell College in east Belfast, got the OBE for services to education.

Another principal to be recognised, Waringstown Primary School head teacher Gary Kennedy, said he was “totally overwhelmed” at an unexpected MBE.

“It has come at a lovely time, just as I am retiring after 31 years as a headmaster,” he said. In a career spanning four decades, Mr Kennedy also taught at Annaghmore and Hart Memorial schools in Portadown. He is chair of the NI Schools Football Association.