VIDEO; Miss Northern Ireland 2015 launch at Europa Hotel

The countdown to Therapie Miss Northern Ireland 2015 began on Thursday with several former winners joining this year’s hopefuls at the Europa Hotel in Belfast.

It was a star-studded occasion with Open winning golfer Darren Clarke there to offer some moral support for the event organiser - his wife Alison of ACA Models.

Launch of the Therapie Miss Northern Ireland Contest 2015. Rebekah Shirley Miss Northern Ireland 2014 pictured at the launch at the Europa Hotel in Belfast also pictured 2015 hopefuls .'Picture By: Arthur Allison.

Launch of the Therapie Miss Northern Ireland Contest 2015. Rebekah Shirley Miss Northern Ireland 2014 pictured at the launch at the Europa Hotel in Belfast also pictured 2015 hopefuls .'Picture By: Arthur Allison.

Heats begin on February 26 at 21 Social in Belfast finishing at Betty Blacks in Bangor on April 26. The 2015 winner will be crowned at the Europa when the final takes place on May 11.

The current holder of the prestigious title said her year to date has been a fantastic experience.

Rebekah Shirley from Ballymoney said: “I would encourage anyone thinking of entering to go for it. I have had a wonderful time and met so many brilliant people.

“It was an honour to be crowned Miss Northern Ireland 2014. I’ve had the best year of my life representing Northern Ireland at charity and numerous events throughout 2014, the most special of which was the Miss World final in London”.

Launch of the Therapie Miss NI Contest 2015. L-R  Rebekah Shirley Miss NI 2014 with  former Miss NI's  Joanne Salley and Meagan Green. Picture By: Arthur Allison, Pacemaker

Launch of the Therapie Miss NI Contest 2015. L-R Rebekah Shirley Miss NI 2014 with former Miss NI's Joanne Salley and Meagan Green. Picture By: Arthur Allison, Pacemaker

Former Miss Northern Ireland and Blue Peter presenter Zoe Salmon was at Thursday’s launch and will be back to co-host the final with UTV’s Marc Mallet.

She said the competition’s enduring attraction was the feeling of belonging to an “exclusive club” of past winners.

“It’s the best club in the world and only one person gets to join it each year. You need to have a bit of personality to succeed and that’s reflected in how well we all get on.

“It has given me a great career and I love all the travelling I get to do - you get out of it what you put into it.”

Last year’s winner Meagan Green agreed.

“I had the most wonderful year and I’m still really busy with work. It’s the most incredible experience and I can’t emphasise how much fun I’ve had.

“It opens so many doors and gives you so many opportunities.”

The competition is now in its 29th year and among the other former winners back in front of the cameras was Joanne Salley. After a spell as an art teacher at the posh Harrow boys’ school, the former Royal School Dungannon pupil now works as an art buyer for private collection as well as continuing her modelling career.

“I was Miss Northern Ireland in 1998, the year of the Good Friday Agreement. It was a very poignant year and because of that I met so many people - there was so much happening around that time.

“What it did for me was open my eyes and give me confidence. I still love being involved and cut short a holiday to come here today for the launch.”