Paediatric nurse Katharine Walker tells KATHRYN MCKENNA why she’s not planning to leave her day job despite winning the coveted Miss Northern Ireland crown
Refreshingly down-to-earth, bubbly and outgoing; newly crowned Miss Northern Ireland Katharine Walker would seriously disappoint anyone who may wish to discredit beauty pageants as ‘vapid’.
And that’s one thing Katharine, who works at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, is keen to emphasise: ‘‘The competition is a lot different than people seem to imagine - there is none of the backstabbing atmosphere that may be seen elsewhere. But I think that is Northern Ireland people for you, everyone is always so friendly. Backstage everyone was helping each other out, doing each other’s hair, makeup, shoes - whatever was needed. It was lovely to see.’’
Opening up against any potential backlash due to the beauty pageant industry, particularly in light of the recent ongoing #MeToo movement which battles against gender discrimination, Katharine, 23, explains:
‘‘Women are competing voluntarily - we want to be there on that stage,’’ she says.
The competition, which has now been running for 32 years under the direction of ACA model agency boss, Alison Clarke, emphasises that it is more than ‘just a superficial beauty contest’. Indeed, ACA Models has enjoyed an ambassadorial partnership with the Northern Ireland hospice for several years, something Katharine is keen to highlight.
‘‘There also seems to be a certain stereotype about beauty pageants - but it is so much more than ‘just’ a beauty pageant and getting pictures taken,’’ Katharine explains.
“A patient’s mother was recently surprised when she found out I had won. She said: ‘‘It’s good to see a nurse win - you must have a brain,’’ and I thought, ‘Well, so do the other girls!’ But again there is that stereotype girls who compete in beauty pageants must be stupid - that could not be further from the truth.’’
Katharine adds: ‘‘It seems like when you are a ‘beauty queen’ people don’t expect you to have a life outside of getting your photo taken. Since winning, I have had so many sweet messages. Parents of children I have worked with in the past have messaged me to say congratulations because they remembered me! It was incredibly touching.
‘‘People have even told me I’ve inspired them to get their nursing degree because I talked about it so passionately. I have had so much support, it has been great.’’
Fresh from a long shift, and due back in her scrubs the very next day following an awards event this evening, keen hockey player and gym junkie Katharine explains: “I get a real buzz working in that environment.
“Whilst yesterday was non-stop manic busy, every day for me is a good day because I enjoy what I do. It is very rewarding. When you see a child start to get better who has had a difficult start in life, there is no better feeling in the world.’’
Katharine adds: ‘‘Because my life is so focused on helping others, one of the biggest things for me about winning Miss Northern Ireland is getting to work with the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice.
‘‘Rather than just reading out facts, I know first-hand personal accounts of families and their experience there.
‘‘I think unless you have experienced it for yourself, then it is hard to appreciate all the things the hospice does. People think it is all end-of-life care, but it does so much more than that.
‘‘I’m excited to be an amabassador for the Children’s Hospice and just focus on being a positive role model.
‘‘I’ll continue to keep it real on social media. I am just an ordinary girl! I don’t eat healthily all the time, there will be times when I will treat myself with a chippie, or I can’t be bothered to go to the gym, and I definitely don’t look perfect all of the time.
‘‘You have to remember when we see pictures of models and bloggers on Instagram not all of it is real, some have been filtered and edited, so never, ever feel bad about yourself.
‘‘It’s vital women understand brains and beauty can go together,’’she concludes passionately, before rushing to add with her trademark modesty, ‘‘I’m not saying I have brains or beauty - but you know what I mean!’’