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red letter day First finalists book their place in this year's Miss Northern Ireland competition

Beauties shine in heat which took place on Zoom

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The first two finalists competing for the title of Miss World Northern Ireland 2022 in the Europa Hotel, Belfast. Pictured: Lucy Johnston: 19, Richhill & Zoe Edwards: 25, Lisburn. Photo: Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker

The first two finalists competing for the title of Miss World Northern Ireland 2022 in the Europa Hotel, Belfast. Pictured: Lucy Johnston: 19, Richhill & Zoe Edwards: 25, Lisburn. Photo: Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker

The first two finalists competing for the title of Miss World Northern Ireland 2022 in the Europa Hotel, Belfast. Pictured: Lucy Johnston: 19, Richhill & Zoe Edwards: 25, Lisburn. Photo: Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker

The first winners have booked their place at the Miss Northern Ireland final after the 2022 competition got off to a glittering start.

Nurse Zoe Edwards and style director Lucy Johnston were the first to stake their claim on the runway for the prestigious title at a Zoom heat last week.

And the pair showed the diversity of interest in the contest. Lucy is an international equestrian eventer who works for local company Toasted Wood and spends most of her days covered in charcoal.

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Pictured: Lucy Johnston: 19, Richhill & Zoe Edwards: 25, Lisburn. Photo: Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker

Pictured: Lucy Johnston: 19, Richhill & Zoe Edwards: 25, Lisburn. Photo: Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker

Pictured: Lucy Johnston: 19, Richhill & Zoe Edwards: 25, Lisburn. Photo: Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker

Zoe is a former district nurse whose work included end of life care during the pandemic, and she’s now in occupational health and witnessing at first hand the effects of Covid on employees.

The 25-year-old health professional also wants to use the Miss Northern Ireland platform to share her own mental health journey and recovery from eating disorders.

From the age of 17 until the second year of her nursing degree she lived with anorexia and bulimia, when her weight became so low doctors considered admitting her to hospital.

Zoe, from Lisburn, is speaking openly about the shame she felt during her illness and the effects it had on her family in the hope that she can help other young people.

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Zoe Edwards. Photo: Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker

Zoe Edwards. Photo: Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker

Zoe Edwards. Photo: Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker

“I was really ashamed of being unwell, but I couldn’t figure out how to not be unwell,” she says.

“If I’d had someone to look up to who had come out the other side I would have said ‘if she can do it I can’. When I was really unwell, I couldn’t see a way out.

“The hardest part was the effect it was having on my family, but I didn’t have the capacity to understand what I was doing to them. Looking back, I do now.”

With the help of her therapist, family and boyfriend Ryan, and the determination to finish her degree, Zoe turned a corner in her second year at uni.

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She qualified in the summer of 2019 and had just a few months of normal nursing before Covid hit. After working in district nursing, she’s recently moved to the private sector to work in occupational health.

“The pandemic has affected a lot of people in ways I don’t think we expected it to. So many people have had to come out of work for various reasons, especially mental health or for people with underlying health conditions it’s very difficult for them to work.”

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Lucy Johnston Photo: Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker

Lucy Johnston Photo: Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker

Lucy Johnston Photo: Kirth Ferris/Pacemaker

Zoe had applied to the competition last year and missed out on a place in the final heat and says she nearly didn’t apply this year.

“I have a habit of talking myself out of things and I’m so glad I didn’t listen to myself.”

Lucy Johnston signed up for the first heat as a challenge to boost her confidence and get some glamour in her life.

The 19-year-old, from Richhill, Co Armagh, spends her days in soot in Toasted Wood, which exports to the UK and Europe, or working in the family riding school and in equine competition.

She’s been with the wood firm for three years, charring wood to make it rot-proof and waterproof for the construction industry.

Lucy was recruited by company boss Sasha Stewart after the pair worked with horses together and she says it’s a dream job.

“We burn the wood with a blowtorch, and it’s used in cladding a lot. I also do different burn styles for different designs. It was invented centuries ago in Japan and different woods can create different effects depending on how often you burn it.

“I spend my days covered in charcoal dust.”

Lucy first sat on a horse at two and has been riding since the age of four. She’s competed for Ireland in international competitions and eventing and was a reserve for the European team.

She’s now competing as a showjumper as well as helping teach young riders at the family business, Lodge Equine Stables.

The finalist admits her family were surprised at her decision to take part in Miss Northern Ireland.

“It’s not my typical thing. I’m not a girly girl at all and my mum and my grandmother both asked me where this had come from. I just wanted to experience this other glamorous world that’s not part of my normal life, and it’s a confidence thing for me.

“I wouldn’t be the most confident person in the world. I think being surrounded by the other people in the competition will bring out my confidence and help me grow,” says Lucy.

Details of how to apply for Miss Northern Ireland are on the competition’s social media sites.

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