We Are Randox | Sarah Cunningham, winner of Miss Promotional Model 2017 at the Miss Northern Ireland Awards

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We Are Randox | Sarah Cunningham, winner of Miss Promotional Model 2017 at the Miss Northern Ireland Awards

One of the best things about our We Are Randox series of staff stories is that we get to find out all sorts of interesting things about our colleagues.  We love getting to hear about what they get up to outside of work, to find out what really makes them tick and to be able to celebrate their special talents and skills!

So you’ll not be surprised to hear that we were really excited to find out that our Finance Placement Student, Sarah Cunningham, was recently in the Miss Northern Ireland competition 2017, after having won her heat in Cookstown.

We sat down with Sarah to find out a bit more about what really goes on behind the scenes of Miss Northern Ireland, and about how the competition helped her develop her self-confidence.

Here’s Sarah’s story.

I really stumbled upon the Miss Northern Ireland competition by chance, as I was looking for a new challenge and my friend simply said “Why not give that a shot?”

I didn’t necessarily know what I was getting myself into other than that it looked quite fun and my friends were really supportive so I just wanted to give it a chance and see how it went.

So I actually entered for the first time last year, and although I’m from Ballyclare I entered a heat in Enniskillen because I was advised to enter a heat in a small area where there’s fewer applicants.  Then you have more of a chance of progressing!

So I went to the heats in Enniskillen and what I was most surprised to find is that the Miss Northern Ireland pageant is so heavily focused on your personality. Every girl that enters is really glamorous, with beautiful hair, makeup and clothes, so everyone is on a level pegging in that regard.  But they want more than just a girl who’s into her looks. What really sets you apart is making sure to get your personality across. 

When last year’s competition ended I knew that I wasn’t ready for the excitement of the experience to be over just yet, so I chose to do it again in 2017.

In my heat in Cookstown this year the judging panel was made up of a mix of sponsors including Donnelly Group and Insanity Tan, and then when I moved up to the finals, last year’s Miss Northern Ireland was also on the judging panel. 

In the final there’s 2 winners from each heat.  So from Cookstown there was myself – I was Miss Cookstown – and there was also Miss Sense (a nightclub in Cookstown which sponsored the other winner and also hosted our heat).  There were 12 heats in total so there were 24 girls in the final, held in the Europa Hotel in Belfast.

Between the time of the heats and the final itself there were a few promo opportunities which we got the opportunity to attend, like photo shoots and also a boot camp.

The boot camp was really intense – one day was just a really full-on session of training on what was expected of us, so from 9-5 we sat listening to and absorbing a lot of information – quite a lot of which was new to so many of us. 

The final, which was in May of this year, began on a Saturday morning, even though the event wasn’t until the Monday night!  We stayed in the Europa Hotel during that time and had 10-12 hours of rehearsals each day leading up to the event. 

That’s what I like to get across when I’m telling people about this experience.  It’s not just standing up there and looking pretty.  It’s really intense and the event organisers like to use the rehearsal time to see who puts the hard work in and who really wants it the most.  It’s easy to identify those who can’t really be bothered, and those who want it so much that they’re pushing on in spite of their sheer exhaustion.  At the finals the event starts off with a big opening dance so much of our rehearsal time was spent learning and perfecting that routine.

On the Monday afternoon you also have an interview with 12 different judges and I can genuinely say it was the most daunting thing I have ever experienced!  They really do grill you!  I think I can say with confidence that this is the stage when the judges actually make their decision – even before the event itself – because it’s when they really get to know you properly and find out lots about you. 

I think that’s actually a good thing because by the time the event comes around that night then you’re not really worried or stressed anymore.  You know that the judges have already made their decision and the evening won’t change that, so you might as well relax and have a really fun and enjoyable night.

I suppose they might have their top three in mind and then whoever shines on the night will be their eventual winner but it certainly does lift a certain amount of the pressure knowing that the interview – the scariest part – is over.

After the dance routine there’s a number of different rounds to display different aspects of the competition.  There’s a runway section for example, a fashion show and then we put on some really beautiful ballgowns.

Following that then the presenters introduce each individual to the audience based on the answers you gave during your interview earlier on in the day.  This year it was Q Radio and Zoe Salmon who presented on the night of the final. When introducing me for example they would say; “This is Sarah Cunningham. She studies Business Studies and is currently on a placement with Randox Laboratories.” 

After that the judges then cut down the entries to their Top 10, and each girl within the Top 10 has to fit in to a particular category.  So for example they’ll choose “Miss Sport,” or “Miss Talent” or “Miss Social Media.” The talent category is optional – I think about 10 out of the 24 girls this year chose to perform a particular talent of theirs.  Those 10 girls performed for the judges on the Sunday morning and the winner performed at the final on the Monday night.

I got “Miss Promotional Model.”  It sounds silly but it basically means that based on my personality they saw that I would be good at going out and chatting to people so I must come across as quite persuasive.  I might make a good salesperson!

Then at this stage there’s more questions for the girls who make it in to the Top 10 – focused on what you would do if you won at the Miss World finals, which are being held in China later on this year.  They asked me a lot about what I would bring to China and how I would showcase Northern Ireland to the rest of the world.

It was Miss Anchor (a bar in Portstewart) who won this year’s Miss Northern Ireland – a girl called Anna Henry who has just finished graduated with an engineering degree and is currently on a gap year before she starts work.

Her new role as Miss Northern Ireland 2017 involves a lot of appearances because many of the well-known businesses organisations in Northern Ireland like having her involved in their events throughout the year.  At the end of this year she will go to China for an entire month for Miss World, and when she returns, the process to find Miss Northern Ireland 2018 will begin.  Anna will sit on the judging panel for the 2018 heats, which will go on for about 8 weeks.

I think I have one more go at Miss Northern Ireland in me, but I’m going to wait one or two years before I have another go.  I have until I’m 24 to enter, so I think I’ll take a few years out to focus on my work and university degree.

I think beauty pageants sometimes get a bad rep for being “a bad example” for younger girls but I totally disagree with that premise.  All of us who were involved in Miss Northern Ireland 2017 are now such good friends and we got on so well during the whole process.  We really were like one big family and if anybody was to make a negative or demeaning comment about somebody the rest of us would stand up and put a stop to it.  That’s not what we were there for – we were there to support each other and we all understood that only one person would ultimately win so we might as well enjoy it and have a good laugh together as friends.

I made life-long friendships and I really enjoyed the whole networking aspect of the event – meeting new people and making new contacts. I’ve also learnt that I really enjoy modelling and although I won’t be pursuing it full-time because I’m studying Business Studies, I think it will be a really fun hobby for me and I’ll definitely do some jobs here and there if they come up.

And the whole process has really helped me develop my self-confidence.  A year ago I wouldn’t even have been able to give this interview because I was so timid and shy but the experience has really brought me out of my shell.

I was involved in a STEM challenge event with Randox a few weeks ago in which I hosted a Mathematics challenge for students from Victoria College and the Girls’ Model Belfast and I don’t think I would have been able to do it if it weren’t for Miss Northern Ireland.  It’s a great experience and I truly believe it helps girls with their self-confidence.  I have nothing but admiration for the whole process and I look forward to seeing who will win next year.


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If you are interested in joining our global team make sure that you check out the Randox careers website to see what new opportunities we have for you.

Photographs courtesy of Brendan Gallagher Photography.