Mary brings the X Factor to Ballymena

“NEVER can say goodbye,” sang X Factor finalist Mary Byrne when covering the Jackson 5 in the ninth week of the singing competition, and she proved this to be more than true last Thursday when she returned behind the tills at Tesco Ballymena.

However, the 51-year old Ballyfermot songstress, dubbed “Tesco Mary” by her supporters, called in not to work the cash registers, but to inject some ‘X Factor’ into the Dementia Community Roadshow, which has been organised by the Alzheimer’s Society with the aim of raising awareness about the degenerative disease.

It’s a cause very close to the shop-worker turned singer’s heart, as both of her parents suffered from the degenerative disease, and she therefore knows first-hand of the devastating impact it can have and the critical importance of early diagnosis.

“Both my parents had dementia for a long time before we knew what it was,” said Mary.

She added: “We were blind to it in many ways and didn’t know what to expect.

“If I had a roadshow when I was going through what I and my family were going through, it would have been a great help for us to be armed and to know what to expect.”

Mary shot to fame during the seventh series of The X Factor, where a combination of her incredible vocal talent, her genuine, salt-of-the-earth normality and humble roots as a Tesco employee made her extremely popular with viewers.

She herself knows all too well the significance of her time spent in the public eye, and of the importance of lending her voice to a good cause: “The great thing about X Factor is that it has given me a public voice, which allows me to support things I care about like Alzheimer’s care.”

There are 17,700 people currently living with the disease in Northern Ireland, with the province currently having the highest rate of dementia diagnosis in the UK. By 2021, that figure is projected to rise to 25,000.

Ballymena was the last stop of the journey for the Northern Irish leg of the roadshow, which also visited 12 Tesco stores including Coleraine, Newtownabbey, Cookstown, Bangor and others, with iconic former Bond girl Britt Ekland launching the Belfast roadshow.

As for Mary, local audiences could be seeing her again soon, as she’s about to start rehearsals for a role in the musical ‘Grease’ - which is due to come to Northern Ireland in February next year.