‘I never thought this would happen to me, never in my wildest dreams’

If you are out and about in the city, keep an eye out for the Miss Northern Ireland car and give the newly crowned Lisburn resident Anna Leitch a wave,

Anna Leitch was crowned Miss Northern Ireland, with Ruth Armstrong in second place and Bernadette Hagans in third place

Facing stiff competition from beauties from across Northern Ireland, the local lass was overwhelmed to be crowned as the new Miss Northern Ireland at a recent gala finale at the Europa Hotel in Belfast.

Having never modelled or aspired to be a beauty queen, taking home the crown came to be something of a shock for the down to earth primary school teacher.

Originally from Cookstown, Anna moved to Lisburn and couldn’t be happier with her new home.

Anna Leitch is crowned Miss Northern Ireland

“I moved to Lisburn because I felt I was at the age I needed to spread my wings and become more independent,” revealed the 27-year-old.

And it certainly proved to be the right move, as during the very same week she moved to the city, she went on her first date with now boyfriend, Matt Good, who sings with the acclaimed group Shamrock Tenors and is the Musical Director at Hillsborough Parish Church. The couple share a love of music and you may even find Anna playing the violin at Hillsborough Parish from time to time.

“I enjoy living in Lisburn,” admitted Anna. “It’s an amazing place. It was definitely the right choice for me.”

Although Anna is now happily settled in Lisburn, her heart will always be at home in Cookstown. Growing up in a loving family, she attended Cookstown Primary and Cookstown High School before going on to study teaching at Stranmillis College.

Miss Northern Ireland Anna Leitch pictured at the Europa Hotel in Belfast the morning after the Cookstown teacher was crowned. Pic by Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

“I grew up in the same home my dad grew up in,” revealed Anna.

“I was a very hard worker at school and with the support of my parents I always did well. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do until the end of secondary school and I went to the open day at Stranmillis.

“I remember I used to play ‘teachers’ as a wee girl and I found my own teachers really inspiring, especially my P7 teacher Miss Burnside. She was so cool and was really artistic. I love art as well as music and I do pen portraits. About a year ago I did a portrait of my 95-year-old grandmother, who has it hanging in her house.”

Taking inspiration from her own teachers, Anna now hopes to inspire the next generation of students and is determined to keep teaching throughout her year as Miss Northern Ireland, as well as completing a Masters in Teaching Leadership. So it will certainly be a busy year for her.

Miss Northern Ireland Anna Leitch pictured at the Europa Hotel in Belfast the morning after she was crowned. Pic by Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

“Now I am back at Cookstown Primary School and I am teaching alongside my own P1 teacher, which is really lovely and we get on really well together,” she continued.

Anna never imagined she would strut her stuff on the catwalk or would ever represent Northern Ireland on the world stage, but she has always been an avid follower of the Miss Northern Ireland competition over the years and thought that 2021 might just be her year.

“I had never done modelling before so this was my first time,” Anna admitted. “I am just a typical primary school teacher, the typical ‘Miss Honey’. I have lived a very normal life I would say.

“I was talking with my boyfriend Matt one evening about Miss Northern Ireland and he said I should go for it, that I would be a great Miss NI. The age limit is 27 so I thought I was never going to have the opportunity again. So I thought maybe I should just give it a try.”

Staff and pupils at Cookstown Primary School were quick to praise their famous teacher

After making it through the heats and being crowned Miss Dungannon, Anna went on to compete in various other stages of the competition, including the talent section, during which she showed off her musical skills, playing Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum by Debussy on the piano.

Everyone at Cookstown Primary School is so proud of their now famous teacher, with the children becoming awe-struck when they saw her Miss Northern Ireland crown.

“Kids at schools were asking about it,” Anna continued. “I was showing them the crown and they were star struck and have even been asking for my autograph.

“I tell the kids that this was my dream. I want them to go out and follow their dreams, challenge themselves and work hard. I always believe you should strive for greatness.”

Anna hopes that she will inspire and encourage people, especially children, to have confidence in themselves. “I believe it is so important to have a positive mental attitude,” she explained. “Everything happens for a reason. I have built up a lot of confidence over the last year.

“Covid has had an impact on a lot of children, who are coming back to school with poor social skills. I want to help to build that up again. I want to help them to promote a positive mental attitude and develop the confidence to fulfil their dreams.”

Anna with her dad Christopher, mum Jane and sister Lydia

Over the years Anna has worked with Aware NI, a mental health charity, and even raised £560 for the charity by running 5K every day over the school summer holidays. “I was already promoting mental health and wellbeing in school and I felt that was the perfect charity for me to work with,” she continued.

“I would love to be an ambassador for young kids. I was lucky to grow up in a loving family and I always try to make my classroom an environment of love and care as not every child has a home that is a safe environment.”

With Covid still very much on everyone’s minds, Anna is still not sure what lies ahead for her during her year as Miss Northern Ireland but she will certainly be doing her best to represent our wee country on the world stage, especially when, restrictions permitting, she jets off to the 70th Miss World finals in Puerto Rico in December,

“I am looking forward to seeing what this year brings,” said Anna. “People can follow me on Facebook and Instagram to see what I will be up to and they will be able to see everything that I will be doing.

“I am excited about the final in Puerto Rico. I spent six months in China on a teaching placement in 2015 and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I think if I can handle that I can handle just about anything. I have a passion for submersing myself in other cultures which I think will help.”

At the final in December, and throughout her year as Miss Northern Ireland, Anna will be doing her best to promote the country she loves.

“Our country is so special,” she continued. “It is so small but so mighty in so many ways.

“Our country is just filled with beauty and I will promote that as much as possible.”

The reality of becoming Miss Northern Ireland still hasn’t quite sunk in for Anna, who was back at school the same week that she received her crown. “Standing behind the stage on the night it felt so surreal, I couldn’t believe it. I felt like bursting into tears but I had to try to compose myself. It was a whirlwind of emotions.

“It is only sinking in now that I’ve been speaking to people and been back to school, showing everyone my crown.

“I never thought this would happen to me, never in my wildest dreams.”

Anna with boyfriend Matt Good
Anna has helped to raise money for mental health charity Aware NI