ONE of Northern Ireland’s most respected and best loved comedians John Linehan MBE has been awarded with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement accolade at the Ulster Tatler Awards in association with Keens Belfast, which took place last night (Thursday) in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Shaw’s Bridge.
The north Belfast-born star picked up the award which in the past has been won by a host of local legends including Dame Mary Peters OBE, Sir James Galway, Brian Friel, Phil Coulter, Gloria Hunniford, Michael Longley, Gerry Armstrong, Barry McGuigan, Terri Hooley, Marie Jones, Hollywood actor Ciaran Hinds and sporting hero Pat Jennings who was honoured at the 2019 ceremony.
John Linehan was a car mechanic before he rose to fame in the guise of his plain-speaking, gap-toothed housewife character, May McFettridge. Eamonn Holmes, his relative, had asked Linehan to phone his then radio show, to liven the programme up.
Linehan pretended to be a Belfast housewife, and the banter between the two attracted an unprecedented number of positive phone calls to the studio, many asking for a return of the women as a regular on the show. Following the appearance, things really took off and his most famous best loved character was born.
He invented the name and the character by ad-libbing — the first name being that of his mother-in-law and the surname being that of an Antrim hurler by the name of Olcan McFettridge, whose exploits in a National Hurling League game had made headlines in the local newspaper which happened to be beside him when put on the spot. The character became a regular on Downtown Radio.
Since that time, John has topped the bill as May McFettridge in the annual Christmas Pantomime in the Grand Opera House in Belfast for a record thirty consecutive years.
Throughout his career, John has also been highly involved in charity work, appearing regularly on Children in Need broadcasts, as well as organising events to help raise money for various children’s charities. In 2006, he was awarded an MBE for charitable services in Northern Ireland.
On 2 December 2014, he was presented on stage with a bust of himself to mark his 25th consecutive year of performing at the Grand Opera House’s pantomime. The bust is now on view in the Grand Circle of the theatre opposite the bust of Frank Matcham, the architect of the building.
Over the years he has worked with the likes of Frank Bruno, George Best, Frank Carson, Joey Dunlop, Mo Moylan, Jack Charlton and Barry McGuigan to name but a few.
Ulster Tatler editor Chris Sherry said that Linehan was an extremely worthy winner of the evening’s pivotal award.
“The province has a huge admiration for John as a homegrown success,” said Chris. “After 30 years of bringing laughs and smiles to households throughout Northern Ireland, he remains one of the most recognised and loved faces in the country. His successes reflects a truly extraordinary career and the ongoing mark he continues to make in society with his work is nothing short of amazing.
“Most importantly, John is also a wonderful ambassador for Northern Ireland and someone who, in every way, represents the essence of what our Lifetime Achievement Award is all about,” he added.
Awards host Pamela Ballantine delivered the citation for the award to a full house of more than 400 guests at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, reliving the exciting and inspirational life to date of the legend John Linehan.
Other big winners on the night included NI Women’s football captain Marissa Callaghan, who was named Sportsperson of the Year in a hotly-contested category that saw her compete against her own team manager, Kenny Shiels as well as other record-breaking athletes Jonathan Rea, Rhys McClenaghan and Leona Maguire for the coveted title.
All-Ireland champions, Tyrone GAA were awarded the Insight Out Special Merit Award on the night for their outstanding display in the All-Ireland Championship final, bringing the Sam Maguire Cup home for the fourth time in the county’s history. This award has been previously awarded to former Ulster Rugby coach Brian McLaughlin, the Northern Ireland football team and Ulster Rugby legends Ruan Piennaar, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble.
The Celebrity of the Year award was awarded to Newtownards-born TV star Christine Lampard, who has graced our screens for almost 20 years and went on to become a national success on shows such as Dancing on Ice, This Morning and Loose Women.
The evening wasn’t short of ‘glitz and glamour’ as other celebrities attended the evening including Olympic gymnast Rhys McClenaghan, Superbike World Champion Jonathan Rea and well-known presenter Cate Conway who also stepped out to celebrate at the venue.
“The difficulty in choosing just one deserved winner seems to become greater every year and that speaks volumes on just how high the standard is across the province. Every single category was bursting with worthy nominees,” said Ulster Tatler editor Chris Sherry.
“I want to extend huge congratulations to the winners from each category and all those shortlisted, who should all be extremely proud of what they have achieved within their businesses throughout the last year. I also want to personally thank everyone for their support.
“This year we are celebrating the fourteenth year of the Ulster Tatler Awards and the event was a complete sell-out in a stunning new venue so really we couldn’t have asked for more. The night was a massive success,” added Chris.
“We are also very touched to support the Stephen Clements Foundation this evening, and we’re especially thankful that his close friend Cate Conway could join us here tonight. Envelopes were placed on tables for donations towards the Stephen Clements Foundation and a draw took place from all the names collected, with the lucky winner winning an overnight stay in the Fitzwilliam Hotel for two.” Chris concluded.
Winners in other categories included Dunamoy Spa and Cottages and The White Orchidwho both lifted Spa of the Year, Serenity Health and Beauty who took home Beauty Salon of the Year and Galgorm Resort & Spa which received the award for Hotel of the Year; The Dresser Boutique which was presented with Fashion Boutique of the Year; Yvonne Perry Interiors who was named Interior Designer of the Year; Ryan Mallon of Energized Fitness took the award for Personal Trainer of the Year; MACC Hair which was named Hairdressing Salon of the Year; Basil Sheils Bar & Restaurant was awarded Restaurant of the Year; Vera & Ernie who took the award for Coffee House of the Year; Gareth Murphy of we are vertigo who earned himself Business Man of the Year and Victoria Patterson of The Mayfair Group who was named Business Woman of the Year.
The Ulster Tatler Awards 2021 were sponsored by Keens Belfast, Insanity Luxury Tan, Hafele, Linwoods, Wrights Design House, Holley Optometrists, So Good Juice, Sparq, Vermilion Cosmetic Clinic, Duffy Rafferty Communications, Plannd, W&G Baird, Beauty Culture, Yellaman, The Lobster Pot, Insight Out, Audi, Elite Travel NI, Mark McAllister Carpets, Tipperary Natural Mineral Water.