Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Belfast Live
Belfast Live
Lauren Harte

Meet the inspirational Derry mum behind inclusive annual ‘Shining Light’ pageant

Jennifer Taylor has a full-time job, a husband, two children, two books to write and has been battling mental health issues for the last decade.

Remarkably, however, she still finds time to organise an inspirational, inclusive annual event which raises not only awareness of mental health issues, but phenomenal amounts of money for it too.

Indeed Jennifer, 38, from Derry would be a worthy winner of the Shining Light pageant herself – if she wasn’t the woman responsible for its inception.

Read more: NI man who survived two mental health breakdowns on mission to help others

This one-woman-band devotes her lunchtimes and evenings to the Derry-based pageant, now in its third year and open to people of all ages and sizes and focuses on boosting confidence and self-esteem, empowerment and friendship.

“It’s my other full-time job,” said Jennifer, who is a marketing campaign specialist at Northern Irish full fibre broadband provider Fibrus and was speaking to mark International Women’s Day.

“Our 50 finalists range in age from one year old to their 60s, and they’re now coming from all over the UK and Ireland,” she said.

“There are 16 different categories and people are judged (by, among others, previous winners and sponsors) on things like their confidence and stage presence.”

A different charity is nominated each year, the first one being Me4Mental, which received £11,500. Last year the main benefactor was Foyle Search and Rescue, for whom £16,500 was raised.

Sadly not long after Foyle Search and Rescue was nominated, they recovered missing male model Emmette Dillon, who passed away in September 2021.

Emmette Dillon (Submitted)

The popular 33-year-old from the Crawford Square area of the city was a good friend of Jennifer’s.

“Emmette was very into the local pageant scene, and that made what we were doing back then even more poignant. Last year I created a special prize – the Emmette Dillon Mental Health Champion Award in his honour,” Jennifer said.

This year’s chosen charities are PIPS suicide awareness group and Newpin, which helps parents suffering from depression and isolation.

Having been a judge in other pageants such as the Miss Earth Northern Ireland finals when she was in her early 30s, Jennifer ‘crossed to the other side’ as a contestant in the Mrs Ireland 2018 competition in Dublin – which, much to her surprise and delight, she won.

It was the inclusivity of the event which appealed to her, welcoming people of all shapes, backgrounds and sizes.

“I just entered it for the craic. You’re not judged on beauty. I’m not a size eight anymore. It was that experience that inspired me to create Shining Light,” she said.

Jennifer, who has been married to Chris, 42, an assistant programme manager, for the last 13 years, said she began suffering from mental health issues herself when the couple’s son Zachary, who is now 11, was born. They also have a young daughter, Daisy, who is 18 months old.

“I have a wonderful husband; housework, cooking, number one daddy. His life revolves around our children,” Jennifer added.

This year’s Shining Light final will be held on April 1 in Derry and preparations for the following year’s event will begin the next day.

“It really is a 365-day-a-year vocation. No sooner is one over, but enquiries begin about the next one. But I’m totally committed to this,” said Jennifer.

Having taken seven years to finish her first book 'The Blue Boathouse', described by the author as a “ghost, love story mystery” inspired by the old Prehen Boathouse, its two sequels will have to wait.

There are only so many hours in a day, even for Jennifer.

Anyone who needs to talk to someone about mental health issues can call the Samaritans on 116123 or Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.


For all the latest news, visit the Belfast Live homepage here and sign up to our daily newsletter here.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.