Jennifer's yearly pageant is helping those with mental health issues
Jennifer Taylor would be a worthy winner of the Shining Light pageant — if she wasn’t the person responsible for its inception.
The 38-year-old Londonderry woman has a full-time job, a husband, two children, a book published and two more 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 problems, but phenomenal amounts of money for it.
“It’s my other full-time job,” said Ms Taylor, who is a marketing campaign specialist at Northern Ireland full fibre broadband provider Fibrus.
This one-woman-band devotes her lunchtimes and evenings to a Derry-based pageant that is now in its third year and is open to people of all ages and sizes, focusing on boosting confidence and self-esteem, empowerment and friendship.
“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 their 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, with £16,500 being raised.
Sadly, not long after Foyle Search and Rescue was nominated, it recovered missing male model Emmette Dillon, who passed away in 2021.
The popular 33-year-old from the Crawford Square area of the city was a good friend of Ms Taylor.
“Emmette was very into the local pageant scene, and that made what we were doing back then even more poignant,” she said.
“Last year I created a special prize — the Emmette Dillon Mental Health Champion Award — in his honour.”
This year’s chosen charities are the 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 (“I just entered it for the craic”) which appealed to her; welcoming people of all shapes, backgrounds and sizes.
“You’re not judged on beauty. I’m not a size eight anymore,” she added.
“It was that experience that inspired me to create Shining Light.”
Jennifer, who has been married to Chris (42) for 13 years, said she began suffering from mental health issues when the couple’s son, Zachary, who is now 11, was born. They now have a daughter, Daisy, who is 18 months old.
Chris, an assistant programme manager, is a hero to his indefatigable wife: “I have a wonderful husband; housework, cooking, number one daddy. His life revolves around our children.”
This year’s Shining Light pageant 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,” said Ms Taylor.
“No sooner is one over, but enquiries begin about the next one. I’m totally committed to this.”
Having taken seven years to finish her first book, The Blue Boathouse, described by her 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.