Blonde bombshell Leanne McDowell was crowned the new Miss Northern Ireland last night. The Newtownabbey beauty was celebrating after a glittering ceremony at the Europa Hotel in Belfast following a tense competition between the 28 finalists.

Leanne has admitted she has dreamt of being in the running for the coveted title since she was a young girl. Speaking minutes after being crowned. she said’ ‘It’s like a dream, it’s so surreal - I really can’t believe it.’ Leanne added: ‘I remember looking at magazines when I was a young girl and thinking, I’ll hopefully be there someday.

 I never thought I would ever win it - I just wanted to be part of the Miss NI competition. ‘Now that I have won it, I want to be one of the best Miss NI’s ever.’ Organiser Alison Clarke said the winner had to have all the skills to carry off the title, which is now a full-time job for the year. Outgoing title holder Rebekah Shirley handed over the mantle to her successor - along with a chance to compete at Miss World.