Everything’s coming up roses for local hotel porter, Gary Holmes who is to represent Derry at next weekend’s Rose of Tralee International Festival.
The 27 year old from Newbuildings will live the life of luxury surrounded by glamorous Roses from all over the world having secured the title of Derry Escort.
Even though he has never watched the beauty competition, Gary says his granny Ella always watches it.
However, she’s told him she doesn’t think she’ll be able to watch it this year as she is too nervous for him!
“I already know that it will be the experience of a lifetime for me. It isn’t about me though, it is all about the Roses. That is my role, to look after the Roses, all of them. It is up to each escort to ensure that every Rose has the experience of a lifetime.”
Gary was selected as the Derry escort at The City Hotel last Sunday evening. The competition involved an on stage interview and Gary believes that it was his “not fussed” attitude, which saw him clinch the opportunity walk off with a Rose, at least for a weekend.
“I jumped at the chance to go to the Rose of Tralee Festival. The selection process wasn’t too bad but I never, really thought I was going to win. I’d given up any hope so I was just very relaxed answering the judges’ questions.
“I think that’s why they selected me, my relaxed attitude.”
That said his preparations have not exactly been ‘relaxed.’ Not only has he to pack his own clothes and belongings but Derry Rose Catherine Feeney has given him her belongings to transport as well.
“The Rose committee gave me pain killers, jelly insteps for the Roses, hair clips, safety pins, sewing kits, muscle rub, moisturiser, eye fatigue cream and bottles of water and Lucozade, I suppose we can’t appear to be tired during the festival. It wouldn’t look too good for my Rose if a TV camera caught me yawning during the ball. That said, for such a short stay the amount of stuff I have to bring is unreal.
“I have to thank Esquire Formal Wear, The City Hotel and Kerry Lynn for all their support.”
Gary comes from a family of three in Drumahoe but currently lives in Newbuildings.
Parents, Christine and Mervyn have two other children Lisa and Ryan, neither of whom live in Derry.
“It’s a shame because they can’t travel to the Festival. The Roses take lots of support with them but I suppose we’re part of that support team. It’s our job to keep them relaxed and calm during the festival, we’re part friend-part bodyguard. We also have to protect them and keep them safe. Basically we’re ‘all round helpers in tuxes.’
Gary will travel to Tralee, County Kerry next Wednesday, stopping to collect one other escort en route. They will then meet their respective Roses on Friday.
So does Gary think he will be the next Daithi O’Shea and find true love at the Festival?
“Not at all, for a start my girlfriend wouldn’t be too happy.”
Unfortunately for this year’s Roses Gary is spoken for. He is dating an Iranian model, Azin Fathi. “She was a little nervous about me going at first but she is grand with it now and of course she trusts me.”
Robbie Costelloe, escort to the 2010 Derry Rose, walked away with the title of Escort of the Year. With odds of 25/1 bookmaker, Paddy Power has Gary as a rank outsider to win the title this year but that is fine by him.
“I’m not in it to win it. I just want the experience which is a great prize. I’m not there to be the centre of attention, that said, I thought I deserved better odds than 25/1,” he joked.
“At least my brother put a tenner on me.”
As part of the escorts’ duties they are assigned a charity.
“We’ve already raised over £500 for the One Life Charity, a suicide helpline in the Republic, thanks to a pub quiz in the hotel and a collection at The Metro. It is about the charity, the festival and the Roses. I honestly would be happier if the Derry Rose won the Rose of Tralee title than for me to win Escort of the Year .”