Right royal night out for Martin in London

Sat, Jan 21, 2012, 00:00

NORTHERN IRELAND’S Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, resplendent in black tie, looked the picture of contentment in St James’s Palace, London, on Wednesday night.

Along with 200 guests, McGuinness and First Minister Peter Robinson were on the Mall for Tourism Ireland’s launch of Northern Ireland’s heavily funded 2012 campaign.

The highlight of the event was a concert by Van Morrison.

Robinson told the crowd, including actor Simon Callow and TV presenter Christine Bleakley: “You are probably aware that the venue was Martin’s choice. I hope that this will be the start of a journey for Martin around royal palaces.” The DUP leader added: “Christine offered us a place on Dancing on Ice, which is appropriate since we’ve been dancing on thin ice for years,”

Sinn Féin were not quite so keen on royal connections during Queen Elizabeth’s recent visit to the Republic, although privately, some within the party concede they ended up on the wrong side of history in that one.

“This is part of the way back,” sniffed one of the guests.

Eamonn Holmes of Sky News compered the proceedings. He showed off his holiday snaps from the 1960s before wishing Tourism Ireland’s London-based representative, John Lahiffe, a happy 65th birthday.

Northern Ireland is all set to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, particularly with the opening of Pat Doherty’s Titanic Quarter, described by one US magazine as “the most important tourist opening” in the world this year.

This year is “a once-in-a- lifetime” chance for Northern Ireland to present itself on the world stage, said Robinson. “Our world has changed and changed for the better,” said McGuinness.

The headline act went down a storm, with Van the Man doing a fabulous 40-minute set.

Notoriously shy Morrison was persuaded to perform at the launch by Howard Hastings, chief executive of Hastings Hotels.

The singer, who has had a difficult year in his personal life and now spends a lot of time back in the North, was said to have been intrigued by the prospect of playing in a royal palace.

But some things never change. Van doesn’t do encores, despite Ian Paisley jnr being the first to rise to his feet in applause.

“You think he is coming back? He isn’t. Van The Man has left the building,” declared Holmes