SWOTY Erin will continue to fight for good causes

IT WAS, Erin McNeill says, a moment she will treasure forever.

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The moment Erin and her mother, Jean, burst into tears as the award was announced
The moment Erin and her mother, Jean, burst into tears as the award was announced

At 22, she is our youngest Scotswoman Of the Year and, after collecting her trophy, the burns survivor, beauty pageant winner and charity fundraiser said she was still in shock.

She said: "Just to have been nominated alongside the other amazing finalists was incredible.

"I didn't think I would win at all – I am still in shock. I am so young, and beside all these other women, I don't feel I have achieved half as much."

Hugging her mum, Jean, in disbelief, Erin said she would use her title to continue her fundraising and fire safety education work across the UK.

The former singer nearly died in a blaze four years ago and since then has worked tirelessly for firefighters' charities, the British Red Cross and countless other good causes in an attempt to educate people about the dangers of fire.

"I have been really lucky to have won some incredible awards in the last year but this one means so much," she said.

"I didn't really know how things would work out for me after what happened. But if someone tells me I can't do something, it makes me want to change their minds.

"When they told me in the hospital I wouldn't walk again, after sustaining 45% burns to my body, I refused to believe it. What did they mean? I was only 18. I couldn't give up."

In an amusing and emotional acceptance speech, Erin compared herself to "the one Scottish person I have most in common with - Shrek."

To a delighted audience of about 250 women in Glasgow City Chambers, she explained: "Shrek is misunderstood because of the way he looks, but he is brave and feisty and has a big heart.

"I believe everyone has a scar in their life, and no matter how big or how small, it is no less important than anyone else's.

"Scars are beautiful - they change your life and mark out a new path for you."

As many listeners wiped away tears, Erin continued: "Life puts hurdles in your way sometimes - well, bring on the hurdles. I'm ready for some more."

Erin was recently named a UK youth ambassador for the British Red Cross. In the 50th year of the Scotswoman Of the Year title that is a fitting link to our first winner back in 1963, Bessie Johnston, who worked for the Glasgow branch of the charity.

Erin has also won many beauty pageant titles in a attempt to change attitudes to disfigurement.

She said: "I don't believe people with disfigurement should hide away.

"Winning this award will help me spread my message – I am so delighted to have been given this honour and opportunity."

Erin's mum Jean, holding back tears, said she was shocked her daughter had triumphed.

"Erin has always been very determined and she doesn't let things get in her way when she wants to achieve something," she said.

"But neither of us thought she would win tonight – there are so many fabulous women out there doing great things."

She said: "I'm really, really proud of her – I can't wait to phone her dad!"

Former Scotswoman Of The Year Sandra Brown, who shared a table with Erin, said the young woman was a worthy winner of the title.

She said: "Erin almost ruled herself out of the running because of her age, but that's not what Scotswoman Of the Year is about.

"She is a fantastic role model, a true inspiration, and deserves the title."

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