As celebrations to finish your final year uni exams go, jetting off across Europe to watch your childhood friend compete in the Eurovision Song Contest is definitely novel.
With Bellaghy woman Brooke Scullion set to carry the hopes of a nation into Thursday night's semi final, a group of friends from her days in St Patrick's College Maghera are set to join her in Turin.
Fíana Kelly, Niamh Quinn, Eilís McGrath, Emma O'Neill, Ciara McCloskey and Aoife McNally will make the 1,200-mile journey later this week, with Aoife heading out after taking her final uni exam.
“It will be a great weekend from start to finish; I just can't wait. What a way to celebrate my final exam on the 12th, heading straight to Italy,” she told the County Derry Post.
“We've been at school together and we all went on holidays together after sixth form, so we're quite close.
“We're hoping to go into Turin on the 14th whether she gets to the final or not, and hopefully go to the final that night.
“The atmosphere will still be class, and lots of the people who are in Turin will recognise her.”
Brooke arriving in Italy for the semi finals.
Brooke has charmed Eurovision fans across Europe with her energy, and Aoife confirmed this has not been a marketing ploy.
“She's completely grounded; she hasn't changed at all. We went to Yoko there last week and some of the people recognised her, but she just is the same person,” she said.
“I don't think she's ever going to change. Brooke has been a performer long before she was on The Voice, she's been like that all the way through school.
“It felt surreal watching her on TV. Even now seeing her on Eurovision, it doesn't seem real. It is the same person she is in real life, so it's weird seeing her on TV and everybody recognising her.
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“Brooke won the talent show when she was in fourth year, one of the youngest people ever to win it. We were in her music class and she would always have been singing.
“She was in all the musicals as well throughout school, so she's just born to be on the stage.”
Fíana Kelly, who Aoife says did the bulk of the work in organising the trip, also says Brooke's enthusiasm is as authentic as it is contagious.
“There is just no filter with her. No matter what it is, Brooke will just say it. What you see is what you get with her, really,” she said.
“She speaks her mind and wouldn't be shy, obviously. The way she is with us is the way she gets on on social media as well. She doesn't change – she's crazy.
The girls have supported Brooke from school performances all the way to the Eurovision stage.
“We've supported her throughout school; she's been in all the plays and everything, so we knew she was going to go on to bigger things.
“With The Voice, and now Eurovision, things just keep getting crazier for her and it's so good to see her going out for the rehearsals and red carpets.”
Both Fíana and Aoife hesitantly admit they are no Eurovision superfans, but as soon as Brooke qualified for the semi final, both knew that was about to change.
“I don't know whether to tell the truth or lie here,” laughed Aoife.
“To be honest, I was never a big Eurovision fan. The last year I watched it was when Jedward was on it, but I'll definitely be watching this year – hopefully from Turin!”
Fíana has had to undertake a crash course in Eurovision culture in preparation for the journey to Turin.
“It's a new thing for me; I had to have the rules explained at the start of it all, but I've been following all the updates and got really into it,” she said.
“We've all planned to get dressed and get the face paints and all to go and support her, so we'll all be looking mad going to it.”
Brooke, Niamh Quinn, Emma O'Neill, Aoife McNally, Eilís McGrath, Erin Burns, Fíana Kelly and Aine McGill pictured from their St Patrick's College, Maghera days.
Although the girls have been able to source tickets for the semi final on Thursday, they won't know whether they can get to the final until after Brooke's performance.
Aoife compared it to heading off to Dublin for the All-Ireland final.
“We always said we'd love to go out to it, but all the places in Turin were sold out months ago from all the Eurovision die-hards,” she said.
“Even though when we booked it, we didn't know if we were going to get tickets, it's a bit like the All-Ireland.
“It doesn't matter where you watch the All-Ireland in Dublin, if you're there for it, the atmosphere is still there. We figured somewhere in Turin would have it on the big screen.”
Fíana too is looking forward to what will be a new experience.
“We didn't know if we were going to get tickets, but even the buzz about Turin, people from different countries, the whole thing is just going to be so exciting,” she said.
Brooke during a soundcheck in Turin.
“We've never been to anything like this, so it's a first time for everyone, and that fact our friend is in it makes it so much more exciting.”
Driving these girls to make the journey to Turin is a burning desire to support their childhood friend in what will be the biggest moment of her life to date.
“We're all so proud of her. We went to the Taphouse on Sunday, and to see everybody coming together to see her off was unbelievable,” said Aoife.
“It was always expected; you always knew Brooke would go on to do something like this. She is a born performer.”
Whether or not they can end the weekend by attending the highly sought after Eurovision afterparty is unclear, but Aoife McNally indicates they are ready if the opportunity arises.
“Here, whatever happens, happens. I'll go with the flow,” she said.
Bellaghy's Brooke Scullion will fly the flag for Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest this week in Turin. Liam Tunney caught up with her to talk stadium tours, Eurovision favourites and her unique fashion sense.
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