Belfast country singer John Rafferty's delight as he wins Glór Tíre final
A WEST Belfast country singer has told how he has attracted a whole new legion of fans after winning a hotly-contested talent show on Irish language channel TG4.
John Rafferty, from the Whiterock Road area, beat two other finalists on Tuesday night to scoop the Glór Tíre (Country Voice) title at The Quays in Galway.
The 41-year-old took the majority of the public votes to beat Damien Davis from Monaghan and Noreen Rabbette from Offaly.
He sang The Town I Loved so Well by Phil Coulter and Wasn't That a Party by Mike Denver for the panel of judges.
As well as the sought-after title of champion, John also took home a cash prize of €5,000.
The singer, who was mentored by country star Johnny Brady, said he had been bowled over by the support he had received, with people following his progress from all over the UK.
He thanked his sister Anne and wife Martine for being the "driving force" behind the social media campaign to encourage people to vote for their favourite artist.
And he said that since taking parts in the various heats of the show he had attracted a whole new legion of fans since his win.
"I have had so many Facebook messages from people congratulating me and who have seen me for the first time. It has just exploded, it is so, so nice," he said.
"To get through each round and win the whole competition, I just wasn't expecting it. All the other singers were fantastic and Noreen Rabbette in particular was world-class. I didn't think I had a chance of beating her."
Looking to the future, John also plays with a four-piece band in Scotland and, if everything works out, would love to go on the road with them full-time.
"There's no better feeling than seeing people up dancing and singing. It makes you feel you are doing something right," he added.
One of the judges John Creedon said it had been "a humdinger of a contest".
"If ever there was a year to win, this was the year to win because the bar was the highest yet....Brilliant. And the other two contestants were brilliant as well," he said.
Of the six contestants who started out on the show, John was the only one from Northern Ireland and during the elimination heats dueted with Johnny Brady, singing the classic Willie Nelson song Seven Spanish Angels as well as treating the judges to a rendition of Borrowed Angel by American singer Mel Street.
John, who is stepdad to five children and step-grandad to four-year-old Thomas, grew up with music.
His late dad Gerry was a singer and huge Elvis fan and as a young lad John toured local venues with him.
He began singing himself when he was 17, making his name as a Garth Brooks impersonator, and combined music with various day jobs until deciding to devote himself to music full-time three years ago.
The performer has already produced two albums in the past three years, one of which - The Comfort of Her Wings - went to number one in the Irish country charts.
He was also a contestant on BBC programme The Voice UK, performing for Tom Jones and Kylie Minogue, and sang for Simon Cowell on Britain's Got Talent.