When bubbles burst: the world outside St Andrews


St Andrews prides itself on its prodigious events scene. The self-proclaimed nonpareil of the United Kingdom, we regularly brand our events as being the largest, the most charitable, the sum of all undergraduate achievement. Constantly surrounded by events of such magnitude, it is easy for us to retreat deep within the Bubble, overlooking the rapturous committees that occupy the echelons of our fellow universities’ societies. As the sun rises over a fresh summer, we may pause and look back not on a year of strictly St Andrean events, but on the events of our peers, some of which may successfully put ours to shame.

Rivals in rugby and academics, Edinburgh and St Andrews further compete on a sartorial scale with their respective university fashion shows. Held annually in March, the Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show is largely ignored by St Andreans, having already been spoiled for choice throughout our fashion season in February. Should we take the time to examine our opponent, we would see a worthy adversary no more than an hour to the south: ECFS’s past sponsors include Red Bull, Belvedere Vodka, and Condé Nast, and the brand boasts Joseph, Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Charlotte Olympia amongst its impressive list of past designers. Described as “Europe’s most successful student-run charity fashion show,” ECFS 2010 donated nearly £40,000 to its nominated charity, and has donated over £250,000 total since its formation in 2000.

Photo: ECFS Facebook page
Photo: ECFS Facebook page. Click to enlarge

At a glance, ECFS offers a pricing scheme that can generously be described as “verbose.” The three tiers of tickets are accompanied by more terms and conditions than an iTunes update, and guests have the additional option of upgrading to a premium package for reserved seating. After taking the time to read the descriptions, I can conclude that ECFS does provide more incentives than our own FS: Ranging from £25 to £60, the various tickets are accompanied by drink vouchers, food, and complimentary cocktails. It is a magnificent deal on all levels, particularly when compared to the £70 or £90 spent by FS guests, who in return receive perhaps two glasses of champagne per person. Being smaller in scale, the production costs of ECFS may not rival those of FS; however, it must be said that the committee certainly ensures a hefty amount of bang for their guests’ buck.

While the fashion show is the most prominent of Edinburgh’s student events, the University is not without its share of balls. William Marshall, a St Andrews student who attended this year’s Edinburgh Business Society Ball, described the event as “excellent.” He elaborated: “Good value, wonderfully decorated, and thankfully no jumped up, self entitled DJs, much like those that fill grimy London clubs with their grime. Rather, there was a great band for a ceilidh, and a DJ who played music that people actually liked.” William did go on to admit that his taste in music is reputably eccentric.

Photo: Edinburgh Reeling
Photo: Edinburgh Reeling

Edinburgh continues to mirror our uni’s events scene with an annual reeling ball. Held in mid-March, the ball allowed keen reelers to demonstrate their dancing skills at the Hub Edinburgh, a beautifully converted events space that welcomed both students and adults alike. It faced fierce competition from our own reeling society: Featuring a three course meal, seemingly infinite amounts of wine, a fireworks display, canapés, and a champagne reception, the St Andrews White Tie Reeling Ball left little to be desired. Although similarly priced, the Edinburgh ball did not offer such a lengthy list of benefits: An auction and an admittedly delicious breakfast spread were the highlights of the night, which did not bear witness to the quality of dancing present at the St Andrews ball. 

Students this year were given another chance to don their evening dress for Oxford University Polo Club’s much-anticipated white tie ball. One of the only two British universities with a pedigree more prolific than our own, Oxford carries with it an unquestionable sense of respectability, a reputation that extends to its night life. Most recently held at Blenheim Palace, childhood home of Winston Churchill, the ball superseded St Andrews in cost, a rare feat for a student-run event. At £125 per ticket, the evening was preceded by a six goal exhibition match for an international guest list (including HRH Princess Katherine of Serbia), and no more than 200 attended the dinner itself. The polo club appeared fully devoted to delivering on their high price point, as the enchanting venue allowed for an elegant night spent dining and dancing to the sound of a live band. No afterparty tickets were sold, a notable difference from the majority of St Andrews-based dining events; Nobel Ball is perhaps the only “dinner ball” that does not include a ticketed afterparty. This allows the night to remain intimate rather than growing unruly, an example that larger events may wish to follow.

Although we may not be as peerless as we like to believe, it would seem that St Andrews does manage to surpass all others in terms of pure proportion. FS hosts over 1500 guests within its marquee, far exceeding the 500 guests of ECFS. Our Reeling Ball attracts attendees on a national level, and Welly Ball is a name familiar to clay pigeon shooting clubs from Edinburgh to Exeter. Considering the success of smaller scale events, however, our local committees may wish to give thought to the positive aspects of intimacy. By focusing less on the crowd-wide spectacle and more on the individual’s experience, an event may prove to be far more enjoyable than one that simply bears of the monicker of “Europe’s largest.”

Perhaps our need for grandiosity is due to our relative lack of night life. In such a small town, we must make our own excitement. What better way to do so than by bringing the rest of the world to St Andrews?

Photo: Nasir Hamid Photography



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