Like Cinderella, most girls love to dress up and go to a ball. Gents themselves are also not opposed to it, especially if a bottle of champagne is included with the ticket.

Balls and fashion shows are unavoidable occurrences when studying in the Bubble. This is particularly fortunate for those of us who often find ourselves aimlessly wandering the streets of St Andrews night after night, hopping from BrewCo to the Vic, from the Union to (naturally) the Lizard. These events provide spice to St Andrean life, as each is accompanied by its own aesthetic: Choices range from Welly Ball, where students mill about in cocktail dresses and Hunter boots, to the Kate Kennedy May Ball, where heels are the footwear of choice.

But as in the beloved tale of Cinderella, St Andrews has an evil stepmother who seeks to prevent the rags from becoming riches. While most balls open their ticket sales to anyone, there are a few events that seem to stay just out of the reach of the everyday student. The sense of elitism in St Andrews is as common as Scottish rain. We have a reputation for popping champagne bottles and having “secret” societies. If I got a pound for every time I was presumed to be a snob because of where I go to university, I wouldn’t bother getting a degree at all.

This reputation does not mean, however, that the majority of the students studying here are, in fact, champagne-popping social climbers. And this is where the problem lies: Certain events in our town thrive on the very nature of elitism, despite many students’ opposition to it. Early-bird tickets are sold to a select few, or the blatantly biased table ballot system is used.

The St Andrews Charity Fashion Show (FS), for example, is an event that some students would sell their souls to go to. It acts as the pinnacle of the St Andrews’ experience: fashion, models, free bottles of champagne, music, a charitable cause, and an incredibly exclusive mentality.

st andrews charity fashion show fs beautiful models
Photo: Getty Images

This does not mean that FS is definitely not an event worth attending. It is one of my favourites of the year! However, instead of selling tickets on a first-come first-serve basis, which is the norm for most events, it uses a ballot system. In the ballot system, one individual assumes the title of “head of the table.” This person then submits his or her name, along with the names of nine friends, into a raffle to receive a ticket allocation. The committee is meant to choose at random who will receive tables (“random” being the operative word here).

Although this spares us the drama of last year’s ticket queue for the Mermaids’ Harry Potter-themed Christmas Ball, it does lead to conjecture. I can’t say I enjoyed queuing at 4 am and not receiving a golden ticket, and the sight of hundreds of students sleeping in tents on Market Street was certainly a dismal one.

However, many a student has debated the randomness of the table ballot results: When you, a committee member, see your friend’s name on a ballot, surely you would want them to get a ticket? At the same time, the students who do end up getting tables are the same crowd you tend to see milling about VIP tents at the other events. Maybe they’re just lucky?

st andrews charity polo tournament vvip area
Photo: Sammi Ciardi

Even if the ballot system is completely fair, the speculation surrounding the ticket system could cast a negative light around an event that is otherwise a wonderful concept.

FS is not the only event that has used this system to delegate tickets. The Kate Kennedy Club’s May Ball, while also selling tickets in the standard manner, offers the opportunity to enter a ballot for the prestigious dinner that takes place before the ball. This dinner has been criticised as being an excuse for the rich and powerful members of St Andrews to show off just how mighty they really are. Despite this sentiment, not many people seem to begrudge them their ostentatious show of wealth as they do pay double the price for the tickets, and then end up at the same event as everybody else.

At the end of the night, both the Classic and the VIP ticket holders have to wait in queues to have a whirl on one of the rides – the only difference being that the Classic ticket holders saved a couple of quid on their dinner for the evening.

This then raises the question as to why so many events have VIP, and even VVIP, tickets. It’s only natural to assume that most of the time you only buy diabolically more expensive tickets for the bragging rights of having access to the VIP (or VVIP, or Super VIP) section. Most of the time the only benefits you receive above and beyond the standard ticket is a free bottle of champagne, skipping queues, and your own private seating area.

Lately, there has been a surge of offering free Janettas as another incentive to buy the ticket (because let’s face it, who doesn’t like free ice-cream?). But regardless of ice cream or champagne, you must ask yourself: Is it really worth paying that additional £20 to get a bottle of something that’s probably cheaper to buy in Tesco anyway? To be perfectly frank, you will probably end up spending most of your time outside the VIP area throughout the night.

dont walk 2015
Photo: Daniil Lapko

It makes sense to buy a VIP ticket for events outside of the Bubble – at a performance, for example, when you have backstage access to meet the artist or band. But at a St Andrews ball, where things are all pretty much the same save for the hosts and the charities they sponsor? Not so much.

Maybe, however, you like the exclusivity offered by such events. For that, you’re not to be blamed. It feels great to seem special, above the riffraff. The only problem is that it creates an environment of superiority that is utterly pointless, as the only difference between a VIP student and a regular one is that they were willing to pay a bit more, or are friends with the “right” people (that’s called nepotism, folks!).

This is not a criticism of all the events. Many of them are incredibly informal and offer a thoroughly welcoming atmosphere. All of the balls, or at least the ones I have been too, have provided their guests with incredible entertainment and memorable experiences. They are most definitely not to be avoided, as they are such an integral part of St Andrews life.

Like Cinderella, however, many students need the encouragement of a fairy godmother (or the event coordinators) to help them see past the elitist aesthetic that sometimes suffocates the Bubble. Only then can they enjoy the truly incredible events that this little town has to offer.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Honest, well-written, poignant and completely true – this is an excellent piece!
    As a former student of St. Andrews, I appreciate how you summarise the highs and lows of Bubble life. Every attempt at fun has the rotten core of elitism; the invitation-only nastiness causes many a student to detest uni life.
    I’ve never been back and I never intend to.

  2. There is something wrong with St Andrews. It is unseen but often felt. A darkness: a strange sensation of unease. Perhaps it is nothing. Or perhaps it is the consequence of the matters you discuss.

  3. What’s pleasingly ironic about this article is that the author doesn’t mention any of the actual invite-only events in St Andrews. One would have at least expected a mention of something well known, like Advent.

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