Similar to Oktoberfest, Welly Ball’s allure lies in its unique dress code and eclectic guest list. As the followup to the annual St Andrews Challenge, the ball hosts clay pigeon shooting teams from across the country: Aberdeen, Exeter, Oxford and Durham are regularly among the universities present at the dinner, lending a worldly aesthetic to the event.
This year was no different, particularly in the wake of a record sell-out time for the ball’s afterparty. The overwhelming demand from both St Andrews and non-St Andrews students reminded us once again of the venue limitations of our town. Kinkell Byre is one of the largest spaces available to event organisers, and it is clearly not large enough to accommodate everyone.
Limitations aside, the committee made excellent use of the space available to them. Guests arrived to a sloe gin shot reception, promptly chased by the assortment of snacks scattered throughout the room: Tunnock‘s caramel wafers, Propercorn, and Joe and Seph‘s gourmet popcorn were all bountiful, acting as unofficial starters to the ensuing meal.
The outside marquee exceeded any decorative expectations, the tables resplendent in the light of autumnal lanterns and chandeliers. In comparison, the main room looked rather bare – beyond the tables themselves, there was not much decoration to speak of (last year’s miniature welly boot centrepieces remain a standout of that night). That said, special attention must be given to the awareness-raising cards placed amongst the aforementioned snacks, allowing guests to read about this year’s charity, the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust. The main room also boasted the allure of a welcoming soundtrack by Jazz Works, a band familiar to guests of Welly Ball 2014.
Dinner was served with impressive promptness shortly before 8pm, a benefit of the family style method of serving. Per Welly Ball tradition, committee members delivered platters of food to each table, where hungry guests could then help themselves. Roast pork arrived accompanied by a delicious sage and onion stuffing, potatoes and an arrangement of roast vegetables. Vegetarians had the option of cannelloni as their main, while every table came equipped with coleslaw, apple sauce and gravy as sides.
Welly Ball is notorious for the allegedly meagre portions afforded to each guest. For £65 (up £10 in the past two years alone), one could buy a three course meal and a full bottle of wine at The Adamson. It is rather confusing, therefore, why at Kinkell Byre this money grants us only a one course meal – which, when divided up between ten people, does not amount to very much. In comparison to last year’s dinner, the food offered this year certainly appeared plentiful. And yet, considering what guests had paid, it simply did not seem like enough.
Small serving sizes aside, the food did not fail to satisfy in taste, especially when paired with the five bottles of wine assigned to each table. The casual serving style lent itself to an equally relaxed manner of socialising; the main room came alive with singing and shouting from every table. Many guests were disappointed when the meal came to a surprisingly abrupt end. No sooner had our plates been emptied than they were removed, despite a few platters still containing food.
The transition from dinner to afterparty is a struggle for all event committees, so the need for promptness is understandable. By the time we left our dismantled table, however, the clock had barely struck 9pm and afterparty buses were not slated to leave town for another half hour. Dinner guests used the temporarily uncrowded space to purchase drinks at the bars or take photos using the Welly Ball Snapchat geotag (difficult at times due to the lacklustre cell signal at Kinkell). By the time the afterparty guests descended from their buses, the party was in full swing.
Another notable Welly Ball tradition is the participation of the committee in the night’s logistics. In addition to serving the food, committee members played active roles in dinner cleanup and afterparty setup, as they stacked chairs and rolled away tables and swept the floor in preparation of the incoming dancers. This reliance on their own manpower, rather than on hired help, is admirable and most likely beneficial to the charitable donation.
The afterparty extended to the back marquee, which became a lounge of sorts once all dinner tables had been cleared away. The tables were replaced by picnic benches packed with freebies: Point Blank cold brew coffee, Emily fruit crisps and Mighty Bee coconut water provided guests with much needed refreshments over the course of the night. Snacks could also be purchased from the Cheesy Toast Shack or Ludo & Lolo’s Crêperie. The latter being a new face to St Andrews events did not lessen the queues of crepe-crazed guests, a testament to the indelible nature of their sweet or savoury treats. Food could also be found in the outside smoking area, for those willing to brave the cold in exchange for a hearty helping of Blackhorn.
Refuelled and revitalised, guests reentered the main room for sets by Scott Gordon and Ashton Squires, who proved that a big name is not a necessity for a successful afterparty. Sometimes, student DJs are precisely what a dancefloor needs, as only students can truly channel the needs of the crowd. Where else could we dance to a trap remix of “The Circle of Life”?
Finally, it is impossible to discuss Welly Ball without making some mention of the cloakroom (alluded to by the committee at the end of this year’s promo video). Welly Ball 2015 remains marred by the night’s controversial culmination, as hundreds of guests stormed the cloakroom in search of their belongings. The chaos resulted in stolen Barbour and Canada Goose jackets, totalling thousands of pounds in missing merchandise. Returning guests were relieved this year to find that the committee had taken all the necessary precautions in preventing a similar scandal: a security guard remained stationed by the cloakroom at all times, and by every account the service was run with utmost efficiency.
To return to the question posed by the title: Was Welly Ball 2016 worth it? Was it worth the hype, the original ticket costs, the resale value, the last minute welly purchases?
It was, but not for the usual reasons. Typically, a ball bills itself as “worth it” based on what guests receive on the night, be this in the form of food or drink or goodie bags. The pure monetary value of Welly Ball’s incentives did not add up to a £65 dinner or a £25 afterparty, unless you managed to eat an inordinate amount of popcorn.
Nonetheless, guests ought to see the reasoning behind the high price tag. Profits of the event go to the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, now partnered with Welly Ball for the third consecutive year. The charity is an incredibly topical one: the Trust aims to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and depression in young adults. Regardless of how high the price may climb, we can all pay and party safe in the knowledge that every pound will be used in the name of CWMT.