It’s ball season – but are black tie events at St Andrews worth the expense?



The Kate Kennedy Club’s balls raise thousands of pounds each. FS is targeting £50,000 this year. Be as cynical and tight-fisted as you want, these events fund good causes.

I love balls. I also love St Andrews. Therefore, I love St Andrews’ balls. No matter the cost, I would happily pay for a ball in St Andrews. It should not be seen as a fault that events are so expensive. Indeed, their very expense, quality and variety should be encouraged.

First, St Andrews is deficient in nightlife. The Vic is crowed and full of people whose accent sometimes makes communication difficult. Ma Bells’ bar is slow and bad value. The Union, except for Sinners, is empty and dull. We all pretend to like the Lizard, but when after the fourth coke has been handed to you with sweat dripping down the sides of the plastic glass, it’s time to have a change.

But despite the more ‘cosy’ nightlife, we still applied here. We’d be kidding ourselves if there wasn’t an element of brand-name snobbery in our application. Getting into St Andrews requires ambition. “I go to St Andrews” carries currency. Once we are here, it’s nice to enjoy the exclusivity of the achievement. Balls are the perfect complement to this exclusive (and admittedly smug) feeling, £35 (the average cost of a ticket) is a small price to pay to be part of a night of elitism at its most decadent. Paying for a ball is a fantastic expression of this success. By the same token, St Andrews balls’, by virtue of their high profile, attract national press coverage. Oktoberfest brings in feisty Romanian princesses; FS attracts front page Tatler coverage. Buying a ticket for an event grants access to something that often receives national media attention.

Of course, hosting friends from other universities requires a sense of occasion. Balls often include sumptuous three course meals. Reeling Ball, for example, includes a full English breakfast at 1am after a night of free festive flinging. Organisers of the events in St Andrews know how to take care of the details. At the high price of a ticket, you can enjoy numerous complementary perks.

It’s not just the details however that distinguish St Andrews’ events. Top event are often systematically planned according to a theme. House of Horror transformed Kinkell Byre into an exhilarating horror show, complete with chainsaws. Crosswalk replicated trendy East Coast fairground culture in the middle of misty Fife.

Even without the original themes, events are still great for the music. The high price of a ticket is no more than one you could pay to see nationally recognised DJs such as Rudimental and Duke Dumont. Balls combine experience of establish chart-toppers with promising home-grown St Andrews talent, providing an unrivalled musical experience.

Finally, writing essays is dull. From first-years wrangling with obscure Econometrics problems, to PhD students staring down the barrel of a thesis, people need motivation to keep going. With few opportunities for socialising in the week, knowing that the Welly Ball table is waiting for you after tediously trawling through your bibliography guarantees that you will work hard.

Here, despite all the incentives, you might still bang your foot and say that it all still costs too much. But compared to many event at other universities, St Andrews is positively cheap. May Balls in Oxford cost up to £250. Most St Andrews balls cost a quarter of this or less, and also happen to be less tainted with misogyny and socially awkward maths geeks. If that’s all still too much to handle, I could also point out the small fact that these events are great for the charities they support. The Kate Kennedy Club’s balls raise thousands of pounds each year for causes that range from Cystic Fibrosis trusts to mental health charities. FS raised over £30,000 last year, and is targeting £50,000 this year. Be as cynical and tight-fisted as you want, these events fund good causes.

Compared to drowning my sorrows with an overpriced G&T at the West Port, I will pay for a ball in St Andrews. They are necessary, fun, diverse, well-organised and good for charity. They are more expensive and thus more memorable. The price and variety of events should be something to be proud of, not embarrassed about. I will happily pay for expensive balls, even if it makes me seem like a d**k.


I just cannot see the appeal of spending £35 for the privilege of standing in a marquee in a muddy field or function suite of a hotel, paying through the nose for overpriced drinks.

Once upon a time, on a dark winter’s evening, in a town by the sea in the Kingdom of Fife, a big celebration was going on, which was the talk of the town. The latest ball was being thrown and anyone who was anyone was going. A young man by the name of James, however, sat all alone at home cleaning while his housemate had gone to the ball. He sighed deeply out of exhaustion, pausing for a moment while thinking of what most of the rest of the students in the town would be doing. Suddenly, he heard a noise in the hallway. Out of self-defence, he grabbed the nearest object, ready to pounce on the intruder. While his back was turned, the intruder burst into the room, dramatically and joyfully exclaiming “Cinderella, you shall go to the ball!” The intruder was not a burglar, but a fairy godmother, offering a misguided act of kindness. “Thanks love, but I think you’ve got the wrong person.” James replied somewhat sarcastically. “I’d rather stay at home cleaning the fireplace. You see, instead of spending a fortune on a ball ticket, I’m using the money I’d have spent to throw a party for my friends instead. Oh, and no offense, but that dress is SO not my shade of pink.”

Last year, some of my friends were on a ball committee; naturally the behind-the-scenes drama and stresses of organising it and, of course, the excited anticipation brought about by its imminence were key topics of conversation for weeks. At the time, I was in first year and they were in third year; they often talked about the great many aspects of St Andrews life, forgetting that I wasn’t “in the know” in the same way they were, so I didn’t actually really know what went on at a ‘ball’. Eventually, I plucked up the courage to ask not the million-dollar question but the £35 question; what, for the fee of this ticket, would I be getting? Was there to be a free meal, or even better, free alcohol? Were we to be escorted there in a stretch limousine and drink vodka martinis on the way? “Nope.” they replied. “So… we pay all this money to do what, exactly?” I asked, astounded. “Oh, just to be there. It’s pretty much like a glorified night club.”

I must admit, I was horrified. I can tell you, somewhat sanctimoniously, that on a typical week, I almost always manage to make £35 cover everything quite comfortably. I guess I’ve always been a bit of an outsider and I’m not exactly someone who is easily impressed, but frankly, I just cannot see the fascination and appeal in spending, on average, £35 minimum for a ticket which grants you the privilege of standing in a marquee in a muddy field or a function suite of a hotel, dressed up formally and paying for overpriced drinks. The cost of your outfit is something else to take into consideration; unless you conveniently know someone who can lend you something suitable or you’re particularly adept at finding bargains in charity shops, you’ll have to buy a brand new outfit for whatever ball you choose to attend. Not to mention the cost of dry cleaning your outfit if somebody spills their drink on you, or if you drop your chips and curry sauce from Empire on yourself at the end of the night. This is of course making rather a sweeping generalisation; correct me if I’m wrong, however the scenario I described is the general impression I get of what seems to go on at the vast majority of balls here in St Andrews. Personally, the thought of parting with all that money in one go just makes me feel sick.

St Andrews is, of course, a small town and so, of course, by and large we are forced to make our own entertainment. Yet why do the main events of the St Andrews calendar have to be so prohibitively expensive? In the same way that academics will often shroud their arguments in a cloak of jargon, excluding the “lay people” who aren’t part of their profession, balls seem to me to be an elitist, classist anachronism, excluding those who can’t afford to pay from taking part. This, you might say, is all very well, let people spend their money on what they like and don’t make them feel guilty for doing so. I quite agree, but please, let’s at least do something about the peer pressure that exists surrounding these events; don’t try and pressure people into taking part if they don’t want to and don’t look down upon those who choose not to attend as obstinate outsiders.


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