Britons throw a gala that’s fit for a queenThe theme of this year’s Queen’s Birthday Ball had been kept a secret until Saturday night, when the guests began arriving at the foyer of the Grand Ballroom of the Seoul Grand Hyatt on Mount Namsan.
It didn’t take long to guess what the night’s theme would be. The giveaway was the whimsical, Victorian-style hot air balloon.
“The novel ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ seemed an appropriate theme for us expats in Korea,” said Christine Barron, the new president of the British Association of Seoul. “Traveling involves constant adjustments to time differences and cultures.
“In the novel, Phileas Fogg, the lead character, thought he was late one day when he finished traveling, but in fact, he was a day early, because he didn’t calculate the time difference.”
Headed by Ms. Barron, the Queen’s Birthday Ball Committee has been working for months to prepare what’s always one of the most extravagant fundraising galas of the year in Korea.
The Queen’s Birthday Ball is a tradition observed every year by British expatriates around the world and in countries of the former British Commonwealth. It’s held in June, despite the fact that Queen Elizabeth II’s actual birthday is in April.
In Seoul, the ball has been held annually since the late 1970s, organized by the British Women’s Group, now known as the British Association of Seoul. It’s become famous for its imaginative themed decor, the fancy attire of its guests and the money it raises for local charities through raffles and ticket sales (tickets this year were 165,000 won, or $138, per person).
More than 400 people attended this year’s ball, raising about 80 million won, according to Ms. Barron. The money will go to the Open Door Social Welfare Center and Seton Sisters of Charity in Seoul, and to the Emmaus Centre in Gwangju.
In keeping with the night’s spirit of international amicability ― since this year is the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, which marked the end to centuries of bloody rivalry between Britain and France ― was the welcoming address by Christopher Robbins, deputy head of mission for the British Embassy in Korea.
“In the story, Phileas Fogg was described as brave and gallant, but he had a French assistant, Passepartout, who was rational and very clever,” Mr. Robbins observed, to the amusement of the French in the crowd. “ You see, the book was written by a French author.” His greeting to the Gauls ―“Je souhaite a tous mes amis francais une tres agreable soiree!” (“I wish our French friends a very enjoyable evening”) ― drew applause and shouts of “Ah, bon!”
A sense of adventure and travel abounded, at least visually. Hanging on the walls of the ballroom, and on panels hung in mid-air, were images of Victorian lithographs depicting scenes from the Jules Verne novel: eccentric English gentlemen in colorful knickers riding elephants, peering out from steamers and driving carriages. A few moving images from the 1956 film adaptation added an multimedia feel.
Apart from that, the decor was simpler than last year’s “Peter Pan” theme, which featured a bubbling aquarium of fake fish, seashells and pink pebbles on each table. This year the tables were more minimally decorated, with candles and white lilies. “It’s definitely more elegant,” said Jenny Thorn, one of the revelers.
The Lee Jung-sik Jazz Quartet kept the revelers dancing with classic numbers until the end of the night, which didn’t arrive until almost 2:30 a.m.
by Ines Cho