‘Sci-fi’ reigns at the Queen’s birthday ballSince 1977, when the British Association of Seoul was formed, its annual fund-raising event, the Queen’s Birthday Ball, in June has always been a distinctively British tradition that melds entertainment and glamour.
This year, the celebration in Korea of Queen Elizabeth II’s 79th birthday took place Saturday night at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in central Seoul, where 480 guests socialized, dined and danced until the wee hours.
Following the ball’s cinematic theme of last year, Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” the organizing committee members devised another decorative theme for this year’s party, which was kept confidential until all guests arrived at 6:30 p.m. in the foyer of the Grand Ballroom.
The life-size police box that served as an entrance to the ballroom, a six-foot-tall “Dalek” and the black-and-white footage of the “Dr. Who” science fiction television series on six screens might have puzzled non-British guests, but the design brought a feeling of home to the British partygoers, who instantly recognized the theme. The series about a time traveler, which started in 1963, was relaunched this year.
Regarding the choice of the theme, Sue Hollands, the president of the British Association of Seoul, said in her opening address that “Dr. Who,” the world’s longest running science fiction program, was not only “quintessentially British” but also “familiar to expatriates.”
Dai Billington, the first secretary and head of the commercial section of the British Embassy, the evening’s master of ceremonies, appeared on stage as Dr. Who himself, complete with wig and costume.
Mr. Billington said he remembered as a four-year-old child being scared by the Dalek. His comment generated childlike giggles among the audience members, who were already giddy from drinking champagne and Guinness beer at the reception.
In keeping with the theme, each course of the six-course dinner was named after “Dr. Who” episodes. Lobster and scallop lasagne with chive beurre blanc, and rosemary steamed fois gras with cannellini bean veloute, for example, were named “Sea Devils” and “Warriors of the Deep,” respectively.
The talk about “Dr. Who” continued when British Ambassador to Korea Warwick Morris took the podium. It was Mr. Morris’s prep school art teacher, Raymond Cusick, who later joined the BBC, who designed the Dalek from a saltcellar he found on a canteen table.
Before returning to Korea a year ago, Mr. Morris had served as a diplomat for two terms in Korea, while his wife, Pamela, helped set up the British Women’s Group in the 1970s, which became the British Association of Seoul.
A burst of loud applause and cheers came when the auction of two items began around 10 p.m. A number of bidders competed wildly for a white cotton T-shirt commemorating the Tottenham Hotspur soccer club, playing in the English Premier League. The shirt contained the signatures of all the players. Ian Cooper, the vice president of Cigna International, was the winner with a 600,000 won ($600) bid.
The only other item auctioned was the Dalek, made especially for the Queen’s Birthday Ball, which went to David Shaw of Standard Chartered Bank, who bid 500,000 won.
Raffles were also held for prizes that included airline tickets and five-star hotel accommodations.
By the end of the night, to the volunteers of the organizing committee like Sue Reilly, who was in charge of welfare and fund-raising, all the decorations, prizes and entertainment boiled down to money for local charities, the primary purpose of the ball.
According to Ms. Reilly, the event raised a record amount of over 130 million won through the auction, door prizes, raffles and ticket sales. Last year’s event raised 92 million won.
Most of the funds will go toward the construction of a new facility for the Open Door Welfare Center for abused children and teenagers in Chungju, North Chungcheong province, and the continued support of the work of Father Noel O’Neil of Emmaus Center in Gwangju for people with learning disabilities.
by Ines Cho
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