Queen’s birthday ball raises $181,000 for Korea charities

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Queen’s birthday ball raises $181,000 for Korea charities

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The celebration of the annual Queen’s Birthday Ball on the first Saturday of June at the Grand Hyatt hotel in central Seoul last weekend was quintessentially British. The ball’s theme, which had been kept secret until the evening, was the Chelsea Flower Show held annually at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, London, which not only showcases the latest designs in horticulture but also major social and charity events attended by celebrities, royals and travelers from around the world.
In the marble-floored foyer, a “QBB” ice sculpture waited to greet 491 guests in formal attire, who after an hour-long cocktail reception, were led to the Grand Ballroom where themes of English gardens in May abounded.
Ladies’ fashion ― who cares about men’s fashion at a ball anyway? ― this year reflected the current runway trend. More glittering beads on long, lean dresses in pastel colors ― like the pastel blue Sue Wong gown worn by Susie Reilly ― were on show at the Hyatt than in previous years. A new entry on the palette of formal attire ― thanks to American actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who charmed in a green Oscar de la Renta at the New York Lincoln Center Ballet Spring Gala in 2004 ― was kelly green, a color formerly viewed as not-so-attractive on most skin colors. Except for one extremely stylish Lanvin on Lee Jae-min, who works at Deutsche Bank, most of the green gowns spotted on Saturday night were polyester and most likely from Itaewon, matched with costume jewelry.
Going thrifty for the charity ball aside, a number of ladies ― such as Birgitta Thewlis, wife of Peter Thewlis from Burberry, who dressed in a black Burberry tuxedo, and Jenny Thorn, who owns an antique store in Itaewon ― displayed their pride in their own fashion sense by designing their own gowns. Showing off a floor-length gown made from sand-colored shantung silk, Mrs. Thewlis said, “I even designed a matching shawl trimmed with mink fur!”
The entrance of the ball for the wearers of the colorful gowns was a passage of real grass lined with quintessentially English garden blossoms ― alliums, delphiniums, cornflowers and more. Each show plate on all 50 tables featured a patch of real grass with two feather butterflies perched atop, in the ballroom decorated with four gardens, including an Oriental garden featuring tall bamboo trees and stone stupas, a Dutch garden with a mill and running water, and evergreen sculptures of animals, safari-style.
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The ball officially kicked off when Phyllis Feminier, president of the British Association of Seoul since January, announced the purpose of the night ― to raise money for local charities. When she said the ball committee had already raised 137 million won, or about $120,000, from sponsorship prior to the ball, the guests erupted in cheers.
Brought to the podium next by Nick Reilly, president of GM Daewoo, who was the master of ceremonies for the night, was Warwick Morris, the British Ambassador to Korea, who lauded the role of the British Association of Seoul as “one of Korea’s most active and highly regarded international organizations, and for some, an important lifeline.” The diplomat didn’t forget to point out the Korea-U.K. connection by reminding guests that a cherry tree planted by Queen Elizabeth at the British Residence garden in 1999 is strong and healthy and that the Queen celebrated her 80th birthday this year.
The ambassador’s toast to the Queen led into an elegant eight-course meal, featuring game and celery pie and glazed roasted duck breast served with potatoes braised in truffle cream and sherry vinegar and white asparagus. Shortly after the meal, a live auction was held for a large Korean quilt, which went to Kim Soo-hong, the chief executive of AMEC Korea, for 1.7 million won.
Raising money for the needy via raffles and dancing to “oldies but goodies” by the live British band, The Lightyears, went on until the wee hours, with the last guests leaving at 4:30 a.m.
By Sunday afternoon, Ms. Feminier and her committee members had some impressive figures to announce: In addition to the 137 million won from prior sponsorship, the ball itself raised an 34.7 million won, taking the total to 171.7 million won.
This year, the association has chosen two Korean charities to assist, the Open Door Social Welfare Center in Cheongju, South Chungcheong province, and the Myungdo Welfare Center in Mokpo, South Jeolla province. The majority of the money raised will go to the Myungdo Center where 650 disabled people of various age groups are looked after.
The British association is helping to fund a new three-story building, which will be used as a center for the younger residents. The center, according to welfare chairwoman Susie Reilly, also received monetary support from the Korean government, which would partially cover the construction costs. “Because the building has to be specially built for the disabled, it cost more,” said Ms. Reilly, who has paid a visit to the welfare center herself. “The condition of the [existing] building was just awful ― with bathrooms leaking water from the tanks, and there were no windows.”
Ms. Feminier said she has seen a gradual increase in the number of Korean guests and sponsorships at the annual ball and hoped charity culture spreads to Korean society as well. “I see more and more people are getting used to this kind of social function, and we’d like to see Korean companies engage in large-scale charity events some day,” she said.


by Ines Cho
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