Peterhouse May Ball

At £150 a ticket, TABATHA LEGGETT is left underwhelmed by Peterhouse's white tie ball.

Peterhouse May Ball

16th June 2012, £150

It’s Cambridge’s oldest college, they only host a ball every three years and the last one was cancelled because students underperformed in their exams. It’s fair to say that no one was expecting anything less than perfection from Peterhouse May Ball this year. But unfortunately, it didn’t deliver.

Don’t get me wrong; some things were done well. Champagne was still flowing at 5am, the lighting show was spectacular and the Ferris wheel was unsurprisingly fantastic. But some of the most basic elements of a ball were overlooked by a committee who appeared to care more about making it look good than making sure their guests had fun. Like catering for hungry people. And thirsty ones. And those who like to pee with the lights on.

Given that students forked out £150 each for a Peterhouse ticket, and that May Balls essentially involve getting drunk with your friends in beautiful settings, it’s very easy to overlook a ball’s deficiencies in favour of reminiscing over a good night. But that wouldn’t make for a fair review.

I’m not denying that Peterhouse looked great. The tents outside were beautifully decorated and furnished, the lighting shows in The Mirrored Court were absolutely lovely and the college’s interior was delightful. And champagne was served in wooden rowing boats, which looked really cool. But severe logistical oversight meant that everything was just a bit confusing. Outside paths were unlit, the ice cream van lacked any lighting whatsoever and the caricaturist couldn’t see her subjects properly. Or maybe I just look surprisingly Oriental. Who can be sure? Even the toilets lacked lighting, which was awkward for the girls and, I imagine, harrowing for the boys.

I’m being harsh. The musical entertainment was good. Jakwob’s set made for great, unpretentious fun, and groups like The Fitz Sirens and Esperada created a charming atmosphere in the outside tent. Even if the music was unexciting it was enjoyable. Jakwob isn’t a great headliner, but he is great fun.

There was never a shortage of things to do. Whilst the typical tarot readers and crystal ball gazers freaked out half of the guests with their, let’s be honest, bullshit, the rest of us were entertained by the usual mix of silent discos, casinos and shisha pipes. And the Ferris wheel. The Ferris wheel, which I found very casual and not at all scary and if anything slightly mundane and underwhelming, and I definitely managed to enjoy the view without fearing for my life. Overreactions aside, there’s nothing quite like watching Cambridge at night from the sky. It was wonderful.

And the catering was also good. Everything just ran out too quickly. The antipasti were delicious, YubbaYubba doughnuts were as tasty as I remember and the paella was served in hugely exciting wooden boats. There was a vast selection of drinks at the start of the night, and it soon became evident that the committee hadn’t skimped on quality. From the gin shack to the cocktail bar and the cider tent, everyone was catered for. But given that cheese stopped being served at 11.30pm and the cocktail bar ran out of cocktails at 1.30am, and I like both cocktails and cheese, I was left sad and hungry.

Good value for money, this wasn’t. Subtleties were overlooked and there’s no way the ticket price felt justified. Peterhouse looked gorgeous and food and drink was fantastic while it lasted. Unfortunately, it just didn’t last long enough.

Food and Drink:


Wow Factor:


Value for Money:


Star Attraction: Everlasting champagne

Biggest Turn-Off: Everything else running out

  • Utter Shambles

    I worked at the ball as a security worker, and the way we were treated was utterly disgraceful. 12 hour shift, no break, we had to scrounge for food and drink – a committee member eventually found some sandwiches on the floor. An external security staff member commented that in 20 years he'd never seen an event so badly organised. Disgusted

    • Republican

      Yeah but did you have to sleep under a bridge and then spend 12 hours stood in the pouring rain acting as security while a million people watched some old privileged upper-class types travel down a river because one of them had been sat on a chair for 60 years?

      • o_O

        that was irrelevant and spiteful.

      • disgusted


  • Petrean

    I paid £200, I think, for dining. Agreed it was shit organization. I still had a great night, but not as much thanks to the May Ball committee as I would have liked considering how much it cost. I think your review is fair.

  • knows his stuff

    This review didn't even mention the ABBA tribute band. It is therefore void.

    • Mamma Mia

      The tribute band were fantastic – definitely better than Jakwob, and I bet a damn sight cheaper!

    • also

      that dj that played before jakwob was fantastic

      • Kelis

        His treats bring all the boys to the yard, and they're like, "he's not too bad, you know".

  • Another Petrean

    My experience of the ball was somewhat different from Tabatha's and that of the Petrean above. The tickets were steep, but less than I paid for dining at Queens' last year.

    I loved it.

    Being very near the front of the queue meant a couple of quick laps round the food stalls left me full and a goodly amount of the early champagne made sure I was cruising at a reasonable level of insobriety. The sushi was exquisite, the cheese was top notch (did the cheese run out that early? – clearly I was more mashed than I thought), I was disappointed there was no real hog roast (at least I couldn't find one).

    The musical ents were a bit of a letdown for me, with a couple of honorable exceptions. The general feeling among the student body in advance was that Jakwob was not a good choice, mostly because (In my experience) the majority of Petreans like shit 90s cheese (so do I). ABBA Gold however, were a master stoke – the place was rammed and rumor has it even some of the fellowship were having fun.

    Drinks were glorious – as already mentioned the champers was going 'till the end – as was the gin bar – I got a very potent G&T shortly before closing.

    Perhaps the best aspect was the company, to the detriment of guests from other colleges the ball felt a little like it was by petreans for petreans.

    Then again this is the only one I'm going to get and it was expensive – so I suppose I've got strong grounds for feeling the above, even if it's not well grounded in reality.

  • Brian

    Biddly Bong. Was Bonderful.

  • Sorry but…

    For 150 pounds, the same price as John's and Trinity, this ball was a disgrace.

    • So disappointed

      Literally where on earth did the money go?

      • to charity apparently

    • Not Petrean but

      Economies of scale, how do they work

  • not worth £150

    The programme didn't really tell you much about where to find food, and it subsequently turned out that I couldn't find food at 3am (or after) because there was none. I'm not entirely sure why we were chucked out just after 5 either – every other ball I've been to went on until 6. Did anyone find Hotel Chocolat (a whole page of the programme was devoted to it but nobody I've spoken to found them)? There was basically not enough to do – ents should cover more than just music. As for all the tents being well-decorated; they just weren't. The tent with the fortune tellers was essentially a thoroughfare with no decoration, just a few people sitting on bare staging at bare tables. Pretty disappointing all round.

  • sadparty

    The bars kept running out of glasses every 10 minutes and definitely agree there was NO food, I basically had popcorn and that was it. So unless you wanted to spend an hour in line for donuts your tummy was grumbling.

  • Just saying …
  • Annoyed guests

    Our high-heeled shoes kept sinking into the grass all night. Might as well as well have attended the May Ball barefoot:/

    • Petrean

      White tie preferred, and white tie for girls does not involve heels… sorry!

  • Nostalgic Petrean

    The last Ball was not cancelled, but deferred from 2008 to 2009. It was wonderful, which made this year's shambles all the sadder by comparison.

  • absolutely shocking

    just ended up getting absolutely battered as a result of no food.

    • Empathise

      Feel your pain bro. Still hungover.

    • Trollied

      I was described as "disgusting" by my friends in the morning. This is my excuse too.

  • food food food

    I could deal with anything but the lack of food really pissed me off considering that it's 150 quids…

  • Peterhouse

    Be better

  • cocktails

    this really doesn't add up to my experience – i was sipping cocktails whilst listening to beautiful music from hatty and sophie into the early hours of 4.30am…

  • phantom93

    I had a wonderful time at the ball – it looked fantastic and it was clear a lot of time and effort -had- gone into it. And we should be sure to acknowledge that before starting to criticise. The ceilidh was fun and the real ale bar was well stocked until after dawn so I was one happy customer.

    Nothing had been overlooked as such – we even got free umbrellas while queueing. It struck me several things had just not gone as planned or been assumed to be 'all right on the night'… and then not been. For example being unable to read a programme in small print in the dark, not being able to hear the instructions or music for the famed waltz, the lack of food and non-functional toilets… All unfortunate, but liveable-with. My only actual complaint was the mainstream nature of the music – I'd like more classical music at a white tie may ball, instead there was a heavy emphasis on both popular jazz and synthesised material which I imagine one could hear at any Cambridge club for much less than £150.

  • Anglia Ruskean

    I am disappointed that at no point in article did The Tab bother to follow the long-established Varsity/TCS tradition of referring to Peterhouse as “Peterhouse College” in order to secure a slew of complaining emails starting with the words “I think you will find…”

  • A little unfair

    While each criticism has some basis in fact, you ignore the many many things that were incredibly well run and looked amazing. When only one member of the committee has even been to May Ball at Peterhouse let alone run one it shouldn't be surprising that a few things weren't perfectly organised or fantastically laid out. I had a great night regardless, and with champagne still flowing at 5am the problems simply melted away.

  • bob

    The food was delicious and plentiful; but staggered, with 15 minute gaps between appearances. Coupled with the lack of information on the programme,and the size of the grounds, and the poor external lighting, this meant that many guests just missed a lot of it. Ooops.
    Hence the long queues at the doughnuts, which lasted all night, and were in the same place all night.

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