Disco ballers: A guide to Durham’s most extravagant balls
The lowdown on the bucket list balls at Durham University
Durham University has a steadfast reputation for the glamorous events in its students’ social agendas. Here at Durham, or “Dull-ham”, what we lack in clubs, we certainly make up for in gowned balls.
This journey down memory lane will hopefully make many second years, finalists and alumni smile, and for freshers, we hope that one day, you’ll get to attend these spectacular occasions…
Durham University Polo Club hosts the biggest non-college balls in Durham, which are certainly not to be missed. Founded in 1996 with the aim of offering an accessible and affordable way for students to play the sport, Polo Ball once featured in Tatler, who noted: “Glasses were smashed, tables were broken, and they lost their security deposit, so all in all, it was a roaring success.”
The Club holds the prestige of having one of the few white tie balls celebrated in Durham, typically held in Epiphany Term. In keeping with the traditions of the clubs’ balls, the dress code is white tie preferred, black tie accepted, and the club often teams up with Durham’s gentleman’s outfitters, Woven, to offer white tie hire for the ball.
The Theme of 2019’s Ball, Regality, did not disappoint. It offered a three course meal which included oysters, and its very own “Marie Antoinette” Pudding Room, filled with treats ranging from macaroons to indulgent brownies to triple layer cakes. A highlight of the ball for many, it is rumoured to be returning for 2021.
2020’s White Tie Ball themed “Polo” came back bigger and better than ever. Hosting over 400 members at Beamish Hall, guests were treated to a four course meal, a cheese board with accompanying port, a doughnut wall, and a sweet and treats table.
The annual charity raffle was certainly a highlight of this year’s ball with its exclusive prizes. However another favourite for guests is the chance to have iconic Durham Polo Ball photos taken, posing with Polo Ponies at front of the venue or at the flower wall inside.
Unsurprisingly, the ball is hugely oversubscribed, and for the best chance of securing a table, students are encouraged to purchase a membership package. You can choose from Full Membership and Events Membership, and four year Events Membership is currently being offered at a discounted rate.
The Events team is soon launching a classy and intimate Polo Supper Club, which will offer new events in the form of dining, cocktail evenings, and wine and cheese nights.
Ball Committee applications are currently open until the end of November, and the society will be holding its first (socially distanced) welcome event on Friday. You can sign up here.
Champagne Society Ball
As Durham’s largest society with over 4500 members, Durham Champagne Society was established with the aim of mixing quality champagne tasting with lavish events.
Past balls have attracted national attention for their extravagance, and unsurprisingly have also appeared in Tatler Magazine. Arguably, its most memorable event to date was the December 2018 ball. Champagne enthusiasts migrated into Scotland for an evening of fine dining and drinking at The Hub in Edinburgh, a beautiful venue on the Royal Mile with views of the Castle. This ball was certainly incredible, and champagne was well stocked. The night was even described by Tatler magazine as offering “rivers of fizz”.
The Durham Champagne Society summer balls can only be described as phenomenal, marking the end of exams at Durham. These nights often create some of the society’s best memories, and are always oversubscribed. Students are encouraged to secure membership, to make sure you can be on the invite list.
DUCS also host tastings twice a year in Durham, to brighten up the mid-term blues, and these are usually in October and March. Fairly relaxed, but nevertheless delightful events, you can enjoy six glasses of different types of champagne served alongside carefully paired hors d’oeuvres.
Despite the pandemic, Durham Champagne Society are keen to keep its social calendar going. With reinforcement plans to host a virtual event in the first few months, DUCS have stressed that they’re planning on making up for this by 2021, looking to host tastings and a summer ball to finish off the year with a bang. Stay tuned.
Rep applications for the society are also currently open.
You can follow Champagne Society on Instagram.
The June Ball is the largest of of any College event in Durham. Hosted by Durham’s poster boy college, University College, June Ball is Castle’s annual 12 hour white-tie showpiece event, traditionally held on the penultimate or final Tuesday of June.
Unlike most other balls, the theme remains a closely guarded secret until guests arrive on the night. Previous themes have included “Never Grow Up”, “A Night at the Museum”, and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
June Ball is renowned across the country having featured in Tatler’s Bystander, and Mastercard’s “Top Events Money Can’t Buy” list. Tickets are famously very limited, even for University College members.
So what makes June Ball so special? Ignoring the fact that the 12-hour long extravaganza allows nearly 1000 students to have a piss-up in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ball prides itself on boasting over 100 different entertainment acts. Bailey’s fountains, a ceilidh at 4am and swing boats in the courtyard are just some of the diverse attractions that guests have enjoyed in the past.
Other notable parts of the night include a live music performance outside on the lawn and in Castle’s Great Hall, silent discos, unholy amounts of alcohol, food trucks, ball pits, treasure hunts, laser tag and photo booths, to mention a few.
If the thought of having a 12-hour long ball with your best mates in a 900 year old Castle isn’t appealing enough, around 400 undergraduates (usually Castle freshers and finalists) pack out an enormous marquee on Palace Green. Here, they tuck into a four course meal, which in true boujee Durham style, opens with a champagne reception in front of the Cathedral. After dinner, a fireworks display greets guests entering the courtyard.
The night ends with a silent disco, with a typical Durham rendition of Robbie Williams’ “Angels” ending the night in the centre of the Castle Courtyard. For those who have managed to endure the night-long marathon up to this point, there’s a survivors’ photograph and a celebratory breakfast to look forward to.
Fun though this all sounds, wait until your Monzo account catches up with the ball’s entry costs: Tickets for Castle guests in 2019 started at £85 for Ents and £121 for Dining, whilst a minimum £20 surcharge is added for non-Castle Members.
Expensive though it might be, it’s surely worth attending at least once, as this prized ball featured in The Guardian’s “Top 100 things to do before you die”.
Caledonian Society Ball
The Caledonian Society is one of the most established and popular societies in Durham University. The society’s reeling rehearsals are put into practice at three balls a year: Winter Black Tie, White Tie in March, and Summer Black Tie.
The Winter Black Tie kicks off the society’s series of events. Normally hosted in Newcastle, the ball welcomes 230 guest members from all years. With the scots, reels, and vino, it’s a dangerously good mix- especially with the much sought after Supergrouse band playing live music, “breakfast” halfway through the dances and Rock n’ Roll between each reel.
Ticket sign up for the next ball in the calendar, the March White Tie Ball, is naturally very oversubscribed, so society membership and regular attendance to reeling rehearsals is strongly encouraged.
For the past few years, it has been held in Beamish Hall. Proceedings start with a three-course dinner, followed by a full repertoire of your dance card. The excitement of the first dance is unparalleled, with guests stomping and clapping in anticipation waiting for the Super-Grouse band to start playing.
For many, a highlight of the night is the “Auld Lang Syne” reel at the very end. Starting off slowly, it gradually speeds up, turning into a crazy, kilted mosh pit to end the evening.
Summer black tie is held at the very end of term and is an opportunity for members to come together one last time.
Though this year’s winter event looks to be cancelled due to the pandemic, Cal Soc are considering expanding their summer event, to allow more people to attend. Membership to the society can be obtained via the SU website; this year, annual membership is £15, or you can buy four year membership for £30.
Follow the Caledonian Society on Instagram.
Lion In Winter Ball
Another favourite of Durham events includes this 12-hour long college take over at Hatfield College in Epiphany term. Aimed to rival their age-old competitor, Castle, Hatfield’s big annual bash is no let down.
Ticket sign up works using a priority system, favouring Hatfield Finalists for their one final ball bash. Plenty of Ents tickets are also available, meaning students from any year and college can attend.
Last year’s ball was sponsored by Sipsmith, who provided an outrageously good start to the night. Food trucks were also dotted about the college, serving mac and cheese, pizza or creps for peckish partiers.
The “Take me to Neverland” themed event in 2020 saw a complete makeover of the college grounds, with a vast marquee offering a constant stream of music acts. Past headliners have included some of the biggest and best DJs Durham has ever seen, including Philip George and DJ KristianNairn (the tall Game of Thrones guy… oh yeah, not just the HODOR guy). Tribute bands paying at LIWB are so good they could almost be the real thing with renditions including “The Kopycat Killers” and “Just One Look”.
The ball even has its own interactive app with a downloadable schedule and map so you can find you way around. Ents in the past have included bouncy castles and ball pit, arcade room, crazy golf, laser tag, glitter makeup station and poker tables, to name but a few.
Tickets in 2020 started at £70 for Ents and £99 for Dining, with a £15 minimum surcharge for non-Hatfielders.
And if you’ve made it until 6am, you’ll be rewarded with a survivor’s breakfast and survivors’ photo in the dining hall. After all, it would be rude not to.