David is late. As usual, according to Natalie. She texts him to try to hurry him along a little. ‘He only lives two minutes away.’ She is energetic and a dexterous texter; her sunny demeanour matches the bright pink jumper she wears, a more and more common sight now as St Andrews stumbles into Autumn. A couple of minutes pass. David appears in the doorway of the main Union bar; swaddled in a greatcoat and scarf, hair swept back off of his forehead so that he looks vaguely like he’s channeling Eddy Cochrane. He too, despite obviously being very busy, is charming. After a short sound test, in which David and Natalie get on to discussing why your own voice sounds differently when you hear it (DP: ‘because you hear the sound as it vibrates up your jawbone’) we discuss one of the highlights of the St Andrews winter calendar.
Thanks for joining me guys.
DP: No problem.
NE: Thank you.
So how easy is it to organise such a big event? What’s a day in the life for you guys when it comes to putting all of this together?
DP: It is busy, but it’s Natalie who’s the hardest working in terms of running the Ball.
NE: There’s a lot to do, but we have a really supportive sub-committee that are split into four sections, who have been so helpful, and I delegate a lot of things to them. They’re always there when I’m getting too stressed, and everyone on the Mermaids Committee is a real support when it’s getting too much. But yeah, there is a lot to organise; it’s a massive thing.
DP: Yeah, it’s a balance between trying to organise the people who actually organise the Ball and all the things coming together; for example the buses, the toilets.
NE: The things that people don’t think about. But it’s a strong, supportive team.
DP: [It’s] probably the biggest Sub-Committee we’ve had in a while I think, it’s impressive to see it all come together, we’re all really excited about it as well.
NE: Yeah, I made it one of my things that we needed to have a big Sub-Committee, and it does help because they’ve all got their friends who they can speak about it to and get excited, and we’ve got them all making the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory props together, and things like that, so it’s been really good so far.
What can you reveal to us specifically about what we might see at the Ball?
NE: Well, I don’t want to give too much away, but one of the things we have got is a giant purple bridge like the one [in the film] that they cross the chocolate river on. Santa’s Grotto is going to be amazing; Caroline Christie who’s our set and props officer is designing it with the Sub Committee and they’ve got some really good ideas. There’s going to be a life-size Santa’s sleigh, and loads of sweets…it’s going to look really good.
DP: Last year the only criticism that we had was that the Christmas theme wasn’t too evident, so this year it really will be atmospheric and very striking, even as soon as you enter the venue itself, so it hopefully will have a very Christmassy, winter-y trend.
NE: We’ve gone all out on fairy lights, garlands, trees etcetera.
How did you come up with the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory theme? What drew you to it?
DP: [To Natalie] You started off, you had the idea behind the whole thing didn’t you?
NE: Yeah, basically I did it for my School Ball, and I was chatting with my friend and she came up with this theme as well, and I was like ‘oh, I’d been thinking about that as well!’ It is quite Christmassy too; all the purple and the sweets and the chocolates are the things that people want at Christmas Ball, so it does fit the event really well.
DP: It’s fun as well, you know; it strikes a nice balance, it’s not being too serious and not being overly formal.
A particularly exciting twist this year are the Golden Tickets. What can you tell us about those?
DP: [rubs his hands together gleefully] Ah! The Golden Tickets were Natalie’s idea again; a brilliant idea that basically every 100th ticket is going to have a prize attached to it. There’s quite a variety of prizes.
NE: There are six VIP tours from Eden Brewery where you get to have a case of their new product, and we’ve also got vouchers from Janetta’s, and Hepburn’s for manicures and pedicures and things. You’ll get an actual Golden Ticket as well.
DP: There’ll be 14 prizes altogether.
So what type of music will be on offer at the Ball?
DP: [Radio 1 DJ] Danny Howard is kind of a remix of chart tops, sort of dance music, the sort of stuff he did at Creamfields last year, and [Ma Bells resident DJ] Joe Jones…
NE: I’ve put in requests for the cheesy Christmas stuff [from Joe]! Because Danny’s is definitely going to be about getting everyone dancing, but people still like the cheesy Christmas songs, so Joe will be playing some of those alongside his own stuff.
DP: It’s good that we could get a Radio 1 DJ in St Andrews, sort of a bigger name than you’d expect. Radio 1 carries with it its own crowd, plus it’s always the classic mix of local bands and bigger names.
NE: Yeah, we’re not getting rid of the traditional bands.
DP: The Blueswater’s always really popular.
NE: And they’re going to be doing a longer set this year, from 8:30 to 10:30 so people don’t need to worry that they’ll miss that.
Did you find that the change in Semester dates i.e. having exams before Christmas, and so needing to have the Ball earlier, was an obstacle to surmount in planning the event?
DP: It wasn’t difficult to reconcile the dates, the only problem we had was the clashes. Last year it clashed with Advent Ball, and we’re doing that again this year; they’re the night before us. But we’ve got a good working relationship with them, we keep in communication with each other, we share some of the decorations with each other. I mean I’m in the Fellowship as well, so it was kind of a personal clash too. Obviously they’re coming the night before us, and we want both to do well. I’m certainly going to both. It’s not feasible to ask people to pay £75 for a weekend, but -you know, the hope is that we both do well, it’s just a shame that they had to clash. But this is going to be fantastic, I’m sure the Fellowship will be as well. It’s annoying, because obviously in previous years it had been later in December and more Christmassy -but it’s still the first of December, and people do still want something to relax and unwind before they settle into the stress of exam period. So it is nice to have the Ball and have sort of a light-hearted Christmassy theme. Plus it gets you excited for Christmas.
NE: It’s like the last celebration before everyone goes off to do exams and goes away for Christmas, so it’s like one last night out with your friends.
Tickets are £35 this year. Being grumpy old fourth years, my flatmates and I reminisced on when, back in first year, they were well under £30. Why the hike?
DP: The price went up last year from £30 to £35, and we’ve decided to keep that, however we have upped the actual spend by £5,000. This is the tenth year we’ve done the Ball-
NE: Yeah, that’s exciting.
DP: -so we wanted to really make sure the ticket was value for money, in the sense that you’re going to get your free champagne, and your free Janetta’s.
NE: All the chocolate fountains and everything are going to be free.
DP: And all the sweets and everything, because we wanted to make it a very special atmosphere and a special occasion and we wanted to invest some money into it so that everyone could walk away from it feeling as if they’ve had a great time. We also need to make profit to fund our shows for the rest of the year and the [Edinburgh] Fringe [Festival], so the money does work for us. But we felt that it was a fair trade, we made a huge profit last year but we thought, as beneficial as that is, we still run smoothly so we wanted to look to invest some of that money back into the Ball.
Do you find that you run into any recurring problems each year; ones that are in themselves just difficult to solve?
DP: I’m in fourth year now, so I’ve been to the Ball every year apart from in my first year, and I’ve been on the Committee since last year. The same question that always comes up is: ticket sales, online versus in person.
NE: Yeah, people have started stopping me in the street and asking!
DP: Because traditionally ticket sales were always held at the Barron Theatre, there was a band, or some a cappella singers, sweets being given out; some kind of atmosphere and occasion. And that, really, is the only question that comes up every year; do we do online, or do we do half-and-half which is what we did last year, or do we do it in person? You get a few folk who are sticklers for the atmosphere, or who think you’d sell more online.
NE: We’re going for all in person, and we’ll see how it works out. But it’s going to be an actual event, there are going to be musical performances, there are going to be people dressed up as Oompa Loompas, we’re going to have lots of sweets, and all our design team are absolutely decking out the Barron in the same design as the Ball will be decorated in. So it gives you an idea of what the Ball’s going to be like. Ticket sales are the 7th and the 8th of November, 9am.
But the queue will inevitably start at 6am, right?
DP: Yeah, well, it’s fun right?
Right, so: chocolate fountain, Cava, Janetta’s, sweets, hot food -have I missed anything?
NE: We’ve got the hog roast, haven’t we?
NE: At the Rule pre-event from 7 till 8 there’s also pick n’ mix. They do Oompa Loompa shots anyway, so that just happened to be a thing, but they’re doing special cocktails which are then going to be repeated at the Union Bar. So we’ve got Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-themed cocktails, probably with different flavours because they’re working on them separately. We’ve also got Janetta’s working on special flavours of ice cream, so there’ll be a ‘Wonka’ flavour, and things like that.
So give The Tribe an exclusive: what’s at the top of your Christmas lists this year?
NE: Er… (laughs) Oh, I don’t know…for the Ball to be wonderful, and sell out.
DP: I’d like a job. That’d be ideal.
Mermaids Christmas Ball is on Sunday 1st December at Kinkell Byre. Ticket sales are at the Barron Theatre on Thursday 7th and Friday 8th November, from 9am. Click here to find out more.