27 years of parties!
In 2020 The Black & White Balls celebrate their 27th year of party events at The Pavilion in Bournemouth. The events have consistently sold out with 950 guests, many of whom have been attending year after year, introducing new friends to the experience along the way. But how did something that began as a get together for a few friends grow into such a successful series of annual events?
It all started in 1993 when two friends, Helen Baillie and Dave Bradley, decided on throwing a party to celebrate the Summer Solstice in June. As word of mouth spread it soon became apparent that this was going to become a bigger event than either had imagined; so they booked The Pavilion in Bournemouth and were amazed to find out that they had sold out within 4 weeks. The White Ball was so successful that they held another event in November, and the Black & White Balls were born. As Helen recalls, ‘The White Ball was so well attended that we kept receiving requests to organize another one before Xmas. We therefore planned another date, called it The Black Ball and found that the initial circle of friends had been dramatically expanded. People enjoyed the first one so much that they came back and invited other friends to join them. This meant that there were not only lots of familiar faces, but lots of the new ones too.’
This ensured that the event got bigger each year and in the end the team were hiring most of the space in The Pavilion as well as the car park, on occasion, to host the Dodgems! Ultimately though, the concept was very simple: people dressed in White for the summer ball and in Black for the winter, which of course, was open to interpretation. Dave Bradley, remembers the first two balls even today and says, ‘I think we were all unprepared for how much people’s imagination would run away with them. Of course there were people dressed up in the colour theme, but then there were a whole host of other people dressed in fancy dress and in an astonishing array of costumes and outfits – it was fantastic, and a little unexpected, but helped to create a great atmosphere.’ And that, in essence, is one of the reasons why the events continue to be a success – they have such a wonderful atmosphere.
Most people come as part of a group of friends and also often attend as part of a work’s do. We all know how hard it is in this day and age to find time to get together, and the events help to create a regular date in the calendar to do that. Mike Ellard, who taught the fun dance classes at the beginning of each event in the early years, sums it up like this, ‘I’ve always looked forward to each event as the party atmosphere is second to none. People come with the intention of having a great time and they are never disappointed.’
It goes without saying that this is also partly due to the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. Although the events have broadly the same format there is still a lot of organizing that needs to be done. When Dave Bradley moved away from the Bournemouth area Helen took over the day to day management of the Balls. This proved increasingly difficult to reconcile with a successful business and a growing family, so to uphold the integrity and quality of the events she ran them on an annual, rather than bi-annual basis, dropping The White Ball in the process. In 2009 Helen approached David Rokov, about creating a partnership to continue to maintain the quality of the event on an ongoing basis. David has been running regular party and dance events in their own right for over 17 years now at various venues across the country, and having previously attended the Balls, they were a natural fit. As Helen says, ‘Not only do they have a lot of experience in event management but they are out and out party people, so they understand what this event is about. They are also good friends with Dave and Mike, and so it’s almost like we have created a virtuous circle taking us back to that group of friends at the beginning again.’