You Shall Go To The Ball!
Last week I attended the Bridgerton Secret Cinema Ball here in London. It was a long awaited event, as the tickets I originally purchased were for October 2021. Thanks to Coronavirus and it’s Omicron friend, the event had been delayed. I had originally purchased the tickets in summer 2021, so it had been a long time coming!
This was not my first Secret Cinema event. I discovered it a few years ago. Basically, this company re-creates a movie and you have a full experience. I had seen images from the Back to the Future event, and thought “wow, that looks cool.” When they announced that Star Wars Empire Strikes Back would be their next event, I booked! I was surprised to find that it is a full experience that begins from the moment you buy your tickets.
First, you are sent emails to get you started. They encourage dressing up, which I am always on board for! You are sent emails and sometimes there is a quiz or a profile selector to help you ‘get into character’ for the event. They will often have places to purchase items if you wish. For Star Wars, there was a pop-up shop in Brick Lane where we purchased a few Rebel outfits and some plans for a destroyer jet, which we were supposed use a trade during the event. (Are you kidding? I totally kept them!)
For the Bridgerton ball, I was classified as a Rabbit (there were Cats and other animals) and given links to online videos for dance routines, a print-your-own dance card, my family crest, and a few other things to help me including a fake name. While their name was interesting, I preferred to stick with my own alias “Lady Amber of the Colonies” and I always “Bring good tidings from across the pond!”
If you have seen Bridgerton, you know that the fashion is really the star of the show! I adore the late 1700s, particularly the fashion in the court of Queen Charlotte. I set out to make a beautiful dress that would impress Her Majesty. I even learned how to do boning - the art of taking plastic sticks and sewing them into a bodice so it will stay straight and help with a figure. Mind you, I was using a material with a bit of stretch, so it wasn’t 100% historically accurate. Nevermind, I was so excited to dress like it was 1799!
When Secret Cinema takes place, they require you to seal your phone away. No photos. They don’t want to give away the secret, and they don’t want all of the details splashed on social media. They want you to buy a ticket and join in, but they also want you to have fun and not be distracted with posting live every 5 minutes. When they opened Bridgerton, they started to release a few press photos. I was dismayed to see it was not in the fashion of Queen Charlotte, but sticking with the 1805-1820 still of Regency. That meant my big sewing project would not have a debut showing at the ball. How dramatic!
Instead, I opted to wear another dress I had made several years ago — the dress I wear for my Life & Times of Jane Austen’s Emma tour. It is Regency - complete with empire waste, long lines, fitted bodice, puff sleeves and a crop jacket fitting of the era. I am proud of this costume because I used lots of old fabric (some vintage) I had lying around to create it. I even lined the bodice!
My colleague and friend Tina was supposed to be my plus 1, but as the date of the event changed, she couldn’t make it. She suggested our mutual friend Kate, whom I have known since I qualified as a City Guide back in 2011! Kate is amazing fun and had created The Georgian Dining Academy with Tina, a dress-up event that pre-dates Secret Cinema and is where I have occasionally made a cameo as Lady Amber.
We met at Wembley Park station and followed the crowd to the venue. The decor of the event was charming, and really did feel like you were walking onto the set of Bridgerton. I had only purchased the general admission tickets for £39 each, as the VIP tickets were £70+. However, that didn’t seem to matter. As we were attending on a Tuesday evening, the queues were short, and we kind of felt VIP. There was the Covid Negative Check queue that we sailed through, and they even had free lockers for all of our additional items.
We skipped the queue for the £10 photo booth, strolled through the small shop, and then made a beeline for the bar. There was a queue, but a lovely person in costume escorted us to the boxing room where there was no queue for drinks. The cocktails were delicious and reasonably priced (£10-12 each - hey, this is London and that is reasonable!). We had a chat while watching the boxing lesson take place. Decor was great and the staff were all dressed sharply and acting in character. I took a moment to speak with a bar staff, who said he really enjoyed working the event because it was great fun.
We made our way to the ballroom and with drinks in hand, took part in our first dance. Neither of us had studied all of the dance video tutorials prior to the event, so I just played “follow along” and we were half doing the steps right. A gentleman in full costume approached and offered to teach us. We then looked a little better! He offered to escort us to the VIP box where we could see across the room. (again, we didn’t pay for this!) I asked his name and he replied “Benedict Bridgerton”. So, here we are, traipsing around with a Bridgerton! How Exciting!!!!
He introduced us to his friend Henry Granville, who invited us to his salon for a drawing lesson. We all promenaded across the ballroom and into the salon. Many were there, and Kate took her place in the centre as muse for the artists. I attempted to draw my friend, and managed a nice outline of her dress, arms and hair, but could not for the life of me create a face that didn’t look like something a pre-schooler could draw! It was her birthday, so I presented it as my gift. She laughed and we left to find food.
The food on offer was of good choice and fairly priced. I had a vegan burger on pretzel bun and she had some fries. We sat down and met two ladies from Texas, who were in London on a week-long holiday. I applauded their notion to attend the event, and explained that they were in the presence of two official tour guides, and if they had questions, should ask. They had been concerned with how long the taxi journey had taken to arrive, but we assured them that from Wembley to their hotel in Mayfair, this is a long way and not to feel worried. London is a big city!
We returned to the ballroom for a few more dances. In between, the venue had large drapes that acted as screens and played scenes from the show. Actors cast as the equivalent parts were on stage to re-create it. This was very different from the Star Wars event I had attended years ago, but had several similarities. (at that event, they recreated Tattooine and I haggled with Han Solo in the bar!)
All through the night, Queen Charlotte was sat on a thrown at the top of a flight of stairs, watching over the event and seeming very bored (which was fitting for the character). Kate and I chatted and caught up on life and each other’s pandemic events in between dances and drinks. Towards the end, I was handed a copy of the latest Lady Whistledown newsletter — which was apparently in limited supply!
The official event ended, and an afterparty began. Here, we were allowed to return to our lockers, retrieve our phones and dance the night away. We did! The DJ played some rocking tunes, lots of old school 90s stuff. He threw on an Indi track, and I tried to recall some of the moves I had learned in my Bollywood class from 2019, but I felt that some dance moves were not appropriate, so retreated to my normal moves. Nothing mattered once the Spice Girls came on and we did our best to celebrate Girl Power! Then it was a sing-a-long to Whitney’s “I wanna dance with somebody”. A truly fun evening. I realised I had not gone dancing in almost 25 years. Whoa!
I felt it the next day. The shoes I had chosen were not supportive or squishy, and I thanked myself for taking a pair of ballet slippers for the journey home. There were tiny muscles in my ankles that I had not felt in a while that were screaming “I don’t wanna dance with somebody” as I put on my comfy sneakers and made my way out the door for a tour the next morning. By 10am, I was feeling fine and in full-throttle as I talking about the Horse Guards to my tour group. Lady Amber had gone to the ball and returned to work the next day — feeling normal - as if the pandemic never happened.