While the rest of the world spends summer indoors trying to beat the heat, Queen Elizabeth II travels to Balmoral Castle in Scotland to take her summer holiday. During her stay, she carries out a tradition first begun by her ancestor, Queen Victoria: the Ghillies Ball.
What is the Ghillies Ball? Is it actually a dance? How is it celebrated? Here's everything you need to know.
What is the Ghillies Ball?
According to Town & Country Magazine, the Gillies Ball tradition started when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert purchased Balmoral Castle in 1872. They threw a dance in September to thank their castle staff, and the rest is history! "Ghillie" is Gaelic for "gamekeeper," and Ghillies are specially designed shoes for Scottish country dance, with laces on the instep but no tongue.
Per Elle Magazine's Our Taste of the World blog, the Ghillies Ball is a special occasion because, "During this ball the servants are allowed to dance with the upper class. This is important because usually staff such as the cooks and maids don’t have everyday interactions with the family." The Ball has only been postponed once, in 2014, and typically takes place between late August and early September.
What happens at the Ghillies Ball? As one might expect, lots of dancing! Frederick Corbett, the Deputy Comptroller of Supply at Buckingham Palace, shared what the Ghillies Ball was like during George V's reign. Corbett revealed the schedule for the evening. "Dancing starts at nine-thirty and goes on until about eleven-thirty, when usually the Royal Family leave the ballroom with their guests to take refreshments from a buffet set up in the Castle dining room."
The Ghillies Ball is also typically a private affair, with no photographs or videos typically released of the event. However, on several occasions, express permission has been given to film the Ghillies Ball. First, in 1971, the Ball was documented to honor Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip's Silver Wedding Celebrations. Then, in 1990, the Ball was filmed for the documentary Elizabeth R: A Year in the Life of the Queen.
What do the royals wear to this dance-heavy event? According to Elizabeth's biographer, Sally Bedell Smith, who discussed the Ghillies Ball in Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch, the dress code was very formal. Men would wear black ties and kilts, while the women wear tiaras, floor-length gowns, and tartan sashes with diamond brooches.
What sorts of dances happen at The Ghillies Ball?
The first dance, according to former royal family chef Darren McGrady, is typically the "Dashing White Sergeant." The dance is a Scottish country dance where two women dance with one man. Additional country dances such as an Eightsome Reel, Highland Fling, Strip the Willow, and more may be performed during this time.
In Dame Darcey Bussell's Channel 4 TV show Royal Road Trip, she revealed that especially in her youth, Elizabeth loves Scottish dancing. "It’s funny isn’t it, because I didn’t imagine that she [the Queen] would be a keen dancer," Darcey said.
She added, "But apparently she did every dance and she’d stay up late into the night and be there to just enjoy it."
It sounds like the Ghillies Ball is a fun event for everyone to enjoy. For those who aren't invited, it might be fun to look up traditional Scottish dancers to see gorgeous professionals performing in their element.