The Royal Family's Annual Ghillies Ball at Balmoral: Everything You Need to Know

 The Royal Family's Annual Ghillies Ball at Balmoral: Everything You Need to Know

The Royal Family's Annual Ghillies Ball at Balmoral: Everything You Need to Know

Every summer, Queen Elizabeth spends her vacation at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. "I believe Granny is the happiest there." "I think she really, really loves the Highlands," Princess Eugenie, her granddaughter, said in the documentary Our Queen At Ninety.

The Queen continues a tradition started by her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, while at Balmoral: the Ghillies Ball. Everything you need to know about the annual dance is right here.

Ghillies Ball's History

When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought Balmoral in 1852, they held a dance in September to thank their staff and servants. This dance became known as the Ghillies Ball. Ghillies are specifically designed shoes that are commonly worn in Scottish country dance. The term "ghillie" is Gaelic for gamekeeper.

"Despite her age and infirmity, Victoria still occasionally joined in the intricate jigs and reels, a sash of Balmoral tartan slung across the bodice of her black satin gown as the pipers played," Greg King writes in Twilight of Splendor: The Court of Queen Victoria During Her Diamond Jubilee Year. Queen Victoria had "light airy steps in the old courtly fashion; no limp or stick, but every figure carefully and prettily danced," according to one contemporary observer.

The Ghillies Ball was also held during Queen Elizabeth's grandfather King George V's and father King George VI's reigns.

Buckingham Palace's Deputy Comptroller of Supply, Frederick Corbett, recalled the Ghillies Ball during George V's reign. In his memoirs, Corbett wrote, "Queen Mary was an amazingly energetic figure at these dances." "She adored all Highland dances and many old English country dances, which she always had on the program." Throughout the first half of the dance, she would participate in all of them. However, King George V was not a particularly gifted dancer. He'd go sit on the Royal dais at the far end of the room and watch the dancers intently, occasionally turning to one of his staff with a witty remark."

"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," Corbett recalled. A menu for the 1912 Ghillies Ball can be found here.

What do Ghillies Ball attendees wear?

Sally Bedell Smith, Queen Elizabeth's biographer, writes in Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch that men wear black tie and kilts to the ball, and women wear tiaras, long gowns, and tartan sashes with diamond brooches.

Because the event is private, no photographs or video are usually released. However, the ball was documented in a series of photographs taken in honor of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip's Silver Wedding Celebrations in 1971. The ball was filmed for the documentary Elizabeth R: A Year in the Life of the Queen twenty years later. The royal family, including Princess Diana, Princess Anne, and, of course, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, perform an Eightsome Reel, a Scottish country dance, in the documentary.

Queen Elizabeth appears to be overjoyed in the video. She is adorned with a tartan sash and the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara. Watch the video here:

"The Queen has done a lot of Scottish dancing in her 70 years as monarch," former ballerina Dame Darcy Bussell said in Royal Road Trip. "The Ghillies Ball is a huge part of that." "Apparently she did every dance," Bussell said, "and she'd stay up late into the night and be there to just enjoy it."

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