Behind The Scenes of May Week

PICTURE the scene. It’s a balmy June evening. Perhaps there’s the light patter of rain on your window. You kick off your shoes and sink into your favourite chair, reaching for your gin and tonic when suddenly, what the hell was that? Gunfire? Is Cambridge under attack?

Wait, don’t panic. Before you sling your G&T into a plant pot and barricade yourself in the basement with some tins of tomato soup, there’s a chance it’s just the sound of a million pounds worth of fireworks and a good old Cambridge University knees up. May Week is here.

From tomorrow to next Friday, the skies above Cambridge will be filled with the summery sound of clinking glasses, frivolous laughter, crackles and Champagne pops. Those students have studied hard. Good on them. Cheers.

But just what is going on in there?

May Ball tickets are like mythical pieces of unicorn’s tooth, even for the students themselves, so unless you’re serving drinks, working security, planning to jump over a fence or can pull off a confident ‘It’s ok, I’m with the band’ stunt, you’re probably not going to a ball and neither are we. Sigh. Well, here’s the next best thing.

Web developer James McCauley is the founder of, a website created to provide information on the themes and entertainment of the hottest dates in town.

James tells us: “Trinity and St John’s are the ‘top’ May Balls, without a doubt. These both happen every year, and are notoriously expensive. Last year, Trinity’s budget was close to £750,000 and St John’s was once – allegedly – named the 7th best party in the world by TIME magazine.”

So, who are the acts? Will we be seeing Katy Perry or Lady Gaga drinking in The Eagle this week?

“Funny you mention this, actually. A friend of mine got access to the WhichMayBall Facebook page and managed to convince half the student population that Justin Timberlake was performing at Trinity! Everyone totally bought it, it was quite the kerfuffle.

“We’ve had some huge names in the past. Last year it was Bastille, Gabrielle Aplin, Everything Everything, Beardyman, Clean Bandit, Rudimental, Example and Basshunter.

“We’ve also had big names like Bombay Bicycle Club, S Club 7 and Calvin Harris, as well as legends like David Bowie at Jesus in 1970, Pink Floyd at King’s in 1968, and The Who at Selwyn in 1967.

“Jesus College are renowned for their ability to attract fantastic acts, and this year they’ve nabbed DJ Wilkinson. There are 
also rumours of Clean Bandit returning to their old College [Jesus] to play a set.”

Louise Johnstone, events and promotions manager at Big Fish Ents, runs entertainment at some of the top May Balls. “In the past, we’ve done things like a silent disco at 
Clare College and at Trinity Hall. A silent disco is where the music plays through headphones. Everyone wears a set and 
bops along in silence. It looks very strange but it’s really fun!”

So what’s it like to actually be in there?

“There are loads of people in tuxes, 
all you can eat and drink, beautiful college grounds, fireworks. It’s a very posh all-night party and a really incredible experience to attend. There’s always a story to tell the next day.

“Depending on budget, most students 
will try and go to two balls, one big and 
one smaller event. Failing to get a ticket, I have heard numerous stories of attempted break-ins. Sometimes successful…”

Two May Balls?? Lucky so-and-sos. 
So that’s what they’re up to in there. 
Has this helped at all? I think we’re more jealous than ever now. If you’re going, we hope you have an amazing time. Gritted. Teeth.

Did you know May Balls always have themes? Here’s our top five for 2014:

Jesus College – lost in the woods (oh no, not again.)

Christ’s College – Emerald city (I don’t think we’re in cambridge any more…)

King’s College – Subterranea (Not literally surely?)

Pembroke College – Tales from the Toybox (To infinity, and beyond!)

Trinity Hall – Mardi Gras (The carnival? or the pancakes? oh, who cares? They both sound great).

First Published in Cambridge News


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