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‘It’s cast a shadow over the night’: Inside the under-the-sea themed Cambridge May Ball

The missing submarine billionaire’s former college said it unfortunately couldn’t change the theme of its ‘Into the Depths’ ball


Cambridge college Pembroke held its May Ball last night with the theme of “Nautilus: Into the Depths”, with organisers saying it could not change its theme because it “was chosen months ago.”

This comes as British billionaire Hamish Harding, who is an alumnus of the Cambridge college, is trapped in the missing submersible vessel, which has now believed to have run out of breathable air, according to the US Coast Guard.

Pembroke May Ball has recently taken down its website and made its Instagram page private.

The Tab has spoken to Cambridge students to find out what occurred last night and how the ball played out alongside the unfortunate events of those missing at sea.

The ball, which saw students pay up to £175 for tickets, included a champagne reception, a VK bar and a tequila and Jägerbomb tent. Its entertainment for students included a silent disco, samba band, dodgems and a ball pit.

Pictures obtained by The Cambridge Tab show the grounds lit up with blue and green lights, as if underwater. One student told us there were “statues of mermaids and seaweed everywhere”, and images on social media show large decorations of sea creatures, including starfish, jellyfish and octopus, and a rowing boat.

Credit: Ellen Chelberg

To suit the nautical theme, students queuing for the ball listened to sea shanties and then heard a rendition of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, from the film Titanic.

To complement the entertainment, fish and chip caterers were present at the May Ball, with other food options including tacos and bao buns.

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Many Pembroke students The Tab spoke to remain in support of the committee. Whilst clearly very sympathetic to the five who are missing, they also said the student-led organisation “couldn’t really do much.”

A second-year Pembroke student told The Tab: “The committee had planned this for a long time and were doing their best to respond to an unusual circumstance.”

There is therefore a consensus that “it would have been impossible for them to change the theme” with “how much work goes into May Ball.”

There is therefore a consensus that “it would have been impossible for them to change the theme” with “how much work goes into May Ball.”

An attendee of the ball said they “did think there was a painful irony in the missing submarine at the same time as the ‘into the depths’ theme” when they were queuing, although they “didn’t realise one of the missing people was a Pembroke alum.”

Another Pembroke fresher told The Tab that “no comments or jokes were made about Hamish Harding throughout the entirety of Pembroke’s May Ball” as far as they are aware because “no students were even aware that he was an alumnus of the college.”

This same student said that because it was a May Ball “no one was really chatting about the news or anything serious.”

Another student said: “The only things I heard [about it] were from a concerned perspective”.

A fresher who attended the party also “had no idea that Hamish Harding went to Pembroke” and said they “definitely feel that a statement making attendees aware of this before we went should have been made.”

Although they “recognise the limited options that the committee had in this situation”, they say they wish they had “at least known beforehand.” They called the news “unsettling” and said: “It has really cast a shadow over the night for me.”

Yesterday, before the May Ball, the committee released a statement on its now-deleted website: “We are aware of the worrying news about Pembroke alumnus Hamish Harding. Today’s May Ball theme was chosen many months ago and if we could change it now, we would.

“All we can say is that we sincerely hope that Mr Harding and the others on board the submarine will be found safe and well. Our thoughts go out to the Harding family at this very difficult time.”

Mr Harding graduated from Cambridge with a degree in natural sciences and chemical engineering.

Credit: Zara Blakey

There were also references to this particular ball being the “most sustainable may ball in Cambridge” which raises “money for multiple charities working to clean our oceans.” This comes with the information that the Ball is supporting two charities: the Blue Marine Foundation and Plastic Oceans.

A Trinity fresher said: “It would have been really wasteful to throw out all the themed decorations at the last minute and contradict the sustainability Pem ball is so big on.”

Despite the looming of the news, a first-year Trinity student who attended the ball nonetheless claimed: “It was such a fun night and really relaxed, calm vibes – the theme was really well executed and you could tell it had been really well thought out, there were statues of mermaids and seaweed etc everywhere.”

Another student said “there was very little about submarines! It was more jellyfish, Poseidon etc.”

Many students have taken to praising the committee on the Pembroke Confessions Facebook page Pempreciation, with one naming it the “best night of my entire life.”

A spokesperson for Pembroke College told The Tab: “We are aware of the worrying news about Hamish Harding and sincerely hope that he and the others on board will be found safe and well. The May Ball theme was developed many months ago. Our thoughts go out to the Harding family and all the affected families at this very difficult time.”

Pembroke May Ball and Cambridge University have been contacted for comment. 

Feature image credits: Ellen Chelberg 

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Missing submarine billionaire’s former Cambridge college hosts under-the-sea themed May Ball

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