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The St. John’s May Ball 2023: Seventh best party in the world?

I would rather be at John’s MB than at O*ford


Having been labelled the seventh best party in the world, when I got my offer from St. John’s College back in 2022, there was nothing I looked forward to more than the allegedly illustrious and wild May Ball.

Now, sitting in bed at 6pm, after having just woken up due to my desperation to be a part of the 2023 survivors’ photo which took place at about 5.45am, it seems only apt that I reflect back on this highly anticipated event. 

A lit-up St. John’s (Image Credits: Kitty Henderson)

The night began with a bit of a wait. My friends and I arrived at the back of John’s at about 6.30pm but were let into the backs at 7.30pm, where we collected our wristbands and made our first journey through the tangled forests of John’s verdant landscape and waited by the gates, excitedly, until 9pm.

We were handed champagne, snacks, and programs, discovering that this year’s theme was A Night at the Movies. Queuing has never been so fun. 

Queuing (Image Credits: Issy Davey)

When the gates eventually opened, bursts of excitement engulfed all 2,000 eager queuers. We flooded in, greeted by a plethora of stalls and exciting activities.

John’s is, architecturally, usually a sight to behold, but the decoration transformed it into a different world, something unrecognisably fantastic, something I would pay anything to relive. 

John’s is made up of a variety of courts, and all, apart from Cripps, were involved in the ball. Even the hall, which is normally reserved for formals, was transformed into something even more magical than usual.

Each court seemed to be marked by a particular spectacle or point of interest, whether that be the silent disco in New Court or the shot bar in Third Court, every attraction beckoned. It felt as if even nine hours wasn’t long enough to experience everything. 

The hall (Image credits: Lucy Pugh)

The only complaint I do have is that I discovered I do not, actually, have a bottomless pit for a stomach. The vast array of food stalls, ranging from steak and chips to tacos to mac ‘n’ cheese to bacon sandwiches at 4am (constituting breakfast), all had to be tried.

The only complaint I do have is that I discovered I do not, actually, have a bottomless pit for a stomach. The vast array of food stalls, ranging from steak and chips to tacos to mac ‘n’ cheese to bacon sandwiches at 4am (constituting breakfast), all had to be tried.

The drinks were just as great. One moment I was in the sunny weather of Spain as I sipped on one (twenty) Aperol Spritzes, then I was skiing with a Bailey’s hot chocolate, then I found myself in a James Bond film with a shaken, not stirred martini. It was otherworldly (not just because I was drunk). 

As it neared 10.30pm, tensions rose. It was almost time for the fireworks. Having watched Trinity’s incredible show the night prior, I was slightly concerned.

What if John’s was only ‘good’, not amazing, like Trin? What if the fireworks just weren’t good at all? What if Trinity was better and about to end the year in first place in our neighbourly rivalry? Yeah right. 

The display was perhaps the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen (and I saw Taylor Swift on her 1989 tour). The fireworks were accompanied by some show tunes, keeping with the film theme, but, as Fix You by Coldplay started to play and the fireworks burst into colourful jewels in the night sky, all of my friends (me included) were bawling. That’s how good it was. 

Fireworks! (Image Credits: Freya John)

When the fireworks came to their end, what happened? It was only made even more incredible by a drone show. A row of drones lit up took the darkness of the sky and put on an amazing performance, making the shapes of moments from films, and eventually finishing with the letters ‘SJC MB 2023’ etched in the sky. Yep, the best thing I’ve ever seen.

The drone show (Image credits: Freya John)

The night didn’t stop there, however. Many people headed over to the big circus-eque blue and yellow tent on the back to watch this year’s headliner, Dylan. She was amazing, such a good performer who engaged with the crowd and made the night even more special than it already was.

I’ll definitely be seeing her again if I can! 

Live music continued through the night. So did the flowing of drinks and the consuming of so much food, so many donuts, so many cocktails (a few being courtesy of Jack’s Gelato), so much dancing. 

The night slipped through our fingers. One minute it was 11.30 and I was dancing to Dylan, the next moment it was light and I found myself being told it was time for the survivor’s photo. All of the brave fighters who had survived (not necessarily a terribly tricky task with a night this fun) gathered on the backs, and a man on a crane took many photos of everyone.

As we took the photos I was engulfed in a wave of bittersweetness. Bitter that the ball had come to its end, sweet, however, that I had just experienced the best nine hours of my life. It was a nine hour period that I will be talking about for the rest of my life. 

The backs (Image credits: Camille Phelps)

The St John’s may ball most certainly lives up to its reputation, and its title as the seventh best party in the world is indisputable, it, in fact, may just very be the number one best party in the world.