The Ghillies Ball tradition in The Crown

One of the episodes of season 5 of The Crown will show a happy image of the Royal Family, perhaps one of the last.

The images will reproduce an annual tradition beloved by Elizabeth II, the Ghillies Ball, a party that ended her annual summer vacation at Balmoral Castle, which took place in the Castle Ballroom. Among the guests, there were always only family, neighbors, and staff and it was the sovereign’s “most informal” gesture of thanking her team before returning to London in early October. As in 1992, she would be 40 years old as Queen, she was allowed to take some images of the party, for a documentary.

The images show the Queen’s happiness, dancing with Philip, Charles, the Queen Mother, Anne, and Andrew. The traditional dance is credited with the Eightsome Reel, where the Queen circles, who turns in the midst of her peers. Even Prince Charles enters the circle and later stands in the middle of the circle, dancing with his grandmother and mother (video below). Later in the same clip, the Queen and Prince Phillip watch their children and guests as Princess Anne and Prince Andrew link arms and enthusiastically twirl each other, much to the delight of Elizabeth II, who opens her arms to them and smiles.

Diana was – as always – dazzling in white (but in another circle). Between fits of laughter, Elizabeth II (Anne and Andrew can barely stand), is beaming as little as she allowed herself to be seen. In blue, with the Tiara Girls of Great Britain & Ireland and True Love’s Brooch, she participated in traditional Scottish dance.

The ball was known to be one of Elizabeth II’s favorite parties. The tradition began with Queen Victoria, whose husband Prince Albert bought Balmoral Castle in 1852 and, in September of that same year, threw a party for the staff to thank them for their hard work over the summer. From then on, every year the Royal Family repeated the function. The name “Ghillies”, which refers to shoes worn by Scots on occasion, is actually the Gaelic word for gardeners.

Following the success of the first ball, the tradition established by Victoria was adopted by her children and grandchildren, including Kings George V and George VI. Elizabeth II’s grandmother, Queen Mary, was one of the party’s biggest fans, dancing on all wheels.

After two hours of music and fun, the guests then partook of the banquet hosted by the Royal Family, with typical menus including “partridge pies, lobster medallions, and champagne jellies, as well as a “variety of sandwiches”.

The first Ghillies Ball that Elizabeth II attended was when she was still 12 years old and it never failed until 2019. In the last two years of her life, 2020 and 2021, marked by the pandemic, the ball was suspended, including in 2022, due to the death of the sovereign. But it is to be expected that King Charles will return with him to the calendar in 2023.

The 1991 ball, which will appear in The Crown, was the last one Diana attended with her husband and mother-in-law. Starting in 1992, the behind-the-scenes drama moved to the public forum, and life for the Royal Family was never the same.


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