Mariele Lee and Esther Welbrock have been hard at work organising Cambridge's most unique May eventEmily Lawson-Todd for Varsity

When I meet Marielle and Esther outside Michaelhouse Cafe, I suggest we sit on the grass next to the Senate House to soak up the sunshine, thinking I might need to energise them for an interview so close to exam week. In the end, my attempts are unneeded, as the pair are brimming with energy and enthusiasm despite sitting in the dimmed cafe.

They are paradoxically positive as we begin to chat about the worst part of May Balls: the queuing. Esther, sitting opposite, tells me how nice it is to walk around the entrance to King’s and see people in their costumes. “It feels like more than just ‘throwing an event’ because there’s so much thought that goes into choosing a theme and what we want it to represent. Having people be so receptive to that and seeing a visual presentation of that is really touching.” Costume is definitely the right word for King’s Affair outfits. Known as the “antidote to May Balls”, it is recognised for its outlandish themes and encourages students to ditch their Bridgerton-core gowns. Instead, you must dress with one rule: be true to yourself (and perfectly fit with the theme, of course).

“It feels like more than just ‘throwing an event’ because there’s so much thought that goes into choosing a theme and what we want it to represent”

When I ask whether they still think that King’s Affair serves as an antidote, Marielle thinks yes: “I feel like maybe there are not enough creative outlets in Cambridge, so I think it’s nice.” Esther agrees, saying, “I think people love an opportunity to dress up, and at King’s, we’re very fortunate, maybe sometimes too much, that everything is themed […] It’s not just our ball. There’s a lot of stuff at King’s that has this sort of ‘antidote’ feel to it. For people who have spent a year doing up to three formals a week, it’s nice to get told, ‘Come get dressed up crazy.’” “Crazy” naturally means more revealing outfits. I remember walking past the queue at last year’s ‘Carnivalesque’ Affair and thinking I was back at 2018 Coachella. Esther jokes about this later, saying the event is the only one in Cambridge you can attend fully nude and have no one bat an eyelid.

I ask Marielle about any tension they’ve had with College and see their diplomatic guises slide up slightly. “We’ve tried to make changes this year, but you obviously get met with a lot of resistance every time you try to change something, even very minor,” she says. They tell me about an accessible, quiet space planned for this year. They faced issues with the College because it will be placed on the back lawn, which has never been used for balls before: “Eventually, it went through, but it’s very hard to negotiate, and you have to kind of put it in their terms in order to get them to agree to the implications of visitor service and tourists seeing it the next day.”

At this point, Esther jumps in: “That’s the thing. As much as we love King’s, there’s a lot of King’s where it feels like the way the College presents outwardly isn’t actually how the students feel.” The “we” Esther uses doesn’t pass me by. They are a great double-act, each complimenting the other, and I get the sense that doing this has really brought them together.

“There’s a lot of stuff at King’s that has this sort of ‘antidote’ feel to it”

Another change that they have pioneered is more anti-spiking measures. They will provide scrunchie drink covers to every attendee upon arrival – something that they are among the first May Balls to do. “We couldn’t believe it wasn’t standard,” Esther exclaims. Marielle has worked with the ex-SU Women’s Officer, Rosie Freeman, on the measures after Rosie published a report about spiking at the University. They both hope their changes will set a precedent for other May Balls and seem confident, having already brought it up at a joint presidents’ meeting.

On the topic of change, I ask if they’re planning to adapt the event if the Cambridge for Palestine encampment is still in place. It’s the first time I think I’ve caught them off guard, seemingly because they feel that no response is necessary. Esther firmly tells me that the protest does not interfere with the event at all, so there has been no need to make any adaptations.


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I finish by asking about what this year’s theme, ‘Falselore,’ means to them. Esther eloquently states that, in her mind, the theme is a celebration of storytelling and the act of making stories your own. When I ask Marielle, she laughs and protests that she can’t top Esther’s response, but gives her own equally articulate reply, commenting that it’s about the connection stories create between people. Esther ends by summing up how they would like people to feel on the night: “Fundamentally, we want people to have fun, we just want people to rock up in something that they feel really good in […] it’s basically the new Met Gala. Someone call Blake Lively!”. I’ll drop her a message.