The first weekend of February saw hundreds of fans and enthusiasts descend upon Southampton’s Grand Harbour Hotel for the annual Sci-Fi Ball (SFB), this year celebrating its 23rd birthday, including headline guests Gates McFadden and Patti Yasutake (Star Trek: Next Generation), joined by Dave Freeman (Art Director and Senior Concept Artist at Double Negative Visual Studios), Terry Molloy (Davros in Doctor Who), American actor, author and producer Larry Nemecek, Ian Beattie, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, and Ian McElhinney (all recently known for their work in Game of Thrones) and our cabaret star for the Saturday evening Chris Barrie (Red Dwarf).
This was our second attendance at the SFB, and despite this, we walked into the hotel to open arms from attendees and crew that have been there many more years than us, as if we had only seen them yesterday and known them all of our lives.
We’ve attended and worked at many conventions over the years, from weekend events with high profile celebrities and talks to standing in a field holding down the tent that was protecting us from the perishing rain, which was about to blow away in a gale force wind, yet there is something about the SFB that, in this writer’s opinion, surpasses them all.
The warm atmosphere and love that surrounds the event is second to none. The number of conventions and events where we have seen as many people as possible crammed into a convention hall, unable to move, with the sole intent of making as much profit as possible is soul destroying. The SFB seems to be one of the few conventions out there holding onto the beautiful philosophy of family within our community.
The SFB is a whirlwind of a weekend. Opening Ceremony, Gold Pass Cocktail Party, Disco, Sleep, Talks, Dealers Room, Signings, Cosplay Competition, Black Tie Dinner, Cabaret, Disco, A T-Rex on the dance floor, no need to go to the gym because the DJ has somehow managed to incorporate your year 4 Bleep Test into the Convention dances that everyone knows, more sleep, more talks, more signings, tea duelling, game shows, auction, raffle, closing ceremony, karaoke, being attacked by a shower of Tribbles, the list goes on.
This year also saw the ball being sponsored by Horror Channel for the first time, giving the ball the opportunity to really show what it can do and achieve (which is a tour de force, sponsorship or no sponsorship) as well as White Light providing all of the lighting requirements free of charge and, of course, STARBURST’s sponsorship too. For those who do not know, the SFB is completely a completely not-for-profit organisation, because, above all the fun and the parties, the real message and aim behind the SFB is raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust. This adds yet another beautiful layer of love to the whole weekend as an army of brave volunteers shaved their heads for the charity, raising in excess of £1500 and in total the event raised just under £6K for the TCT over the whole weekend.
SFB is more than just a signing event, more than just photo ops and a quick opportunity to meet the actors and guests that we know and love. There is a deep-rooted community - nay - family throughout the ball that oozes love, generosity and warmth, welcoming peoples of all ages, backgrounds, countries, colours, sexualities, genders, disabilities and more. The ball is about us coming together and having a bloody good time, and raising money in the process.
These days, life and work tend to get in the way of conventions and events. However, this writer will always make time for the SFB. With their silver jubilee just two years away, I cannot wait to see where they will go (no doubt where no man has gone before). I urge you, go. If you have not been before, go. If you went years ago and lost touch, go. We don’t think there are many (if any) conventions out there quite like it. Support them, because the work they do is out of this world, not just as an ambassador for the fandom community, but for their hard work in raising money for The Teenage Cancer Trust. The organisers and crew work tirelessly all year round for this one weekend, and I, as an attendee, cannot thank them enough for all their hard work, love and dedication. It is truly a pleasure to be a member of the SFB family, and I hope to be a part of that family for many years to come.