A gathering of support

As dusk fell on Audleys Wood hotel’s beautiful gothic renaissance mansion, gleamingly glamorous ladies and neatly arranged gentlemen gathered inside the large, historic drawing room for canapés, reception drinks, warm re-acquaintance and welcoming introductions.

Our glittering guests made their way toward the purple glowing marquee and were greeted by a shimmering sea of beautifully appointed tables, highlighted in purple ribbon and floral centrepieces. Having taken their seats, Victoria’s Promise co-founder and the VP Ball’s master of ceremonies, Alex Eastman, welcomed the guests with a short poem:

“Tonight we lift, we raise, we dance.

Tonight we hope, we believe, we chance.

Tonight we remember, the lost, the cause.

For this is ours, is us, is yours.

It’s time for joy, for love to win.

It’s time for change, so let’s begin.

And welcome, to you, to one and all,

to this, the Victoria’s Promise Ball”

The evening was kicked off with a raucous game of heads or tails, with Thomas Power sportingly taking the role of the game’s coin “tosser” – and he did a sterling job. After many a toss, we reached our final six remaining players, with Monica Whalley going against the grain with a tails prediction. She saw away the other five players who all chose heads and became the winner of the coveted Barbour Jacket. After a hard-fought battle for second place (and some questionable influence from judge Alex Eastman) the second place prize, two tickets to see Beautiful in London’s West End, was won by Jacqui Ball.

Fellow co-founder, CJ van der Westhuizen, then drew the winner of the lucky ticket, which each person found at their table place. The winning ticket went to Jane Lumley taking away a fabulous Fortnum & Mason Hamper, one of two generously donated by Steve and Anne Townend.

Dinner was served, and the guests proceeded with the convivial nature of the evening, as the marquee filled with ambient discourse and exuberant laughter. Over dessert the raffle was drawn, with a plethora of prizes to be won, CJ conducted the raffle, keeping his poise amongst the shrieks of victory, especially those heard by the popular flurry of wins for Lizi Jeffery.

After coffee, cheese & biscuits had been served the stage was re-taken by the evening’s master of ceremonies, Alex Eastman. Alex took a moment to congratulate the newly engaged Katie Law and Adam Nelson, before regaling an amusing anecdote around one of his more “revealing” moments as a Victoria’s Promise co-founder. It was then that Alex introduced VP star employee Sophie Trew, informing the audience of her own trial with cancer, a trial she overcame with flying colours, and her since dedication to impacting in this space, the pioneering work she has been doing as a VP employee followed by a testimony of her general character.

After hearing about Sophie’s story, guests watched a powerful and moving video that shared the stories of some of VP’s beneficiaries. The video really brought home, to an emotional crowd, just how truly powerful and impactful the work that Victoria’s Promise continues to be. A stark reminder of why we’d all gathered that evening, and of the importance of this community together in the room.

Alex spoke of his realisations around the transformational nature of suffering, how it can be harnessed and re-appropriated towards something meaningful and purposeful. He expressed his extreme gratitude for the people who had attended the ball, before revealing some lessons that he felt his sister, Victoria, would have shared had she had the opportunity to be there.

It was then that Alex began his main announcement

After a rousing build up, Alex announced the appointment of their new General Manager, Dino Rakitzis. Having laid the stage, Dino approached the podium and delivered and wonderfully emotive, professional, yet personable speech. After detailing the vision and mission of Victoria’s Promise, Dino took the time to garner the audience with some of the personal experiences that lead him to sidestep from what was a high flying career in the corporate sector, to taking the helm of this exciting and ambitious charity. The new GM gave a heart felt account of having lost his mother, after a difficult battle with MND, who had also lost her sister to cancer. Dino’s mother had shared with him that despite her excruciating and drawn out illness, was glad it was not Cancer that she was suffering with. This was a moment of powerful realisation for Dino, who knew then that cancer, was the most important disease of our time. After speaking of the services that VP now provide, as well as the future of the charity, Dino left the stage to a deafening standing ovation.

Fiona & CJ were then introduced to the stage to host the first VP Annual award ceremony Sponsored by BMW Ridgeway Marshall. 

The first awards of the evening were presented to the Victoria’s Promise fundraisers in attendance, that had raised up to £1,000 for the charity. Our award winners were generously applauded before Fiona read out the winners for the next category – the outstanding achievement award, awarded to the VP fundraisers in attendance that had raised over £1000 individually. Next was the turn of the VP volunteers to be recognised for their hard work and kindness with a heartfelt thank you from Fiona and a presentation of a purple bouquet from CJ.

Then came time for the most notable award of the evening; The Victoria van der Westhuizan Special Honour Award. 

After an emotional announcement by Victoria’s husband, and VP Co-founder CJ, Gerda Bennett was named winner. A hugely popular choice, the crowd immediately rose to their feet in applause, as a stunned and emotional Gerda made her way to the stage among a sea of well wishers and congratulators. A hugely special moment for her and the trustees as Gerda was incredibly close to Victoria and has been invaluable in her support to the charity since day one.

Award winners - Excellence in Fundraising

Adam Nelson
Katie Law
Lizzy Bridson
Debra Barr
Hannah Mckenna
Fraser Cameron
Hannah Power
David Bridson
Russell Pratt
Jennie Blake
Peta Alvares
Amelia Alvares
Billie-Dee Bromley
Deborah Stevens

Award winners - Outstanding Achievement

Ollie Trew
Isha Hawkins-Grobler
Anita De Haas Marshall
Ruari Ross
Dane Kenleyside
Ross Power
Vicki Ratcliff
Jolly Callcut

Victoria Van Der Westhuizen Award

Gerda Bennett

After the awards, came the time for our charity auction. Our energetic and passionate auctioneer Alex, manauvered the marquee with mercurial Machiavellian, capturing the foray of flurrying bids. With the excitement building to fever pitch on each of our live auctions, thanks to the generousity of our wonderful guests. With notable, well spirited affronts taking place between certain tables, in particular when it came to our highest received bid on the evening for the luxury, private Villa Minos for a week, that fetched a whopping £3,000 bid. The final game, a test of steal, as everyone was asked to take to their feet for a “last man standing” for the final Lot, the two day Champney’s Spa, after some hardy rounds, the figure reached £1,300 before we were down to our final two.. and our final winner, Casey Paul, stood firm until we reached a fantastic, £1400. We are hugely grateful to all of our kind and generous guests that participated in the auction and the extremely generous donators of our fabulous auction lots.

After the auction, it was the time for our resident band; The Somebody’s to take the stage, and within moments the dance floor was a crowd scene, with singing and dancing in full swing, even our head of social media, Laura Jenkinson, took to the microphone, joyfuly flapping along to “take on me”.

It was an absolutely fantastic night, made so special by each of our beautifully benevolent guests. We are truly grateful for all that made it such an incredible success, our attendees, our sponsors, our raffle and auction donators, and wonderful photographers and videographer.

We are delighted to announce, that a culmination of the efforts of all of the people listed above, resulted in us generating £46,000 on the evening. An amount that will go an extraordinary distance in supporting young women through cancer.