The Animal Ball, hosted by Elephant Family and supported by Selfridges, saw the world’s greatest fashion houses collaborate to dress beautiful creatures from all corners of British and international society. Dinners were held around the capital in advance of the ball, where animal masks (made by designers including Alice Temperley, Amanda Wakeley, Burberry, Charlotte Tilbury, Georgia Hardinge, Jimmy Choo, Matthew Williamson, Pringle of Scotland, Rui Xu and Swarovski) were given out to the 800-strong guest list, who came together later at a jungle-themed Victoria House to celebrate and protect nature’s greatest animals and masterpieces. The masked guests descended into the ball to sample jungle-themed cocktails and dance into the small hours with performances from special guests.
The Animal Ball – held in aid of Elephant Family, The Aspinall Foundation, Space for Giants and Lion Guardians – was marked with a series of dinners across various London venues with hosts including HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, HRH Princess Eugenie, Matthew Williamson, and Charlotte Tilbury, prior to the ball at Victoria House. Dinners were held at several of London’s leading destinations, including Annabel’s, Brown’s Hotel, Chiltern Firehouse, Clarence House, Daphne’s, Farmacy, Maison Assouline, Sexy Fish, South Kensington Club, The Ivy Chelsea Garden, The Four Seasons, The Landmark, The Langham, The Ritz, Oblix at The Shard, and Zuma.
The Luxury Channel spoke to Elephant Family’s CEO Ruth Powys, about the impact that the Animal Ball will have….
How successful was the Animal Ball and what was your proudest achievement of the evening?
The happiest moment was seeing the 800-strong guest list grooving away in their couture endangered animal-inspired headdresses – it was the most positive and creative way to connect Londoners to what is happening to the world’s wildlife. Each and every headdress paid powerful homage to the natural world that we are losing and emphasised that conservation is about saving beauty, saving what makes our world magical, and that losing it would be like losing our own imaginations. The night aimed to establish itself as a key London event which, given the press and attendance from thought leaders and national treasurers, it definitely accomplished. It also aimed to power the ambitions of some of the most dynamic conservationists at large today – the £1.7 million we grossed certainly achieved that. In reality, many millions are needed, and London needs to have a big conservation event that raises vast funds and awareness year on year. The night was a step towards that greater ambition.
Where did the idea of The Animal Ball come from?
It came from googling ‘‘greatest ball in history ever’’ and discovering Truman Capote’s legendary Black & White Dance of 1966. In those days, dinners were held in advance of the ball, and it was all about the great arrival. I thought, what a great idea – everyone seems a little tired of the sit-down dinner and auction format. So we took that idea and ran with it – involving 40 London restaurants that gave dinners free of charge, from Sexy Fish and Park Chinois to The Ritz and of course, Clarence House! Each dinner had conservationists in attendance so that intimate conversations about where funds raised would be invested were possible. We took the mask concept and involved 40 of the world’s leading fashion houses, from Burberry, Matthew Williamson and Swarovski, to create collections of endangered animal masks that were so impressive, we also managed to put on a sold-out show at the V&A Museum.
Which designers contributed, which were the ones who stood out and which masks were your personal favourites?
As I mentioned, 40 of the world’s top fashion houses contributed to create this bestiary of beautiful creatures; including Alice Temperley, Chloe and Jimmy Choo. Personal favourites included those by a lesser-known milliner, Leonora Ferguson, who created over 20 ring tailed lemurs – they were all unique and absolutely brilliant. Other favourites included Noor Fares and her unicorns and Swarovski’s amazing snow leopards. Of course, from India, we had the leading bridal designer, Sabyasachi, and his Bengal tiger masks – utterly brilliant and amazing craftsmanship.
How much did you raise and where will the funds go?
The evening raised an astonishing £1.7 million, which means wildlife-saving projects for lowland gorillas, lions and both species of elephant can now charge forwards. For Elephant Family, an immediate urgency lies in Odisha State in east India which is one of the worst places in the world for human/elephant conflict. Since 2004, elephants have trampled over 87,000 acres of ready-to-harvest crops and damaged more than 8,000 houses in Odisha. It’s a fatal battle that has killed 685 elephants and taken 660 human lives. Elephant Family is committed to easing the conflict in Odisha and we can now plan to invest in corridors in this landscape that link the forest fragments back together, and plant nourishing fodder that elephants love in 20,000km2 of forest, which will help the elephants to live within their habitat.
What is the toughest and/or most harrowing project Elephant Family has been involved with?
Endangered Asian elephants being slaughtered for their skin [see link here].
What would you say is the biggest obstacle that Elephant Family habitually faces?
Lack of funds and a perception that people should come before, or separate to, nature and animals. The amount of times those in our field hear words to the effect of ‘‘but what about the starving children?’’ Environmental causes receive just 3% of global philanthropic giving.
How effective can projects such as this go towards saving wildlife from extinction?
Our vision is to create a future in which elephants and other species that share their habitats live in harmony with people. To date, we have funded over 150 field projects and are currently active in 6 of the 13 elephant range states in Asia: India, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Malaysia. The projects we fund are working and have already reduced the conflict by as much as 90% in the areas we have so far reached.
How have the Royal Family supported your project, and which ones in particular?
I cannot tell you how involved they have been – both Mark’s sisters, the Duchess of Cornwall, who is our Joint Royal President, and Annabel Elliot, who is a lifelong Patron, her son and Mark’s nephew Ben, Mark’s daughter Ayesha, and HRH Princess Eugenie of York, who are Elephant Family Patrons. They have all been just supersonic when it comes to supporting and putting their arms around the charity.
Mark Shand was obviously a huge driver in terms of what he wanted to do with Elephant Family, but what would you say is your one overriding memory of the work he undertook?
He had an unbelievable talent at galvanising people into caring about conservation when it previously wasn’t on their radar. It was such a gift.
What is your overriding memory of him? What should be his lasting legacy?
I was talking to Ayesha recently about Mark’s legacy, and we both agreed that it’s his determination, energy and optimism. He left his mark on every single person he worked with.
What is your proudest achievement working with Elephant Family?
Covering London in 300 painted elephants in 2010 – it remains London’s biggest outdoor art exhibit on record and put the plight of the overlooked Asian elephant on the map and raised millions for projects in the field.
How can people make a difference to conservation efforts?
You can be pessimistic and depressing about your cause, or you can go in on the positive and the inspiration factor. There’s a saying: ‘‘An ounce of hope is worth a tonne of despair,’’ and it’s so true. We can make a difference by consuming less, we can make a difference by losing our cynicism and backing the causes that are out there, fighting the good fight.
What are your projects for the future?
Reconnecting India’s forests back together using 101 elephant corridors. Elephants travel large distances covering a range of landscapes. These journeys allow elephants to meet their basic needs for food and water needed to survive in varied environments. Increasingly, elephants must traverse lands that are heavily populated by highways, railways, mines and farms. Protecting elephant corridors is essential for the conservation of Asian elephants, forests and other species. Answering the call by our field partner, the Wildlife Trust of India, Elephant Family convened with three other major charities to establish the Asian Elephant Alliance. Together, we aim to leverage funding and obtain commitment from India’s most powerful players to protect and secure 101 corridors across the country. In the presence of Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall in London, a declaration to mobilise £20 million by 2025 has been signed by Elephant Family, the Wildlife Trust of India, International Fund for Animal Welfare, IUCN Netherlands and World Land trust.
Finally, the one question we ask everyone – what is your favourite luxury?
Being immersed in the natural world, in an epic landscape, far far away from any signs of human activity. But the natural world is not a luxury; it is a necessity!