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The SFBall convention 2015: a report

SFBall bannerOnce upon a time, there were scores of fan-run conventions in the UK. Organised by unpaid volunteers, and based around a particular franchise (usually but not always ‘Star Trek’), these events attracted star guests, hundreds of fans, and raised thousands of pounds for Charity.

Then Paramount realised that there was money in this convention lark, and began to organise ‘Bigger’ and ‘Better’ conventions of their own. They could bring along stacks of big-name stars, sell heaps of official merchandise, and raise lots of money… for Paramount. Their events are fantastic – but they’re not nearly as much sheer fun as the ones that were run for love, not money.

Fortunately, the fan-run events didn’t entirely disappear and, in February each year for the past twenty-one years, the SFBall (www.sfball.com) has kept the heart, and the fun in conventions.

This year’s event had a new venue, the four-star Grand Harbour Hotel in Southampton, and it was wonderful to see the staff get into the spirit of things by donning ‘command gold’ Starfleet uniforms.

The convention started at one o’clock on Friday afternoon, with a dance workshop and pub quiz, though the opening ceremony wasn’t till 4pm. The evening was occupied with party games, including the big-screen quiz “Geekbusters”, and a ‘Stone-Age’ themed disco; while for those with a Gold Ticket, there was the opportunity to meet and mingle with the Special Guests.

Manu Intiraymi on stage at the SFBall

Manu Intiraymi on stage at the SFBall

And what great guests they were! James Cosmo (jamescosmo.com/)told us about the extraordinary experience of filming ‘Game of Thrones’ in Iceland; Sylvester McCoy (www.sylvestermccoy.tv/) wandered through the audience to take questions, and joked of being upstaged by a CGI hedgehog in ‘The Hobbit’; while Sophie Aldred wished that Ace’s story had been properly completed, and enthused about the Big Finish recordings that continue the Doctor Who legacy. Manu Intiraymi and Robert Duncan McNeill (www.robertduncanmcneill.net/) proved to be a terrific double-act, improvising rhythms and a quick duet in addition to reminiscing about ‘Star Trek: Voyager’; and there were fascinating talks too by Julian Seager, Jamie Anderson, and writers Robert Rankin and Graham Smith.

There were opportunities also to have your photo taken with the star (or stars) of your choice, and to have them signed – though at one point James Cosmo was scheduled to be posing for photos at the same time as he was supposed to be on stage.

However, such hitches seemed (from an attendees point of view) to be few and far between and, in any case, it wouldn’t be a proper convention without a snag or two.

Dalek in the Foyer

A Dalek roams the hotel foyer

As well as the main stage and the photo signings, there were plenty of other diversions too. There was a Dealers’ Room; a ‘Corridor of Monsters’, where life-size models of the first three Doctors and various adversaries from the entire ‘Who’ range were displayed; and a Games Workshop where you could learn how to play various cool boardgames (and buy all the accessories you needed). Oh, and there was a dalek posing for photos in the hotel foyer.

The SFBall likes to challenge attendees with a different ‘theme’ each year for the Friday and Saturday night parties. This year, while Friday was ‘Flintstones’, Saturday was ‘Steampunk’. Almost 300 people made the effort to dress thematically for the superb three-course formal dinner on Saturday night, and then enjoyed a cabaret (by Professor Elemental) and a disco that went on until 2am.

Even after the Sunday night closing ceremony, there was more going on, with another quiz, a disco and karaoke – though many attendees had to leave before then as they had long journeys back to the real world and Monday morning jobs.

It was fun, it was informative, it was hugely entertaining. But above all it was successful in raising thousands of pounds for the Teenage Cancer Trust (www.teenagecancertrust.org/). Long may it continue!

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