Today we got the chance to speak to Ray Stanton, a founder member of the White Hat Committee, to speak about how White Hat has changed since being established in 2004, going from the very first ball to the unmissable industry event it has become today.
How and why you are involved in White Hat?
I currently sit on the steering committee and am one of the four original founders of the ball, along with Marcus Alldrick, Ron Condon and Malcolm Marshall.
I am involved because I believe in helping where help is needed. Childline and NSPCC is a cause where every donation makes a difference, be it cash, time or gift donations, it all changes lives. I think that’s the biggest learning for me during these past 16 years since we came up with the idea, every single thing counts towards making a difference to young lives.
What was the vision and where did the idea of White Hat come from?
The idea came about in 2004 after a couple of us had held industry dinners where we would raise funds for charity by auctioning off kindly donated gifts. The four of us I mentioned before, got together over a boozy lunch and came up with the idea ‘why not do this formally and as a group and see if we can make bit more of a difference’.
The vision was clear and has always remained consistent and while we’ve changed the words and messaging a little over the years, the core principles always remain the same ‘have fun, include everyone, make a difference’.
So, we reached out to friends within the security and risk community in 2005 and said ‘hey we have an idea’ would you like to join us and help us do this? From there we formed the first committee and it wasn’t until two or three years later we even had a formal chairperson. We took decisions such as when to hold the ball, and why it’s in January for example? Because it doesn’t clash with any other big events and as someone said at the time ‘it’s bleak in January and there’s nothing to look forward to, so this would be perfect, and it is!’. So, January 2006 was it! The inaugural ball.
Childline was separate back then from NSPCC and as a committee we pulled together a list of charities to vote on, finally deciding on Childline. Childline represented an area we all felt strongly about and today we still vote every three years and the feeling remains the same.
We do other small events and fundraising (e.g. London Marathon, Golf Days etc) during the year and donate to Barnardo’s and other smaller charities close to people’s lives. Though with time constraints given the ball has grown so large, taking up a lot of personal time and effort, these have reduced recently.
Throughout the years there has remained a core group on the committee, sustaining and growing the ball, and I for one cannot thank them enough for their commitment shown over the years. However, each year we are also delighted to welcome new faces onto the committee who bring with them new ideas and fresh thoughts, ensuring the future and success of the ball.
Tell us about the first ball and how it has transformed over the years – are there any stand-out moments that you remember from any of the balls in particular?
Goodness me, the first ball was a nightmare, we didn’t have any formal support, it was a bunch of do gooders all pulling together to create what we hoped would be a fantastic event. It was held at the Waldorf Hilton and we had circa 300+ guests (which we were so excited about back then and a target of £25k net profit for donating).
We printed our own material, people transported the gifts, champagne and materials in their cars, carried them on the tube or brought them by bus. So many of these things that others who run events will associate with it, that feeling of OMG ‘will it be alright on the night…and no it wasn’t!’ but we learned huge amounts from that first event and that’s ok.
One key memory was as we started the ball and introductions, stress was high for us all and Malcolm Marshall (one of the co-founders) and I were the joint hosts. We brought up and introduced Dame Esther Rantzen (who has been with us from this first event and every event since), handed her the microphone, and the system stopped working. Imagine this happening, a room filled with 300+ people, a wide room and no natural acoustics. The true professional, she carried on, we carried on and the night was a success and we raised £26k.
Notably it, and subsequent balls have pulled us together, created friendships that still remain strong today, and most importantly has enabled Childline to continuing answering calls from children who need them most.
Another key memory for me was holding meetings at Childline offices and once being given a tour of the call and message handling areas. Although you cannot listen into the calls, meeting these people, whom over 90% are volunteers and talking to them after, makes you realise why we do this. It was this that gave rise to us creating the ‘Volunteer Recognition Award’. I am not sure attendees or people realise this, but nominees are voted for by their colleagues, they are the ones who put forward these people in who in their view have gone the extra mile or deserve recognition. Bearing in mind, the people who nominate in my view, have already gone that extra mile with their volunteering. Their humility is sublime.
What are your hopes looking forward to 2021 and other future balls?
Quite simple really, to get through the Covid-19 crisis and ‘continue to make a difference, have fun and include everyone’. But practically, we need to continue to, at a minimum, maintain but aspirationally grow – which will be a challenge these next two years for sure. We have sister balls held annually in Washington and work with our co-conspirators the White Hat Rally to do more. We need new fresh faces on the committee, and we need to continue to make a difference ‘Protecting Children and changing their lives for the better’.
Join Ray at the 2021 White Hat Ball at the Royal Lancaster on 29th January. Email Lilly.OBrien@NSPCC.org.uk for more details.