Rebel in White

When she stepped out at Queen Char­lotte’s Ball in Septem­ber, Sab­rina Ho looked ev­ery part the proper princess—but looks can be de­ceiv­ing, writes Melissa Twigg

Hong Kong Tatler - - | Faces Close-up -

here’s a strict set of cen­turies old rules to which debu­tants pre­sented at Queen Char­lotte’s Ball, the cul­mi­na­tion of the fa­mously tra­di­tional Lon­don Sea­son, must ad­here. Sab­rina Ho, ra­di­ant in a floor-length white gown off­set by a sparkling, cus­tomde­signed Chopard tiara and ear­rings, ap­par­ently com­plied, play­ing the role of beau­ti­ful young debutante with aplomb. But un­be­known to or­gan­is­ers watch­ing as she swept grace­fully down the mag­nif­i­cent stair­case at the Royal Horse­guards Ho­tel, she was wear­ing black rock-chick plat­form train­ers by Stella Mc­cart­ney. It was a small act of re­bel­lion that per­fectly en­cap­su­lates Sab­rina’s bold, brave and slightly mis­chievous at­ti­tude to life.

“I loved know­ing I was wear­ing my sneak­ers un­der my dress,” she says with a gig­gle. “I mean, why would you wear heels when you have to be on your feet from 9am to 1am? The best part was that I con­verted some of the other girls to my badly be­haved ways and soon there was a whole group of us wear­ing train­ers—which made it kind of awk­ward when the pho­tog­ra­pher asked us to lift our dresses to show off our shoes.”

Stan­ley Ho and An­gela Leong’s old­est daugh­ter is the per­fect mix­ture of Asian am­bi­tion and Bri­tish cre­ativ­ity. Sent to a York­shire board­ing school at the age of 13, she fell in love with the English way of life. She be­gan study­ing art his­tory at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don but had to re­turn to Hong Kong half­way through her first year for fam­ily rea­sons. Now, at the age of 25, she is de­bat­ing whether to move back to Lon­don.

“There’s some­thing about Lon­don that re­ally ap­peals to me. I think it’s the free­dom I feel when I’m here,” she says over tea and cake at Ho­tel Café Royal in Pic­cadilly on what must be the hottest day of the year. “Sure, no­body knows who I am, which is kind of lib­er­at­ing, but it’s more than that. Young peo­ple here get the chance to ex­plore who they are and what they want to do with their lives. I feel re­ally in­spired when I’m here and I’m so keen to ex­pe­ri­ence the full spec­trum of what the city has to of­fer.”

And what bet­ter way to kick-start a po­ten­tial life in Lon­don than with the quintessen­tially Bri­tish Queen Char­lotte’s Ball? The il­lus­tri­ous event has taken place al­most ev­ery year since 1780, when King Ge­orge III hosted the first to cel­e­brate his wife’s birth­day. The cer­e­mony has re­mained largely un­changed for the en­su­ing 250 years, with debu­tantes wear­ing daz­zling white gowns, waltz­ing with their fa­thers and cut­ting a vast cake to sym­bol­ise their en­try into so­ci­ety. The ball was tra­di­tion­ally held at Buck­ing­ham Palace un­til 1958, when it was de­cided that it could no longer fit into the queen’s hec­tic schedule. Since then it has been held at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions around Lon­don, with the Royal Horse­guards Ho­tel, the for­mer head­quar­ters of MI6, serv­ing as the venue this year.

With such a pedi­gree, it’s def­i­nitely not the kind of event that girls can turn up to un­pre­pared and bust out a few dance moves learned on a hol­i­day in Ibiza. To en­sure ev­ery­thing goes smoothly, the or­gan­is­ers hold a se­ries of eti­quette and danc­ing lessons for young women who haven’t been brought up waltz­ing and curt­sey­ing—which surely must be every­one these days. “They were kind of fun and def­i­nitely use­ful. I think I mas­tered ev­ery­thing ex­cept Scot­tish reel­ing, which was re­ally dif­fi­cult be­cause you don’t stick with one dance part­ner and there’s so much jump­ing,” says Sab­rina, look­ing the op­po­site of a tra­di­tional reeler in her white Bar­dot top, se­quined denim shorts and plat­form train­ers.

Luck­ily for Sab­rina, she had the one ac­ces­sory that ev­ery young woman at­tend­ing an in­tim­i­dat­ing ball has al­ways wished for—a dash­ing young prince to hold her hand. Her date, Arch­duke Alexan­der of Aus­tria, not only

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