A few days before the ball, I was contacted by the manageress of Vaux Le Vicomte (I think she was called Mme Belin) with the bombshell news that the owner of the chateau, the Comte de Voguë, had decided to cancel the event. He had been to dinner the evening before with people who had attended the INSEAD ball the previous year at the Chateau de Malesherbes and was horrified to hear of the drunkenness and unruly behaviour. He was not going to allow this at his cherished Vaux! You can imagine the panic on our end as we had fully sold out with alumni coming from as far away as Brazil. How could we possibly let everyone know?
We explained this to the Comte and Mme Belin as well as the fact that the very nature of the venue and the organisation we had in mind would ensure the respectful appreciation of the alumni and their partners for the chateau and its artifacts. Eventually they agreed not to cancel so long as we could get full insurance coverage including against damages and theft of contents. We frantically talked to insurance companies and brokers, but no company would insure against damages to the priceless artifacts and decorations in this extraordinary chateau. We informed Dean Berry.
Andrew Perkins and I were summoned to meet the INSEAD Board who had been debating the ball cancellation issue. I remember Andrew and I steeling ourselves for aggressive questioning. In the event Dean Berry asked just one question which gobsmacked us “How many Scandinavians will be attending the ball?” We left to get the numbers (as I recall it was about 80) and reported back to the Board. It then came out that Dean Berry and others attributed the excessive drinking and unruly behaviour at Malesherbes to a group of Scandinavians. He then said that so long as the organisation committee would commit to special arrangements for the Scandinavians attending the ball, the Board had agreed to indemnify the Comte against damages and theft. We agreed to put up a tent on the rear terraces, one of which would be dedicated to our Scandinavian guests and that a member of the committee would be present at all times! Under these conditions the ball proceeded!
Needless to say, the ball was a great success and our Scandinavian guests were impeccably behaved as were all others. I remember sitting on the rear steps at dawn with the Comte looking out over the parterres as the montgolfiere rose gently into the sky. He said how wonderful it had been to see his cherished castle brought back to life by such a wonderful ball!
A postscript. You may recall that the ball made a huge profit not least of all because many Parisians showed up without invitations as they had done for previous balls at less prestigious locations. During that evening, the capitaine de gendarmerie in charge came to ask what he should do with guests without invitations, considering traffic jams and the risk of a riot, strongly suggesting we take their money and let them in. Which is what happened. Unfortunately this stretched the food and drink but we were able to offer free champagne.
The surplus was able to cover the theft of a few candle holders (I assume taken as souvenirs) and the replacement to the cloth of the billiard table, which the traiteur had used as a champagne bar. They had stupidly not covered the table with a plastic cloth and it had been ruined from stains from spilled champagne. We were unable to get Le Notre to cover this so we had to pay FF 40 000 I recall from the surplus. But this still allowed us to put on another free-of-charge end-of-the-year party for our promotion using up unused wine (displaced by the champagne at the ball) and surplus funds.
Andrew and I were sharing this experience before he passed away and we agreed that we had never since had such an unexpected question put to us. “How many Scandinavians are coming?”