A British debutante compared her experience to ‘Bridgerton,’ and said there’s way less romance in reality

"Bridgerton" versus reality.

Daphne Bridgerton, left, and Helena Vardag-Walters, right.Netflix, Kate Green/Getty Images

  • Netflix’s “Bridgerton” follows the lives of debutantes and their families in Regency-era London.

  • Although it’s set in 1813, debutantes and society balls still exist worldwide today.

  • From scandal to romance, Insider spoke to a debutante about how “Bridgerton” compares to reality.

“Bridgerton” reimagines London’s debutante season during the Regency era.

bridgerton season 2

“Bridgerton” season two premiered on Netflix on March 25.LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

Netflix’s hit show “Bridgerton” reimagines what life was like for upper-class families who flocked to London in 1813 for debutante season, a period of time where young people courted at balls and social events in the hopes of securing a marriage.

However, the Regency-era show is far from historically accurate, its creators have previously said.

Julia Quinn, author of the book series the show is based on, told Entertainment Weekly “Bridgerton” is really made for a modern audience: “It’s important to remember that ‘Bridgerton’ isn’t a history lesson.”

But debutante balls are still very much a thing in modern-day London.

Debutantes attend the 2021 Queen Charlotte's Ball.

Debutantes attend the 2021 Queen Charlotte’s Ball.Kate Green/Getty Images

Debutante balls are still well and truly alive worldwide — and one of the most well-known events in the UK is Queen Charlotte’s Ball, founded in 1780 by King George III in honor of his wife Queen Charlotte. It’s currently run by The London Season, an organization charged with interviewing the debutantes and putting on the events on the social calendar.

Since its inception over two hundred years ago, the annual ball has been used as a means for young women to make their society debut, but is now more than ever focused on raising money for charity.

Each year, around 22 young women attend the event wearing traditional white bridal gowns and diamond jewelry to be presented in front of the ball’s patrons as well as a towering eight-foot Queen Charlotte’s cake.

Though “Bridgerton” doesn’t claim to be historically accurate, the chairman of the Queen Charlotte’s Ball isn’t a fan of the way it portrays debutantes.

Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley in Bridgerton season two

Characters Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sharma in “Bridgerton.”Liam Daniel/Netflix

While “Bridgerton” doesn’t claim to be in any way historically accurate, Jennie Hallam-Peel, chairman of The London Season, told Insider she isn’t a fan of the series because it fails to “truly reflect” the Queen Charlotte’s Ball.

“As the years have evolved, we’ve become less frivolous,” she said. “I have no idea what happened in previous centuries, but I do know what’s happened in the last part of the 20th century and I do know that people don’t behave as they behaved in Bridgerton.”

To get insight on how the modern debutante experience compares to “Bridgerton,” Insider spoke with a current Queen Charlotte’s Ball debutante.

Helena Vardag-Walters was presented at a debutante at the 2021 Queen Charlotte's Ball.

Helena Vardag-Walters was presented as a debutante at the 2021 Queen Charlotte’s Ball.Kate Green/Getty Images

To compare the real experience of modern-day debutante balls to how “Bridgerton” reimagines it to be during Regency-era London, Insider spoke with 17-year-old Helena Vardag-Walters, who was a debutante at the Queen Charlotte’s Ball in 2021.

Vardag-Walters was one of 20 girls admitted last year through an application and interview process that often takes around three months, Hallam-Peel told Insider. The final intake is whittled down from an initial pool of 200 applicants, she added.

She is also returning to the Queen Charlotte’s Ball in September 2022 as a second-year debutante and member of the event’s junior committee, she said.

Off the bat, Vardag-Walters said gossip and scandals are way less prevalent than in “Bridgerton.”

Helena Vardag-Walters was presented at the Queen Charlottes Ball in 2021.

Helena Vardag-Walters was presented at the Queen Charlotte’s Ball in 2021.Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix, Kate Green/Getty Images

In “Bridgerton,” Lady Whistledown’s scandal sheet is a major plot driver and showcases just how much all the characters love to gossip about each other. But things are a lot more cordial among debutantes in reality, Vardag-Walters said.

“Everyone’s incredibly lovely to each other,” she said. “For the most part, we all have nothing but lovely things to say about each other.” Though she did say a certain level of gossip is only natural, given they are “a group of girls.”

In “Bridgerton,” debutantes have the sole goal of securing marriage. Today, the season is all about networking.

A respectable marriage is the goal of debutantes in "Bridgerton."

A respectable marriage is the goal of debutantes in “Bridgerton.”Kate Green/Getty Images, LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

Finding a husband and marrying well is basically the aim of all the young women who come to London for debutante season in “Bridgerton.” But the same cannot be said for modern-day debutantes, Vardag-Walters said.

“Originally it was presenting young women at court as newly eligible for marriage,” she said. “It was all about getting these young women married because that was how women had power in those days.”

“Nowadays, it’s much more about meeting other like-minded and intelligent and driven women,” she said.

Romance also plays a big part in “Bridgerton” but it isn’t so much of a factor for modern-day debutantes.

Romance doesn't play a big role in modern society balls.

Romance doesn’t play a big role in modern society balls.Netflix, Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

“Bridgerton” fans may be surprised to learn how little romance really plays a part in a modern-day debutante’s life. “It’s not really centered around the boys,” Vardag-Walters said. “I actually wasn’t really aware that there were boys until the last day.”

“You do get to know them and you talk to them. But it’s much more friendly,” she added.

Hallam-Peel, who said she was once a Queen Charlotte’s Ball debutante herself, said there has been the odd romance over the years but added that isn’t the be-all and end-all in modern times as it is in “Bridgerton.”

No debutante is singled out as the “Diamond of the first water,” like in “Bridgerton.”

Edwina Sharma was crowned the Queen's "Diamond" in season two.

Edwina Sharma was crowned the Queen’s “Diamond” in season two.LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX, Kate Green/Getty Images

In “Bridgerton,” Edwina Sharma and Daphne Bridgerton are the only two characters so far in the series chosen to be the season’s diamond by Queen Charlotte, which essentially singles them out as the most desirable.

But according to Hallam-Peel, that element of competition between the girls doesn’t exist today. “I just don’t think that happens,” she said. “They all seem to gel with each other, which is quite amazing.”

While a few girls are given the honor to cut the ceremonial Queen Charlotte’s cake, the privilege is almost always extended to those who have worked the hardest to raise money for charity throughout the season, Vardag-Walters added.

“Last year it was three girls who cut the cake,” she said. “It was less about whether or not they were the diamonds, but more how much work they did.”

There’s far less pressure on outshining other debutantes, Vardag-Walters said.


In “Bridgerton,” debutantes are seen trying to outshine each other.LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX, Kate Green/Getty Images

In “Bridgerton,” debutantes are seen to be compared in terms of their looks and skills with things like the pianoforte.

But when it comes to reality, pressures faced by the debutantes to look a certain way is nowhere near the same, Vardag-Walters said.

“You don’t need to be stressing about the way that you look because all figures and faces are accepted,” she said.

“It’s not about being the most marriageable,” Vardag-Walters added. “It’s about how much you can do to help with the charity and how much you can contribute.”

One similarity between “Bridgerton” and the modern-day debutante experience is how glamorous the events are.

Glamorous dresses and glitzy locations are still a thing.

Glamorous dresses and glitzy locations are still a thing.Netflix, Kate Green/Getty Images

The Queen Charlotte’s Ball is usually the only one held by The London Season today, which Hallam-Peel sees as the culmination of all of the debutantes’ hard work raising money for charity in the months prior, she said. Meanwhile, there are multiple balls held throughout the season in “Bridgerton.”

But that doesn’t mean the reality is any less spectacular, Vardag-Walters said. “It’s very glamorous. It’s a beautiful thing to attend.”

Debutantes get to wear couture bridal gowns, provided to them by The London Season for the event, that can retail upwards of £9,000, or around $11,000, Hallam-Peel said. They also get to wear diamond jewelry from Harrods, and attend the exclusive event where other guests include their families and a select few “high net-worth people,” she added.

Mothers and chaperones play a big role in “Bridgerton” but they’re way less involved in reality, Vardag-Walters said.

Lady Portia Featherington does her best to guide her daughters throughout the season in "Bridgerton."

Lady Portia Featherington does her best to guide her daughters throughout the season in “Bridgerton.”NICK BRIGGS/NETFLIX, Kate Green/Getty Images

Parents acting as chaperones is a common feature among the upper-class families in “Bridgerton.” Portia Featherington is often seen telling her daughters how to look or act in order to attract suitors, for example.

Meanwhile, parents of debutantes today have much less of a presence, Vardag-Walters said. “We’re not constantly following our parents around or being shuffled around by our parents,” she said. “Debutantes are very much left to their own devices at times.”

Hallam-Peel agreed, though she said parents do play a part in a debutante’s journey.

“Inevitably, you will have some pushy parents,” she said. “But we try and not allow the parents to actually influence the girls’ decisions on things.”

Real debutantes at the Queen Charlotte’s Ball bow to a towering cake — in “Bridgerton,” they bow to Queen Charlotte herself.

Debutantes are no longer presented in front of the British monarch.

Debutantes are no longer presented in front of the British monarch.Liam Daniel/Netflix, Kate Green/Getty Images

Up until the mid-1900s, debutantes attending the Queen Charlotte’s Ball would be presented to high society in front of the reigning monarch, similar to “Bridgerton.”

However, in 1957, that all changed when Queen Elizabeth II put an end to the tradition, as “the social parameters” for what the season “stood for were being eroded,” according to The London Season’s website.

Instead, debutantes today make their debut in front of a towering Queen Charlotte’s cake, the most recent of which peaked at eight feet tall. “It was very grand and large,” Vardag-Walters said of last year’s cake. “I was a little concerned it might collapse, but it was beautiful.”

Similar to “Bridgerton,” modern debutantes learn a waltz but they also get to dance to pop music at the ball, Vardag-Walters said.

Debutantes today also are expected to learn a waltz.

Queen Charlotte’s Ball debutantes are also expected to learn a waltz.Netflix, Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

“You do have to learn the Viennese waltz, which is difficult,” Vardag-Walters said. Before the ball in September, she said the debutantes will come together to learn the steps as a group before they show off their skills in a father-daughter dance on the big night.

Similar to how in “Bridgerton” viewers delight in hearing classical covers of modern-day hits, music on the dance floor at the Queen Charlotte’s Ball also gets a bit more current as the night progresses. According to Vardag-Walters, guests and debutantes eventually get to enjoy a bit of “modern dancing.”

“Bridgerton” reimagines a diverse Regency era, and the Queen Charlotte’s Ball also encourages inclusivity among debutantes.

"Bridgerton" reimagines an inclusive 19th-century aristocratic society with a diverse cast.

“Bridgerton” reimagines an inclusive 19th-century aristocratic society with a diverse cast.LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX, Kate Green/Getty Images

One of the ways in which “Bridgerton” breaks from historical accuracy is by reimagining an inclusive 19th-century aristocratic society with a diverse cast. Queen Charlotte is portrayed as Black – leaning into a historical theory about her royal lineage – while leading characters like Kate Sharma and the Duke of Hastings are also played by people of color.

Likewise, diversity among debutantes at the Queen Charlotte’s Ball is something that Hallam-Peel said she’s leaning into. “I really encourage that,” she said.

Read the original article on Insider