Singles ball founder moving to mainland

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 27/12/2012
Southland Times photo
SCOT MACKAY/Fairfax NZ
Stewart Island single balls organiser Doug Beck.

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Stewart Island Singles Ball founder Doug Beck is leaving the island that helped to turn his life around.

He has gone from a criminal who was kicked off the island for too much fighting to the founder of a cult New Zealand event, one of the highlights of the Southland social calendar.

The ball itself needs no introduction. It has raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity, not to mention kick-starting lots of relationships.

Ten couples who met there have tied the knot since the first ball on August 20, 2005, Mr Beck said.

It took a break this year, but will be back again despite his absence, he said.

He planned to stay involved, helping with advertising and sponsorship from his new home, he said.

A fulltime island resident for more than a decade, he is moving to Christchurch to work on the rebuild, leaving his job at the island's recycling centre.

When he first visited 30 years ago, he was a troublemaker. He had been in boys' homes, then jail.

"The police and I knew each other by first names," he said.

His few visits to the island - which he described as unique in the world - were marred by punch-ups.

Returning to the island 11 years ago and deciding to stay, the first question he was asked in the pub was who was he going to hit first.

But in between times he had grown up, thanks to his children, he said.

"Having kids of my own, the police said they'd just follow in my footsteps. [They would say] ‘Do you want them to go to jail?'." He has been out of trouble for years now but it was the ball that had made him most proud, he said.

Watching the island boys doing the YMCA in gumboots and work clothes of an evening, he decided the island needed something with a little more class to attract women, he said, initially asking people in Invercargill whether they would attend such an event and began building interest from sponsors.

From there, the idea snowballed, he said.

"I went to do some work in Queenstown and someone rang and said ‘get your butt back here . . . you've mentioned a singles ball and now everybody wants a ticket'," he said.

The money raised from each ball goes to the Stewart Island Lions Club to distribute to charities - about $60,000 since 2005.

He had been asked to look at running a singles ball in Christchurch, but was not sure whether he could make it work in a much larger setting.

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