Exclusive Hotels brings the world of Willy Wonka to life at its annual black-tie bash

The moment I push open the oak doors of five-star South Lodge’s entrance, I know I’m in for an immersive evening. First up, there’s the familiar blast of music – songs from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Then there’s the fact that the reception desk is piled high with Wonka chocolate bars. I suddenly feel hungry.

It all kicks off in the Glyndebourne space, where a red carpet has been laid on. Props abound. Sweet-filled balloons, giant candy canes and lollipops flank the walkway as an arch announces that we’re now entering the factory. I grab a glass of fizz from a lady whose dress holds dozens of flutes of local Ridgeview sparkling wine. Around me Oompa-Loompas are doing tricks, a roaming acoustic band is serenading guests and queues have formed for group shots behind a cardboard cut-out of Quentin Blake’s illustrations of Charlie and co.

SquareMeal event review Charlie & The Chocolate Factory agency party South Lodge entrance drinks fizz

Tonight’s dress code is black tie, but I’ve spotted a lot of deep purple. It becomes clear why as we take our seats for our ‘Delectable Feast’ in the 150-capacity Gladstone room: it transpires that each of the Exclusive Hotels representatives are resplendent in purple velvet DJs and dresses. Over our confit salmon starter and roast guinea fowl main we get the chance to grill them on what they can do for events. Although tonight’s details do most of the talking for them – the physical menu at each place setting isn’t made of paper, as first assumed, but an A5-sized sheet of tempered white chocolate. And at the giant dessert table (dubbed the ‘Pandemonium of Sugar’) guests dived into a chocolate fountain and a huge selection of sweet treats (the edible toadstools were a winner). 

SquareMeal event review Charlie & The Chocolate Factory agency party South Lodge music

Prior to the event, each guest had been asked to provide the name of the song that was guaranteed to get them on the dancefloor. Once we move into the downstairs Wordsworth space, it’s clear why – a live band is playing the lot. For those initially too shy to dance, candy-themed cocktails are on hand, alongside a series of edible contraptions from Lick Me I’m Delicious – the alcoholic bubbles were a hit with the Instagram crew. Elsewhere, a prize draw sees guests clambering inside a wind-filled Crystal Maze-style tube to catch a golden ticket, much to the amusement of their fellow partygoers.

SquareMeal event review Charlie & The Chocolate Factory agency party South Lodge lick me i'm delicious

The night ends in the Drawing Room for the ‘Midnight Munchies’ segment, where enormous cheese boards and more wine are on offer until the small hours. Luckily, we’re staying in one of the hotel’s 89 bedrooms. If only the spa that’s set to open on site later this year was in action the next morning. We’ll definitely have to come back. 

Take a closer look at the night’s proceedings in the video below.

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A copy of Roald Dahl’s book (with our name inside the ‘This book belongs to…’ page) was waiting for us on our beds – a nice souvenir


Flavoured contraptions – Lick Me I’m Delicious 

AV & photography – Smashed Apple

Live music – The Hot Rox

Themed balloons – Bubblegum Balloons

Theming & props – KDM Events

Now, get all the details about the different meetings and events spaces at South Lodge