5 Things: Andrew Bull's Hong Kong Handover Party of 1997

By Ned Kelly, June 30, 2022

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That's series where we ask a Shanghai-based somebody to tell us 5 Things specific to his or her life.

With the Handover of Hong Kong looming, legendary promoter and DJ Andrew Bull decided the city needed a party worthy of its reputation: An epic 12-hour rave called UNITY, featuring Grace Jones, Boy George, Pete Tong and Paul Oakenfold entertaining "12,000 dancers, ravers, VIPs, crazies, gays, straights, glow stick twirlers and the curious and unsuspecting of every description."

With it being Hong Kong handover anniversary weekend, we sought out Mr Bull – AKA DJ EL Toro – for some tales...

1. It was a Eureka moment


In April 1997, a few months before the Handover of Hong Kong to PRC rule, I stumbled across a unique poster in a Beijing market. It was a Eureka moment. Up until that point almost no large-scale, privately-run entertainment event had been announced in Hong Kong to coincide with the Handover Weekend.

My logic was simple: I can build an epic event, worthy of the memory of our Hong Kong, around this epic poster. And so it was that UNITY – The Great Hong Kong Handover Party of 1997 came about.

2. Grace Jones & Boy George DJ Booth Drama


Grace Jones had done an amazing set with two encores. However, she had spent quite some time changing into this amazing final encore outfit, and by the time she reappeared on stage in her finery, Boy George had decided it was his turn on the decks, and had started his set.

At this time Grace was married to this Turkish guy called Atila Altaunbay – so Grace asked Atila to... not exactly threaten Boy George, but ask him to hold back on his set. But Boy George was not having it.

So she stormed up into the DJ booth as well, and – in full regalia – attempted to get him to relent. But Boy George would not relent. There was some pushing and shoving – I'm not sure there was an actual fight, but from the audience perspective it looked like a Punch and Judy Show, with Boy George and Grace Jones playing Punch and Judy.

3. 12,000 people descended on the venue at the same time


It was an epic event that would not end until 9am – sometime after the hazy, happy sunrise on Sunday the 29th of June. So by midnight, not that many people had shown up yet. In their infinite wisdom, the venue, the then-newly opened Hong Kong International Trade & Exhibition Centre in Kowloon Bay (since renamed KITEC) decided nobody was turning up and it was a dud, and sent all their cashiers home.

About an hour later 12,000 people descended on the venue at the same time, and ordered a million and a half Hong Kong Dollars worth of drinks in one hour. We ran out of everything. The bars, toilets and all other facilities at the event were pushed to breaking point and beyond.

But there was love in the air and everyone joined together with Grace Jones, Boy George, Pete Tong, Paul Oakenfold, Adrian Sherwood, rockers Gene and many other international and local names for a night that they knew could never be repeated. The event passed in complete safety, surrounding all those lucky enough to be there with a positive, kinetic energy that has left an indelible, joyful memory.

Oh, and at about 9 o'clock in the morning, just as we were finishing up, someone introduced me to Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, who was walking across the dancefloor. He had been there all night and I hadn't had a clue.

4. We all headed off to Bali with Grace Jones


The next day we were so happy that 12,000 people had all paid HK$580 each to come to the event that we all headed off to Bali with Grace Jones to stay in my friend's villa and whoop it up for ten days.

I came back to Hong Kong relatively skint, but it was a good ten days!

5. There was bittersweet tinge to the Handover

The handover itself took place on July 1, a few days after the UNITY event. Those of us who had been in Hong Kong most of our lives, we all felt a definite bittersweet tinge. 

But I think if you were lucky enough to live in Hong Kong at its best, you felt you had got away with something anyway – you had a lot of excess love for everything and everybody. It is quite bad if you have lost that over the years.

I certainly like to think I haven't lost the love, and I have Hong Kong to thank for that.

Listen to Pete Tong's UNITY Essential Mix here (VPN on):

Read more '5 Things’.

[All images courtesy of Andrew Bull]

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