Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ladies' Day at Royal Ascot

Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot has been an institution for years, but I had never before attended it. Traditionally, men wear morning dress (top hat and tails) and ladies wear dresses, hats and sometimes gloves. The horse racing is only half the story – with people watching being the main order of the day. Champagne is the drink of choice and a badge for the Royal Enclosure is a highly desired possession. Despite its name, the Royal Enclosure is not where the Queen sits – she has her own private suite and box. The only way you can get a pass for the Royal Enclosure is to apply months in advance and have your application sponsored by someone who has attended the Royal Enclosure for four years (not necessarily consecutive years, but four years nonetheless!).

Having never attended a horse race in my life before and not coming from a racing family, I did not have a badge for the Royal Enclosure. I did, however, have a ticket for General Admission – which, confusingly, is actually better than a ticket for the Silver Ring – the Silver Ring is the lowest category of admission, kind of like steerage on a boat. General Admission means you have access to all areas except the Royal Enclosure – so it’s pretty good really.

The atmosphere is electric and the colour and sparkle of the dresses and hats on show is incredible. Everyone seems to be trying to outdo everyone else, with the most fashionable dress, shoes and especially hat. The press stop women with particularly fashionable ensembles as they come in, spiriting them off for photographs or interviews. The amount of money being worn by the ladies attending Ladies Day is impossible to calculate, but it would definitely run into the millions of pounds. I saw hats that were bigger than the ladies who were wearing them, fascinators that were incredible concoctions of gorgeousness and even a hat shaped like a Stilton cheese (not so gorgeous that one!). I wore a dress and jacket by Jaeger from their summer collection, and a hat from the millinery department of John Lewis. My shoes were by Russell and Bromley. I felt quite well turned out, but I was more than eclipsed by many of the other ladies there.

We started off with a lovely picnic lunch in the grounds of the racecourse prepared by a company based at Ascot called “On the Hoof Catering”. Everything was beautifully presented and we were given two small bottles of wine with our lunch as well as a bottle of water. Actually, I’ve never seen so much alcohol consumed in one place at one time…and that’s saying something! It seemed like a bottle of water or cup of tea were very hard things indeed to find – but beer, wine, Pimms, cider and champagne were all readily available. Mind you, champagne cost £17 – that’s the equivalent of about $36 – per glass! In the end, I was positively abstemious, drinking only my provided wine and a glass of Pimms later. Everyone in our group kept giving me their bottles of water because they didn’t want them! It was not just the cost of the drinks that put me off, I really don’t like drinking in the daytime. It makes me tired. After 6pm though, I love a nice glass of wine or champagne.

Anyway, before the racing started, there was the Royal procession which is when the Royal party arrive in coaches in the parade ring. We managed to get right up close to the front, so that all that was between us and the parade ring was a box hedge. Our view of the procession was completely unimpeded and I was so pleased! The Queen, Prince Phillip, Princess Anne, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, Prince Andrew, Peter Phillips, his new wife and various other members of the royal family were literally inches away. It was a really nice atmosphere with everyone very happy to see them. The Queen looking really well. I have to say she looks amazing for a woman of her age, even from close quarters. I don’t know what her beauty regime is, but she certainly is doing something right to keep looking so well. Her dress and hat were gorgeous as well. I’ve been told off for not taking any photographs but we were standing right beside the press and paparazzi in our rather enviable close position and I just couldn’t bring myself to add yet more flashes to the huge number going off in the faces of those travelling in the carriages. It seemed somehow disrespectful.

After all that excitement, it was time for the racing to begin so we made our way to the Grandstand. It was great fun having a few little bets, although with only one win of any consequence I think I had better only bet on the horses once in a while! It was such fun cheering the horses on. Everyone gets really into it, enthusiastically cheering their favourites on to (hopefully!) victory. I also had a huge amount of fun people watching. We even saw the odd famous face. One of our party saw Alan Titchmarsh, and I saw Simon Cowell. The time absolutely flew by.

Guy had very kindly offered to collect me – which would mean sitting in loads of traffic – so I decided to leave before the very last race to beat the crowds. It’s a good thing I did. It took us almost an hour to find each other, with Guy sitting in traffic the whole time and me walking for what seemed like miles. Of course it didn’t help that I was walking in the wrong direction to start with. I was sure Guy would be heading into Ascot that way, until he told me on the phone that he was driving “into the sun”. As I was also “walking into the sun”, I decided it would be prudent to turn around! We got there in the end, finally meeting up about two miles away from the race course. We had a drink in the pub Guy had parked up in as the traffic was not moving and then headed on home. That journey home, which should have taken 45 minutes, took nearly 2 hours. It was worth it though. I had a lovely day.

I would definitely recommend Royal Ascot for a day out, and Ladies’ Day in particular. I had so much fun that I’m already planning my next trip to Ladies’ Day next year, but this time I’m going to take Guy and Alex with me!

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