Nowhere highlights the English at their best and worst quite like Royal Ascot. Whilst the Queen and Prince Philip parade in an open carriage with dignity and pageantry, drunken louts beat each other with bottles and chair legs. The Daily Mail will smugly report on the latter whilst mostly ignoring the former. I guess that since Pippa Middleton’s shapely fundament features nowhere in the Royal procession it’s of little interest to your average Mail reader.
For ease of class snobbery, Royal Ascot is neatly sectioned into viewing and refreshment areas for the three classes of English society.
Anyone remember the old Marty Feldman sketch from the Frost Report featuring John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett? Sadly it’s no longer available to watch online.
The Royal Enclosure
A members-only area for the haut monde. Gentlemen must wear a top hat and morning suit, ladies must adhere to strict guidelines on skirt length and dress style, and aim not to wear a hat – or ‘substantial fascinator’ – that has more character than they do. Following a three course luncheon and traditional afternoon tea in the Royal Enclosure Garden at The Norfolk restaurant, one can elbow one’s way through the ranks of braying Ruperts and Pandoras in the Birdcage to surrender a maharajah’s ransom for bottle of fizz and make disparaging remarks about other ladies hats.
A public grandstand and field in which a handful of decent (i.e. hatted) folk vie for space with brawling, shaven-headed ruffians in their court-appearance suits, roaming Daily Mail paparazzi and tattooed, mahoganyed, termagants in lurid rags. Finger-food is widely available.
The Silver Ring
A circus ring for beasts presumably presided over by a man with a chair and a whip. Inmates are thrown Pizza Express pizza slices and are reminded that, ‘bare chests are not permitted at any time.’*
As with my last visit to Ascot, I attended as a guest of a Royal Enclosure member. This suits me very well as I’m always partial to dressing up and have pretentions way above my station. Anyone wanting clues as to which station I rightly belong need only have looked to the catering kiosks where, foregoing the airs and graces of the Norfolk, I could be seen furtively scoffing a roast-pork bap.
So what of the actual racing? Well, of that I’ve seen precious little. From our usually tardy arrival there’s drinking and hobnobbing to be done and we really don’t venture trackside unless we’ve bet a paltry sum on Dettori riding Under the Influence in the Royal Hunt Cup – a name you want to go careful with when under the influence yourself. Whenever I approach the betting stand I inevitably overhear some earnest warning that puts me off my plan to place my entire tax set-aside on Donkey Ho-Tay at 1-66, and I generally only make feeble tentative bets.
Royal Ascot is more a party than a race meet. It’s a cracking day out, but I still don’t feel as though I’ve “been racing”. I shall endeavour to get to a less prestigious race meet to put all this snobbery in perspective. Stay tuned.
*I might be exaggerating a little. My friend Louise was in the Silver Circle and came to no harm, and there’s every chance it’s a haven of good manners and tranquility.
If you’d like to avail yourself of a vintage silk top hat, and why wouldn’t you, visit The Top Hat Shop. Helpfully they’ve written a brief history of the top hat and of Royal Ascot, along with some marvellous old photos!