Tomorrow sees the start of Royal Ascot, only one of the race meetings held at the Berkshire course over the year, but surely the one everyone has heard of. Mainly, let’s face it, because of the hats. Thursday is Ladies’ Day, and on Friday the papers will be full of ladies in smart dresses and pretty hats – although if you can manage something that looks like a Full English Breakfast you’re guaranteed the front page.
It’s over 300 years since Queen Anne inaugurated the tradition of racing at Ascot (in 1711, to be accurate) and since then it has grown and grown. Over 300,000 people are expected over Royal Week, and over £5 million will be won. Her Majesty the Queen is a regular attender; each day the royal carriage leads a parade of horse-drawn carriages to the Parade Ring.
Although you can buy a ticket to Ascot for as little as £25 (to the Silver Ring) the most sought-after are those which allow admittance to the Royal Enclosure. You need to be a member to buy these. Until 1955 anyone who had been divorced wasn’t admitted, and even now those in possession of a criminal record, or who have been declared bankrupt, may be excluded. In the best position in the Grandstand is the Royal Box, where the Queen and her guests sit.
Dress Code in the Royal Enclosure is strict. Gentlemen must wear morning suit and top hat, while for ladies, hats are required. Fascinators are now allowed, but must have at least a four-inch base. Skirts mustn’t be too short, but there’s no limit to how long they can be. And heels aren’t recommended, simply because they sink into the grass. The best known Ascot parade is in the film ‘My Fair Lady’, where the cast were dressed in impossibly chic black and white creations. Do you remember watching the film? Check newspapers or look online this week and you’ll see some more beautiful outfits – and, I expect, some very strange ones!