Ascot is quintessentially English.
I was invited to join a business colleague Bryan and his wife Jolante for champagne and canapes at 11.00 in Car Park 1 at Ascot races last Tuesday. For those not familiar with the quirks of the English summer season, the business elite with connections, book or buy a car park space and host picnics – come rain or shine for their friends and colleagues.
Car park 1 is the poshest of all the car parks! But no matter how posh, if it is raining, everyone is expected to smile, stand with an umbrella in one hand and juggle the champagne and canapes with the other, using what you can of the parked car or boot as a table. Fortunately, this year it did not rain, and so I could eat and drink without fuss. The weather on Tuesday, although cloudy, was warm with a soft breeze.
Bryan is a consummate networker, he was joined by a most interesting and varied group of people, from intrepid explorers, to a NHS negligence claims barrister and a former ambassador to Greece. For some, it was their first time at Ascot, and for others it is a yearly tradition. I arrived early so that I could, not only enjoy the company of my host and his guests, but also visit family and friends in other parts of the car park.
Most people who picnic in Car Park 1, like me, apply for tickets to the Royal Enclosure which gets you as close as possible to the Royal family, from whom there is always a good turnout. Royal Ascot is the Queen’s favourite event and she makes a point of going every day. She always arrives promptly at 2 in a long procession of horse drawn open carriages down the racetrack to her box. A little before 2.00, I joined a few friends to stand on the terraces to welcome the Queen and the Royal Procession into the Ascot stadium.
I am a fan of the Queen. I admire her tireless devotion to duty, and her tenacity. Most women at her age would not venture out so often let alone without a stick or an arm to lean on – not the Queen, she serves her country without complaint and stands and walks for hours without an aide. I was not the only one keen to be on the terraces to welcome Her Royal Highness. The terraces were packed with gentlemen wearing morning suits; top hats and tails, and women wearing hats and looking their best.
A cheer went up as the Queen approached and the gentlemen took off their top hats as a sign of respect. The Queen was dressed in a stunning canary yellow coat, with light blue hyacinths on her yellow dress and in her matching yellow hat she wore a blue hyacinth flower.
In the second carriage rode the Prince of Wales, with his wife Camilla, dressed in a simple but elegant cream dress coat and hat. With them rode the Prince’s nieces Beatrice and Eugene. But the belle of the ball, apart from the Queen, was the newly appointed Duchess of Sussex, only one month after her wedding to Prince Harry, riding in the third carriage.
Meghan looked elegant, in a white Givenchy shirt dress, and white hat with black details. She obviously fits well into her new ‘role’, and was invited to give the trophy to race winner Frankie Dettori to much applause.
I joined my friends as they put a £5 bet on ‘Rhodendron’ to win ‘both ways’, at the bookies, and then joined them on the terraces to watch the first race. Sadly, Rhodendron did not win. They shrugged, smiled and looked at the race card to consider what horse to back in the next race.
At this stage, I decided to visit some clients who were also at the races who had invited me into their box. Unlike the true Brits, who attended good English schools and make up the back bone of the square mile, the real money rarely picnics in the Car Park. They prefer the comfort and convenience of a box.
I started on the fourth floor. This box was packed with the great and good, their table groaned with delicious food – and on the side was another table set with empty glasses and waiters, keen to fill the glasses with whatever a guest may chose; champagne, wine, Pimms or whatever took a guest’s fancy. Our host had invited his polo team to join him, they mingled easily with the City’s leading entrepreneurs, tall, elegant and impossibly good looking.
The next stop was a box also on the fourth floor, full of distinguished property developers. Here more tables heaved with delicious food and empty, expectant glasses. The atmosphere was friendly and engaging.
The third stop was on the sixth floor, the host was a race horse owner with pictures of his winners on the walls. ‘Of course, there is no money to made in racing horses’, our hosts wife explained to me ‘unless you breed them, the winnings are derisory, (unlike in France). The thrill of owning a race horse is just that - a thrill accompanied by an enormous bill!’
I ended the afternoon back on the fourth floor, where some of the food had been taken away and replaced with tea and scones. I ate a few sandwiches, had a cup of tea, and then thought about going home. One of the guests and family were leaving at the same time. We departed together, and were held up by the departure of the Queen. She and her family left in black limousines, with Police clearing the way of people and traffic for the fleet of royal cars making their way back to Windsor. My fellow guest then headed for the helli park, where his pilot and helli were waiting, to fly him high over the traffic jams, while I headed back for the train. My phone rang while I was on board for London ‘So sorry to have missed you – not to mind, we’ll meet for a coffee soon’.
Another fabulous day at the races.
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