Monday, 30 November -0001

The Royals at Ascot

From what’s on the drinks tray to how to avoid a regal faux pas, James Crawford Smith takes a peek inside the Royal Box at racing’s premier event

Written by James Crawford Smith
Ascot-Jun12-02-176It is a sight that, once seen, is not often forgotten: Her Britannic Majesty and invited guests gliding down an expanse of freshly sodden race turf on a clear June day, to the sound of state trumpeters and view of four open landau carriages. Always smiling and in a striking, yet subtle hue of often blue or pink, the 2015 Royal Ascot season will be the Queen’s 64th as monarch.

Beneath the elegant facade that the cameras and spectators observe, the royal machine and invited guests are working vigorously to get to the opening race without incident. Although very public in terms of the Queen’s visibility, little is known of the goings-on inside the much-guarded Royal Enclosure, and even less about the Royal Box. Here we examine the dos and don’ts of Royal Ascot, supported by the details we do know about the Queen’s most enjoyed event.

Anyone may attend Royal Ascot, so long as they abide by the dress codes, but perhaps the most soughtafter position is one that cannot be bought. Admittance to the Royal Enclosure is highly exclusive, with invitations eluding even prime ministers (one of the few exceptions being Winston Churchill), and before 1955, divorced persons were not permitted. A spectator must receive sponsorship from a member who has attended the Royal Enclosure for four or more years, and, if accepted, are enveloped by the all-consuming dress code.

No spaghetti straps, fascinators or skirts above the knee will be tolerated in the presence of royalty; nor, as I have been taught, are open-toed shoes (though this stipulation does not appear in the official rules). London’s milliners and design houses are commissioned weeks before invitations are sent out, to ensure first pick of the season’s attire. But, what would one do if faced with any lady’s racing nightmare: what to do when your outfit matches that of Her Majesty’s?

It is universally acknowledged that when dressed similarly to a member of the Royal Family at a public event, they will always triumph, leaving the cast-off feeling mortified. It is from this acknowledgement that we then ask, how does one avoid this fashion faux pas? There is no official statement made in reference to the Queen’s outfits prior to public events, so it is left to the well-dressed woman to fend for herself. The coordination at the palace between Angela Kelly (the Queen’s dressmaker) and the ladies of the Household is intensifying as the Royal Family’s clothing continues to take the spotlight. If looked at with a close eye, no member of the Queen’s party wears an outfit that clashes or overshadows each other’s.

To dispel the chances of this disaster occurring to you, we advise avoiding block colours (a mainstay for the Queen), opting instead for a light print or contrasting separates. Paying homage to Her Majesty’s racing colours of purple and gold is also ill- advised; to be seen as trying too hard would make one stand out for all the wrong reasons.

Choosing and wearing a hat for Ascot is also an art. Taste and style can be brilliantly or horrifically expressed through your chosen adornment, but be warned: a standout hat can attract attention for all the wrong reasons. We are reminded of the late, great Gertrude Shilling, mother of milliner and Ascot legend David Shilling. Each year, Mrs Shilling, the proud mother, dutifully wore one of her son’s more fanciful creations. It should be said, however, that sometimes the designs she sported could be bigger than the elegantly slim lady herself. There are accounts of passersby seeing the struggling lady trying gallantly to balance her hat atop her fragile neck, ever so slightly tipping in balance. The Queen herself allegedly exclaimed after observing Mr Shilling’s newest creation for his mother, ‘I’m not having this turned into a circus!’

So, ladies everywhere, beware: you will always be seen by somebody – and that somebody might just be the head of state of 16 countries.

The Queen herself has favoured many different styles of dress throughout her reign. A favourite designer was Hardy Amies, who held a royal warrant from 1955 to 1990. His designs were uncomplicated and strong without being masculine, and the Queen enjoyed a close relationship with him until his death in 2003. Angela Kelly, official dressmaker to the Queen, is credited with the striking yellow outfit worn by Her Majesty to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and also the Diamond Jubilee ensembles. Kelly will again design the Queen’s Royal Ascot wardrobe this year.


Among the Queen’s private guests in the 50-seat Royal Box will be members of the British and foreign royal families and also her racing adviser John Warren. When a break in events occurs, the Queen may like to take a sip from the array of drinks specially prepared for her and placed on a silver tray beside her seat. We are told that on that tray stands a freshly mixed glass of Pimm’s – which remains untouched – a gin and tonic and a glass of water. We suspect that a glass of the Queen’s favourite cocktail (gin and Dubonnet) is also readily available, with one slice of deseeded lemon and two ice cubes – perfectly square to avoid premature melting. Protocol is strictly followed throughout the events and according to the official Royal Ascot code of conduct: ‘Drunkenness, rowdy behaviour or intimidating other members will not be tolerated.’ So it is advisable to err on the side of caution when partaking of the rivers of champagne that are readily available.

Her Majesty is not the only member of the Royal Family to take enjoyment from Royal Ascot. Prince Charles has often attended, accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall, an avid racing fan. Princess Margaret was always a key focus as she graced the Royal Box sporting the newest fashions, and the Queen Mother’s own love of Royal Ascot may have fostered the present Queen’s passion.

Prince Philip apparently has less of an interest in Ascot. He attends at the pleasure of Her Majesty, helping to host their formal guests and keeping abreast of the world outside of the racecourse. For the younger royals the proceedings can be a little less formal; socialising with friends and visiting the Royal Enclosure to see the races unfold. The day is about the racing; a fashion show it is not.

When it is time to drain the last glass and make your way home, you may like to know that you are no longer under Royal supervision. The Queen and her guests leave the racecourse quietly, without the carriages or trumpets, returning to Windsor Castle to take stock of the day’s events, in order to dress promptly for dinner.

Royal Ascot occurs early in the season, making it an opportunity to embrace the early stages of summer. Whether watching from the Royal Box, the Grandstand or even at home, Royal Ascot is a time where both monarch and her subjects come together to take pleasure in sport, making it a splendidly British event.


Approximately 300,000 visitors attend over the five days.

It’s the most prestigious race meeting in Britain, with prize money this year topping £5.5m.

There are 2,400 cleaners working 24 hours a day during the week, and 300 mobile toilet facilities are installed temporarily for the event.

Items of temporary furniture hired in for the Royal Meeting total 16,700.

Approximately 400 helicopters and 1,000 limos descend on Royal Ascot every year.


During the five days, racegoers will consume:
51,000 bottles of champagne
160,000 glasses of Pimm’s
131,000 pints of beer
42,000 bottles of wine
5,000 kilos of salmon
7,000 Cornish and Folkestone crabs
2,900 lobsters
2,400 kilos of beef sirloin
3,700 rumps of English lamb
10,000 Angus steaks
1,000 kilos of Cornish clotted cream
35,000 spears of English asparagus
50,000 macaroons
7,000 punnets of berries
30,000 chocolate choux éclairs
89,000 bottles of mineral water


There are an average of six races a day over the five-day event. Over a 70-year period, the Queen has owned a total of 21 winners:
1953 (two weeks after her coronation) Choir Boy
1954 Landau, Aureole
1955 Jardiniere
1956 Alexander
1957 Almeria, Pall Mall
1958 Restoration, Snow Cat
1959 Above Suspicion, Pindari
1961 Aiming High
1968 Hopeful Venture
1970 Magna Carta
1979 Expansive, Buttress
1992 Colour Sergeant
1995 Phantom Gold
1999 Blueprint
2008 Free Agent
2013 Estimate

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