ROYAL ASCOT 2012

Pictured: Alys Mathers (left) and Gabriella White celebrate Ladies' Day at Royal Ascot 21st June 2012

20th June 2012. Travels to Marlow, pre-Ascot

It’s that time of year again. British summer has arrived with its swooping swallows, lush pastures, green fields, majestic trees and that familiar scent of….well, summer. And that can only mean one thing: that Royal Ascot season is upon us too. It’s been quite a year for Britain, a very regal one in fact. The Queen and the Royal Family are more popular than ever. And Britain’s people are flying the Union jack wherever you look; one thing’s for sure: though a dark double-dip recession appears to be looming over the UK like a typical downpour, no amount of clouds or financial adversity can stop the decadence that we are about to experience here at Royal Ascot.

And with the spotlight on Britain and the world looking in, the pressure is on for its guests to look their absolute best. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived at Royal Ascot in horse and carriage yesterday, a tradition that has been carried out for decades. The Queen arrives in an open carriage every year, hail, rain or shine (although she may use an umbrella). The Queen first attended Royal Ascot aged 19. It was her ancestor Queen Anne who founded Ascot racecourse in 1711. Traditionally, horse-racing was known as the ‘sport of kings’ in British history. Today, it is sports such as polo which further highlight this class distinction and hierarchy of players.

Anyone who managed to catch a glimpse of “All the Queen’s Horses” during the beginning of this month’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations might remember how magnificent the entire show really was: performers from all commonwealth countries and beyond performed miracles with the many horses on stage. I can only describe it as touching, having distinctly remembered the French horse whisperer Jean-François Pignon working his magic, connecting with these incredible creatures on a level that astounded its viewers with such amazing human attributes and mutual understanding between man and the world’s creatures. With that, I mean to say that these performances have been more than a celebration of a long-lasting and steadfast monarchy. They have been a showcase of British and worldwide talent, uniting as one, culturally and cross-specially.

Today, the Royal Ascot event is home to 255 private boxes, (the most of any sporting event in Europe.) These can be reserved in advance (at a few thousand pounds a pop) and the rest of the grounds currently house thirteen giant television screens to cater for all guests, wherever they may be spending those golden socialite moments in Ascot’s proud and glorious grounds.

Down to the nitty gritty of horserace talent showcasing this year: this year’s Frankel is reportedly the best horserace the world has ever seen, incessantly topping his own best at yesterday’s Royal Ascot day 1 kickoff. Frankel has been described as a symbol of strength and vitality on Ascot’s racecourse, almost becoming a dead-cert for this year’s bets.

The very first race of the event was the Queen Anne Stakes, named after its founder. The aptly named “Windsor Palace”, one of the Queen’s favourites, ran in that first race yesterday. Royal Ascot has had quite a precedence of events on this year’s social calendar thus far, from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, followed by Wimbledon next week and ofcourse the Olympics commencing in July. Each event is a fashion crescendo over the next and the competition for the most eye-catching, original hat is officially on. Forgetting the Queen’s horses for a moment: isn’t Ladies’ Day in all honesty really about hats?

Alys laughs as I discuss the logistics of getting my large partially hand-made bow hat down to Royal Ascot in pristine condition ready for tomorrow’s Ladies’ Day. Having considered transporting it down in a box containing cotton wool and bubble wrap for the utmost aesthetic security, the only box I could get my hands on yesterday was enormously cumbersome to lug around on trains. I rapidly rethink my plan. – I’ve finally decided that a suitcase is the best option.” I tell Alys on the phone leading up to my departure. “The hat needs its own suitcase?!” Alys laughs. “Your hat gets its own suitcase?” she laughs.

“Ridiculously extravagant as that is, yes..! I was walking around the supermarket this afternoon looking for a box, when it hit me. I just need to put the thing in a darn suitcase; then at least I can roll it!” We laugh. “I’m checking the weather forecast every 5 minutes”, Alys admits. We discuss whether we should pack umbrellas. In unison: “Probably”.

As for my own personal fashion taste, I enjoy traditional black and white outfits and always admired the Marilyn Monroe, slash, Audrey Hepburn look. And when it comes to black and white attire with dainty feminine accessories, I’m there. Add a few delicate summer accessories such as petals or some subtle silver jewellery, the inner child and adventure-girl within us runs free and embraces the season with all her girly might, skipping along daisied paths, the scent of honey filling the air. All that to say, simplicity is sexy. Don’t be fooled, however: bold colour IS my middle name. I simply could not exist without colour in my life and my love of monochrome images in the world of photography is a clear giveaway to my aesthetic preferences: black, white and a splash of bold colour. This combination has become something of an addiction and my own style whenever I attend events like this one.

It has therefore been incredibly fun preparing my Royal Ascot outfit in the run-up to today. Needless to say, the headgear that spoke to me with asterisks on my hat-hunt this year was indeed a black and white bow-hat, edged with soft lace: quite the classic. The hat, now accessorised by yours truly, has a quasi-garden theme to it: originally, I had a myriad of ideas running through my veins on how I could display a garden of wildlife through symbols of British gardens on my head: from birds, to bees, to dragonflies and flowers, but then I decided on one theme that struck a real chord with me: butterflies. A seasonal symbol of elegance, delicacy, rareness and wonder. I have decorated the hat asymmetrically. The flock of butterflies sit prettily on the right hand side of the hat. Depending on which angle the hat is viewed, one will catch a glimpse of one of the vibrantly-coloured wings. Put simply: I can’t wait to showcase it.

Alys, who flew back in time for Ascot from the Great Wall of China, brought a touch of Beijing back with her and is accessorising her hat with Chinese flowers. As you can probably tell, operation-Ascot has been thought out with the utmost fashion-precision and attentiveness, for the much-talked-about ‘fashion-police’ are indeed going to be out, literally checking that Grandstand guests are conforming to this year’s stricter-than-ever regulations. Et voila, just in case you are wondering, here are a low-down of the rules:

Grandstand ticket holders:-

LADIES:

  • A hat, headpiece or fascinator must be worn at all times.
  • Strapless or sheer strap dresses and tops are not permitted.
  • Trousers must be full-length and worn with a top that adheres to the guidelines above [i.e. strapless or sheer strap tops are not permitted].
  • Jackets and pashminas may be worn but dresses and tops underneath should still comply with the Grandstand Admission dress code.
  • Midriffs must be covered.
  • Shorts are not permitted.

GENTLEMEN:

  • Gentlemen are required to wear a suit with a shirt and tie.

Note that in the Grandstand, a lady may wear a hat OR a fascinator, but in the Royal Enclosure ladies must wear a hat.

In order of priority, I’d say that headgear is of utmost importance, followed by shoes and dress; the latter two of those are personality-dependent.

 What we’re wearing for this year’s Ascot?

We’ve gone for royal purple, pastel green and feminine pink. I’m also wearing ivory white for an elated summer look, with my satin-and-pearl handbag (a joy to flounce the Grandstand grounds with). I’m very much a shoe-girl and so my shoes of choice are step-in heels in ivory white, decorated with daisy flowers and dotted with circles of crystals for a finishing touch.

The train arrives into Marlow, where I’ll be joining Alys and her boyfriend Andy for dinner tonight. Our alarm clocks are set to 6am for outfit preparation to commence. A jam-packed morning schedule awaits us tomorrow to perfect hair, nails, make-up and clothes. We will then catch a train to Ascot to get there for the doors opening at 10:30.

I’ve got butterflies, both on my head and in my stomach.

June 21st 2012. Ladies Day at Royal Ascot

After an evening of fine dining at friends’ Alys and Andy’s adorably quaint Tudor cottage in Marlow and experimenting the new dessert trend over wine that is crème-bruléed raspberry cheesecake, our alarms sound off at 6am. We have a 10.06 train to catch to get to Ascot (via Maidenhead and Reading). A top-hat-attired gentleman excitedly approaches us on the platform at Marlow. “I take it you’re going to Ascot”, he says bright-eyed with a beaming smile.

Merry ladies on the train sip their pink champagne; we all complement each other on hats and shoes ofcourse. We commence our photo-takes en route. Increasing numbers of ladies and gentleman in their silver suits and top hats accrue on board the train. We debark in anticipation and enter the arrivals parade, ascending the infamous Ascot hill to the grand Royal Ascot entrance. It’s about a ten-minute walk. Contemporary music soundtracks our fashion-stroll as we descend the stairs into the grounds and are looked upon by observers: cars pull up outside to catch a glance: we are flattered by the complements we ourselves receive by gentleman and ladies alike on arrival. We feel like we are on the catwalk. Men in green and gold uniforms greet us “Welcome ladies. Looking lovely today. Can we assist you?” We start our morning off with a Pimms, savouring the mint and cucumber as we officially awaken. Today is the Solstice, the weather is changeable, but the sun is shining for now. Decadence fills the air. Sweet perfume, laughter and an elegant ambiance. This year’s hot colours are red and pink. Pastel shades and elegant greys still subsist, but it does seem that people are warming up this year’s vogue’s visuals with scarlet reds. A red-and-black blast of colour (and visual music) parades this year’s fashion walk: a group of five creative ladies have made music-inspired hats themselves: each lady represents a different aspect of music and the headed displays include a music stave and treble clef.  A stylishly wonky keyboard towers over fellow fascinators in the crowd that compile a sea of hats; the piano-hat consequently receives an awful lot of media attention. Other prizes for originality go to to the football-pitch-on-a-hat, the Ascot racecourse-on-a-hat and the golden Olympic torch, probably the tallest of them all: respect to the lady for balancing that one on her head for at least 10 hours.

I turn a corner and the paparazzi are shouting “Catherine, Catherine, CATHERINE!”At that point, I look to the person standing right beside me and it’s Catherine Jenkins, Welsh opera singer, looking petite and beautiful. Her hat is classic…and enormous, but she wears it well. We can’t see her face due to this hat’s enormity, but it somehow adds to her eminence. We can however see her smile (and she smiles consistently). As the press take more photos and hound her a little as she walks into the building, the press take more shots indoors. “Mummy, mummy”, Catherine beckons her mother to join her for the photo shoot and some family shots while they’re at it. A down-to-Earth, pleasant lady, Catherine Jenkins is there just like the rest of us, enjoying a social day out with family and friends (apart from presenting a trophy or two to the winning jockeys later that day). But it is nice and somewhat refreshing to mingle amongst the celebrity crowd here as human beings simply enjoying themselves and having a flutter on the races.  I was slightly disappointed not to hear Catherine sing that day, but one thing I can report with certainty: enjoy the races she did.

Alys and I go for a sushi lunch (with, guess what, more Pimms) and enjoy a little sunshine on the lawns, socialising with the jolly crowd. We cross the Greenyard Lawn, better known for the Greenyard Veuve Clicquot Bar. The area is laced with ice cream stalls, croquet areas and more champagne marquees. We sample a “Royal Blush” the official cocktail of Royal Ascot at the Royal Blush Bar. Yummy.

Eccentric, jovial commentators approach ladies circling the BBC’s media cameras to showcase their creations on television. Something is pressing, though: we must take positions for Her Majesty’s arrival, with the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie with their Aunty, Princess Anne. Members of the Middleton family follow closely behind. This is my first time seeing the Queen and it is somewhat touching (and surreal). Just metres away from me dressed in Emerald green (with matching umbrella for the heavy rain that ensues), she appears through the golden gates, waving and smiling at us with grace. Catching her eye, I smile back and give her a wave. I’m touched. And the crowd are going wild. The Duke of Edinburgh shares a joke with a fellow passenger and smiles in the front carriage rapidly grow before breaking out into buoyant laughter, including the Queen herself.  Their sense of humour is contagious and heightens the crowds’ spirits even further. The ambiance is second to none. And there is something about the British crowd, that ever-present spirit of togetherness, come wind, rain and shine that gives me goose bumps at moments like this and later too as the day’s events unfold. I think Alys speaks for all of Ascot when she exclaims “This rain will not dampen our spirits!” It is (and has to be) our approach to being in Britain, to being British. This is who we are. In all honesty, I have a tear of pride in my eye as the crowd comes alive and we sing the national anthem. The Queen is very close now. This is where it gets exciting.

The Queen enters the Royal Enclosure and we cross paths with her yet again. People are dying to wave at her in sheer adoration, bending left, right and centre to make their waves seen and known:  the crowd cheers again: delightful.  We rush to the racecourse for the 2.30pm kick-off, bets placed ofcourse. Sheer zest and zeal fill the air at the edge of the racecourse between now and the rest of the afternoon. We watch all magnificent runners as they approach the finishing line; immeasurable amounts of cheers sweep the entire grounds like a Mexican wave from one end to the other. It’s powerful. We jump up and down to cheer on our horses. “Go on my son” Welsh attendees scream. We unite in excitement and the mood crescendos into one of summer-celebration, as the rain crashes down ever-more heavily. My pristine white heels get stuck in the soil a fair few times, which comically pitch me to the ground like a tent. I find my way out (eventually) and resume my cheering. Meanwhile, the stiletto-in-soft-soil experience has taught me to adopt a new tip-toe-type approach to traversing these fields. Dainty green benches are dotted across the ground level green; we take a seat and observe other spectators as well as the races.

A few bets, cocktails and champagne later….

We watch the Queen depart in her ER-gilded Royal Mercedes. This is the third time we have bumped into her today! Australian visitors in awe exclaim “Oh: Isn’t she beautiful…”  The brass band commences at 6pm. We are positively overwhelmed by the crowd’s energetic flag-flying and communal crowd singing of British songs on the Plaza Lawn. We sing our hearts out: each and every one of us. Strangers smile at each other mid-song. We rejoice and sing even louder as the anthem line-up gets bigger and better. Right now, there’s no other place I’d rather be. An hour later, we return to Marlow, wholeheartedly content, filled with culture, patriotism, unity and everything Britain means to us.

This is Royal Ascot.

©THE CULTURE CAVE 2012

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ASCOT 2012 GALLERY