One year ago today (24 June) I had the privilege of attending the last day of the Royal Ascot in the Royal Enclosure. This was made possible through the Canadian High Commission. The popular five-day event attended by Royals and people like us is where fashion meets horse racing.
How to get tickets
You can purchase tickets online for the Windsor (£46), Village (£67), and Queen Anne (£88) Enclosures. The Royal Enclosure is by invitation only. You must be a guest of a member or apply through the High Commission (I’m not sure how many offer this opportunity so please enquire). If you have been nominated by the High Commission, you will then have to fill out an attached badge application form which is to be emailed directly to the Royal Enclosure. The cost last year was £155 per guest, in addition to a £3 transaction fee. Badges can be collected at the Royal Enclosure and will have your name handwritten on it.
How to get there (from London)
There are many ways to get to the Royal Ascot. You can drive (consider the parking fee), take a cab or Uber or chauffeur, take the bus from Victoria Station for £32+, or take the Ascot Express for £30. Whichever one you opt for, book ahead and plan for traffic. Also important to consider how far it is to walk from the drop-off point to the entrance of the enclosure.
What to wear
Finding something suitable to wear for the Royal Enclosure turned out to be quite the challenge, especially because the forecast had predicted high temperatures. We were so concerned about the strict dress code that I became very stressed and felt like nothing I had was respectable enough (ironically). I ended up wearing a dress I already had and picked a hat, bolero, and purse from Debenhams. It wasn’t my favourite look but it wasn’t the worst either.
When I turned up to the Royal Enclosure, I was shocked and amused to find that at least 25% did not adhere to the dress code. I saw whimsies (fascinators), headbands with some sort of ornament, wild hats, shorter dresses, very low-cut necklines, etc. I began to wonder if anyone with a ticket to the Royal Enclosure had ever been asked not to enter. I did not see anyone with a basket of shawls at the ready.
What women can wear:
- Dress / blouse and skirt – skirt length has to be no higher than just above the knee. No Bardot or off-the-shoulder or asymmetrical neckline. Straps must be at least an inch wide.
- Traditional Dress – the ‘formal’ clothes from your country or ethnic background is very welcome. We noticed that if one opted for the traditional dress, a hat is not 100% necessary if it is not part of the entire ensemble. For instance, if you wear a qipao and there isn’t a hat that’s worn with it, you would still be allowed in. But maybe the rules have changed.
- Jumpsuit – this was introduced in 2017 and is still accepted today.
Can I eat and drink there?
There are various restaurants, bars, and kiosks in each enclosure. You can also bring your own hamper but it would probably be more convenient with a car.
Where to see The Queen
Part of the fun at the Royal Ascot is betting on the colour that The Queen will wear that day! Although I didn’t end up betting (I can be stingy), I had a feeling she would wear something purple since she had worn other colours in the last four days.
The Royal Procession begins at 2pm. You’l be handed a list of who will be in the carriages. I entered the ring about 15-30 min before The Queen’s arrival and thought I would be so close to the Ascot Landau carriage. Unfortunately, as soon as we cheered for her arrival, we realised that she and Prince Andrew were not going our way but across from us. I eventually got to see the carriage up close and had a peek-a-boo view of Her Majesty.
- Check traffic and assume that a 50 min. drive could take an hour and a half or more.
- Do your own makeup.
- If you have to spend on anything, get an updo; otherwise, do your own hair.
- Wear comfortable shoes. I wore a beautiful pair of heels but after having to stand for a long period of time, all I wanted to do was sit down. They’re lovely for photos but not for walking.
- Wander around! If my shoes hadn’t hurt so much, I would have explored a lot more.
- Attend with friends or someone who enjoys horse racing. It really makes a difference.
- Gates open at 10:30am but aim to arrive by 12:30-1pm so you can find a spot to see The Queen.
- The first race begins at 2:30pm and the last race is at 5:35pm. There’s Singing Around the Bandstand afterwards but if you’ve had a long day, you can leave just before the last race to avoid traffic. I wanted to attend the last event but I felt it would not be as enjoyable without friends.
I somehow expected the Royal Enclosure to be very exclusive with fewer attendees. But with more than 8,000 Royal Enclosure attendees, I felt overwhelmed being surrounded by so many people. Although it was an exciting experience to dress up, people watch, and to see which horses would win, I left thinking this may be the last horse race I would attend. Maybe the horses aren’t actually hurt but I personally couldn’t watch the jockeys using crops on the horses (I’ve read it doesn’t hurt the horses – others disagree – and these horses are bred to race). The only race I enjoyed was when a horse raced on his own with the rest of the horses. He didn’t win, of course, but at least he appeared to enjoy himself.
Having attended for many years the Royal Enclosure at Ascot and having a car park one berth I will not be returning. The whole Royal Enclosure has been turned into an eating and drinking venue reminiscent of the O2 or Wembley. No elegance whatsoever. Such a pity another landmark taken over by the hoi polloi.
That is such a shame that the Royal Enclosure has lost its elegance. Is there another event or venue that you prefer?