When I was a child I was made to think that with every year that passed individual birthdays would pale into insignificance until only the “big ones” were celebrated. The thought of waiting nine years between my 21st and my 30th birthdays to put on an inflatable crown and eat cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner felt unfathomable. When my birthday rolls around, I don’t even try to veil my glee at having a day that is about me. For the rest of the year, I have a proclivity to prioritise every single other person over myself (which in itself isn’t healthy, but there we go), so by the 23rd of June, I am unashamedly and unapologetically reminiscent of Mariah Carey being wheeled to the stage by six personal assistants feeding her fresh sushi and nectar infused champagne.
It’s by no means the gifts that excite me – in fact I actively invite my loved ones to abandon the quest to find me a present. Rather, it is the opportunity to be with all of the people I love whilst consecutively doing something I really enjoy. This year, that activity was going to Royal Ascot with my best friend Katie for a weekend of horses, pretty dresses, impractical headwear and lots and lots of laughing.
I have been to Royal Ascot once before back in 2017. Conveniently, it always falls very close to my birthday so provides a perfect backdrop for a glamour-fuelled celebration. For people who haven’t been, it would be easy to presume that it is some stuffy rite of poshness where toffs self-congratulatorily don period costume reminiscent of a Dickensian villain to quaff Moet after Moet while horses run around in circles. There may well be an element of truth to this in the Royal Enclosure – not that I would know, I’m a mere peasant after all. However, on both occasions that I’ve visited it’s been a multifaceted, enchanting and rather raucous experience – even for someone who’s a bit gauche like me.
In many ways, Royal Ascot is the apogee of British traditionalism. It has come under fire in recent years for its anachronistic outfit requirements, particularly those which previously prohibited women from wearing trousers or shorts. The meet has since allowed women to wear full-length jumpsuits should they wish as a substitute for a dress or skirt, which to some critics remains an unacceptable, antediluvian compromise which does not reflect the current outfit choices of many women. However, in my opinion I think there is a lot to be said for refusing to yield to the fashion trends du jour. It would be different if this were a workplace or school uniform, however nobody is forced to attend Royal Ascot – visitors do so at their own free will and should do so respecting the vintage essence that underlines the horseracing event. To me, Royal Ascot triumphantly elides elements of romanticised British tradition with inclusive modern culture.
The outfits. Oh, the outfits! Whether opting for the classic full-length frock or going against the grain in a tailored jumpsuit, the outfits dotted around the lawns are the pinnacle of opulence and individualism. Sipping on my second Pimms of the morning, I found myself inaudibly mesmerised while watching the kaleidoscopic throng of vibrant outfits fluorescing in the summer sun. The women looked utterly ethereal and more than ten times I screeched, “That one – that’s my favourite outfit!”.
Tearing myself away from the people-watching, it was nearly impossible not to become subsumed in the electric betting atmosphere. The cacophony of exultant cheers and pitiful commiserations as the victorious racehorse edged their nose over the finish line was rousing enough to make even the most inexperienced of betters part ways with a pound or two. I peaked early, choosing – by complete fluke – the winning horses of the first two races which elicited the most over-reactionary frisson of excitement upon realising I had won £20.95. Collecting my winnings, I felt like P Diddy about to make it rain with my newly acquired wealth, but sadly (inevitably) the streak was short-lived and I lost my bet on every race from there on out. Still, I won more money than I lost so I’m calling that a success…
Midway through the day we paused for an Afternoon Tea at one of the tea rooms overlooking the course. Pre-booking was definitely advisable, as we were seated as soon as the time of our sitting came around. The Afternoon Tea consisted of the normal suspects: a pot of our chosen tea, delectable finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, sweet pastries and cakes, but the piece de resistance was undoubtedly the selection of macarons. Since living in France, I have been a macaron fiend, treating myself to one or two (or six) on any special occasion, so to see these decadently assorted among the choux buns and tartlets was just perfect.
Suitably sated post Afternoon Tea, we continued the day applauding every race until the final nail-biter came to a dramatic end at 17:30, the favourite hurtling around the track in first place only to be pipped to the post in the final furlong. Following the races was the after-party which, as the name would suggest, saw us well into the night time.
Fascinator packed away for another year, I definitely have Ascot blues on this dreary Monday afternoon. Having agreed with Katie that we will, without a doubt, be going again next year, I’m already on a countdown to my 2020 birthday. Now, what am I going to wear?