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Queen Anne and the magic of Ascot

Jerry Hall with fellow model Marie Helvin at Ascot in 1982. Hulton Archive/Getty

“The British at play is a sight to behold,” says Fergus Butler-Gallie in the Evening Standard, and rarely do they play harder than at Royal Ascot. The annual five-day horse racing festival, which is taking place this week, dates back to the reign of Queen Anne in the 18th century. An avid believer that the “strongest protection a monarch could have was the affection of their people”, Anne won the love of the masses by founding multiple racecourses and not taxing gin, “one of her favourite drinks”. The late Queen Elizabeth, a big fan of racing, was known to jump up and down “with fervid excitement” when a horse she owned was competing.

But Ascot is far more than a “monarchical gathering”. Where other events in the traditional social calendar have fizzled out, Ascot hasn’t, because it’s a “true melting pot”. Here, you will find “peers rubbing shoulders with package handlers”, and the world’s greatest jockeys alongside “some of the world’s worst givers of racing tips”. As the booze works its magic, those who begin in the grander parts of the event find themselves drawn, almost gravitationally, to the bandstand, where mass singing breaks out at the end of the day. “If a tuneless bellowing of Robbie Williams’s Angels isn’t a class leveller then I don’t know what is.”

🩲👎 There have long been battles over Ascot’s dress codes. In 1971 the “nation’s premier peer”, the Duke of Norfolk, was “forced to make explicit” that hot pants were “banned from any and all enclosures”.