A Beginner's Guide To London's Social Season or How To Survive Royal Ascot
London is a ever fascinating town. There is always something to see or something going on. No time is this more true than in the spring. They refer to May and June as "the season". Royal events, galas, Royal Ascot, Henley, Wimbledon and regal garden parties. Of course the dress, protocol and the invites to attend are strict and are hard to come by. But I am going to let you in on how this Canadian girl came to London and got invited to these royal events... became the Queen's biggest stalker ...AND more importantly how you can too.
For five days one of the world's most prestigious horse races takes place at Ascot (pronounced As-kit), just outside of London. Did you ever see My Fair Lady? Eliza Dolittle's unsuccessful "coming out"? It was at Royal Ascot. The Queen and many of the royal family are in attendance as is everyone whose anyone on the the British social scene. Although you can buy tickets to this event you cannot buy your way into the Royal Enclosure where we and all the other high society muckity mucks dined, sipped champagne and bet on the ponies.
Dining At Royal Ascot
There are several options of dining experiences. We pre-ordered a delicious Fortnum & Mason picnic basket that included, hot smoked salmon and new potato salad, confit duck and ham terrine, asparagus quiche, cornish leaf salad, herb crusted chicken breast, British cheeses, Elderflower Berry Jelly and napolitains for dessert. Yum. It was all washed down with a chilled Saint Véran. We noshed in the Queen Anne's Enclosure. No picnicking is allowed no matter how posh inside the Royal Enclosure.
What was a fantastic dining option of many of the regular attendees was the most elegant tail-gate parties in the parking lot prior to entering the enclousure. This is totally different than the American football tailgate parties I was more aware of and there was not a single John Deere baseball cap or Bud Lite in sight. They would set up marquees beside their cars and bring out the crystal glasses, linen table cloths, flowers and an incredible picnic feast. Next time (if there is a next time) it would be the thing to do. There are also several restaurants you could pre-book your lunch at one of two seatings, including a two Michelin star chef at one (of course). £££££
Dress Code - Royal Enclosure
There is a very, very strict formal dress code... and to think this is technically just going to the track.. Men had to dress in either a grey or black morning suit, vest, tie (no ascot ironically at Ascot), black shoes with socks and a top hat of either grey or black.
Women had to wear a dress that covered at least one inch of the their shoulders, a hem line that went no more than one inch above their knees or lower. A hat (no fascinators) of no less than 10cc (4 inches) to cover the crown of your head. That is a dress code with a lot of math. Recently they relaxed their rules and have allowed open toes shoes or sandals but my big recco is wear a comfy chucky heels or wedges. Your pointy heals will have you sinking into the turf all afternoon.
And even though attending Ascot was a shopping excuse if ever there was one I really had a hard time finding something I loved with exactly those parameters. I also had to come to grips that sadly I may not be a hat person. Sigh. But the kids below...well they are rocking their lids.
The Queen's Garden Party
The Queen throws three of these regal garden parties in Buckingham Palace gardens each year. The guest list is made up of many a person who has a done a good deed or heavily involved in a charity. So I know what you are thinking, what was I doing there? Good question. Secret to be revealed in time. Is it just me or is this girl in the background totally crushing on Prince William?
The Queen and some of the Royal Family entered exactly at 4:00 to the band playing God Save The Queen and she walked through the gardens meeting some of the extreme good-doers. If you haven't seen this on my Instagram (or the BBC news) check out the most embarrassing moment of my life ever caught on camera as I will stop at nothing to get my selfie with the Queen. I am certain I will not be asked back next year.
Not as strict as Ascot but pretty close. Women needed to be in a 'respectable" dress, pantsuit or national costume. A hat or fascinator is encouraged and if ever you need to break out those chucky heals (which I did not do cause they didn't match my dress) this is the place. You are standing on grass most of the time. Men could wear a suit or a military uniform.
As it was a garden party everything served did not require a knife or fork. A variety or finger sandwiches like cucumber, smoked salmon, chopped egg were on offer plus a delicious array of cakes, eclairs, tarts and of course the British classic Victoria Sponge cake. Drinks were either tea, iced coffee, water or lemonade.
Trooping Of Colour
Trooping Of Colour is the Queen's Official birthday celebration in June, which of course has nothing to do with her real birthday on April 22st. The Queen, the Royal family, all her soldiers and guards parade from Buckingham Palace to The Royal Horseguard where she inspects the troops. Parades, pageantry and military protocol at its finest. Once inspection is completed, and I personally wonder if she noticed a few of those poor palace guards fainted from heat with those black furry hats tightly adhered to their chins, they parade back up to Buckingham Palace where her and the royal family stand on the balcony, wave to the crowd and watch the Royal British Airforce do a dramatic fly-by.
Although thousands of people freely line the streets to watch the display, we did have VIP access to the ceremony at the Royal Horseguards and were able to stand right in front of the palace gates to watch the royals watch us.
So unless you are a member of a registered tennis club in the UK , a celeb or The Royal Family, Wimbledon tickets are just about the hardest ticket to get. People actually camp out to take the chance on getting a few of the seats they release on the day or returns that they resale. But wait...I am sitting at Centre Court watching Nadal play and isn't that me eating strawberries and cream?
So how did I get here? Well those who know me know I did not camp out. A lot of people don't know that they release an undisclosed amount of tickets at 9:00AM the day before the game through Ticketmaster UK. So at 8:59 AM I was poised to hit "buy" and we got ourselves reserved seats on Centre Court. Not sure what the odds are...but it is doable and I am proof. Cost £60 a ticket.
Could not get any better view of tennis than we did right here. Watching Canadian Shapovalov win against France's Jeremy Chardy.
And...clearly not only we were enjoying watching the tennis it seems like the tennis enjoyed watching us as we got live messages to wave to the camera as we were being broadcast live by TSN from the game. Good thing I wasn't doing something untoward, it has been known to happen, just look at me at the Garden Party.
So I shared how you could get on centre court at Wimbledon so now the secret to access to the others.
If you are a citizen of a commonwealth country and you are planning on visiting or living in London you are eligible for a lottery to get VIP access. As a Canadian, our consulate Canada House announces dates in the spring which you can enter the lottery to win. So either I have been very lucky or no too many people know about it...until now. To enquire subscribe to their monthly newsletter that keeps you up to date on the royal events and social season, although sadly royal weddings did not come into play. With the exception of Ascot all the royal events were free. Ascot's lottery just gave us a invitation as guests of Canada to purchase tickets inside the Royal Enclosure and premier parking, something that you cannot buy yourself into. A big shout out to Canada House for being so awesome. This has been a terrific royal social season that has got me some great memories plus bought me my first hat that didn't scream "giddy-up" or "batter-up".
So if you live in London or just visiting in May or June keep this little secret in mind and maybe I will see you next year as we "do the season". Hopefully that will be enough time for her Majesty to lift her restraining order against me.
God Bless The Queen.