A Royal Affair

After all my silly forebodings and hat-based hoo-ha, Royal Ascot turned out to be bloomin’ brilliant.

Not least because the following day in Windsor, I found myself standing less than a metre away from the Queen, who gave me a wave, and then I nearly got run over by Prince Philip and his horses!

But first, Royal Ascot. The sun shone brightly, the champagne flowed freely, and fears of the Daily Mail’s ‘Chavscot‘ label appeared to be unfounded. It was feathers and finery as far as the eye could see from our Silks Lawn enclosure (and I even managed a last-minute hat upgrade).


Of course, the day wouldn’t have been complete without at least one character in residence. Sarky Mark had been put in charge to ensure the day ran smoothly and boy, did he take his role seriously. From barking orders, ushering us into taxis and rationing the champagne, he was Head of Field Ops gone crazy.


As drinks were handed out, Sarky Mark came round to explain the toileting procedure. The company had purchased eight special toilet passes (at £100 each!). If you wanted to use the toilet, you had to take a token from the pot on the bar but one must ensure the token went BACK IN THE POT.

Every now and then, he would do a circle of the enclosure, rattling the plastic pot and demanding any toilets tokens to be handed in. One poor guy even got accused of going to the toilet too many times!

At 1.30pm, I began to feel very hungry. I trotted over to Sarky Mark and tentatively asked as to whether any food was coming out. It was. But Sarky Mark was guarding his sandwiches and cakes like a Rottweiler.

He consulted his time sheet. ‘You’ll have to wait until 2pm,’ he said, officiously.

‘We’re doing sandwiches then and the cakes can be eaten at 3pm.’


‘I’ve got very low blood sugar,’ I said, quite truthfully. ‘I can’t wait any longer.’

‘Blood sugar?!” sneered Sarky Mark, scornfully.

He reluctantly handed me a pack of his rationed sandwiches, which I meekly took.

Sarky Mark also doubled up as security. As he was surveying his domain from the sandwich table, he spotted a couple of rogue race-goers entering his private enclosure. Like a guard dog, he was ON IT, instantly escorting the trespassers off the premises.

The problem was that when Sarky Mark left his sandwich post, all hell broke loose. Within two minutes, all his sandwiches had gone and people started on the cake too!

I pottered over to see how Mark was dealing with this cake ambush. He seemed very flustered.

‘You’re back,’ he snarled. ‘You’re like a grazing goat! What could you possibly want now?’

A GRAZING GOAT?! This was corporate hospitality at its finest.

I didn’t dare tell him that I’d lost one of his toilet passes.

The next day, the husband and I rose early. We were going to see Her Majesty The Queen! The owner of the company who had invited us to Ascot had told us that at 10.50am every Sunday morning, the Queen drives herself from Windsor Castle to church in her old green Jaguar.

Apparently, despite the streets of Windsor being chocabloc with tourists, hardly anyone knows this fact, apart from the locals.

When we pitched up at the gate at the top of the Long Walk, there was only a smattering of people milling around. Surely it wasn’t possible that the Queen herself would nonchalantly come driving down here?

Then at 10.47, a single policeman, appeared. He opened the gate. It was happening!

Suddenly a solitary green Jaguar appeared and started down the hill, two pairs of eyes and a little yellow hat peering over the steering wheel. She was coming at speed towards us…


The husband and I waved furiously; she grinned, took her hand of the wheel for a moment and waved back. We were literally so close, the car almost brushed past us.

Trying to wave at the monarch and take pictures in tandem is tricky. But here’s the shots we managed:

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And here’s her regal wave (just for us!)…

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As we pottered back down the back streets, we were so busy chortling about our cool encounter, that the husband and I didn’t notice the horse and cart coming up behind us. We jumped out of the way to avoid being mowed down by four sets of hooves.

I glanced at the man driving it. He was very old. ‘He’s old to be doing tourist trips,’ I mused.

I was busy admiring the matching horses, when the husband hissed, ‘Wait a minute… it’s Prince Philip.’

It WAS Prince Philip! I hastily snapped a couple of pics. It was a dual royal spot.

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An hour later, we ambled back to the Long Walk to watch for the Queen returning from church.

At 12 noon, we saw the green jag in the distance. There she was weaving in and out of pedestrians on The Long Walk, who were completely oblivious that Her Majesty was at the wheel.

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As she drove back up, I waved furiously. I may have even done a little curtsey. She waved back at me again!

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I’m no Royalist but it was one of the best mornings ever.

Mad Hatter

Maybe I’ve seen too many Daily Mail pictures of fleshy women in skin-tight dresses, staggering around bawdily, bowls of fruit perched precariously atop their bleached bonces. Or perhaps, it’s the thought of hoards of hoo-ra Henrys quaffing champagne and braying brashly.

I don’t know what it is about the races but I’ve never had an interest in going whatsoever.

So when the husband arrived home from work and announced: ‘We’ve been invited to Royal Ascot!’, instead of saying ‘Wow. That’s great! How lucky am I?’ – like any normal, grateful being – my response went along the line of: ‘Oh no! Now, I’m going to have to get dressed up and drive to the other end of the country to make small talk to drunken people I don’t know, while some horses canter past in the distance.’

I’d much rather spend my Saturday quietly reading The Guardian, sipping an extra-hot-one-shot latte, and mulling over the merits of Mallorca with me old mucker Malcolm (more on him next week!)

In the maelstrom of the end-of-term madness, I pushed the impending Ascot trip to the back of my mind.

But approximately two days before, I woke in a cold sweat with only one thought on my mind: I needed a hat. It was the ultimate first world problem.

I needed a hat but worse still, I didn’t have time to get a hat. I was up to my eyeballs in writing reports and controlling over-enthusiastic children.

Still, from my limited knowledge of Ascot, I knew that attending sans hat was simply not an option.

I hastily jumped on the Royal Ascot website. ‘Skirts must be of modest length, preferably to the knee. Hats must have a base of at least 4cm,’ it said.

Like a true mad hatter, I hared out of work that night and headed straight to town. I had about one hour to procure a hat, otherwise we had a major problem on our hands.

I don’t know if you’ve ever attempted to panic buy a hat but let me tell you now, it’s a hideous experience. First of all, hardly ANYWHERE actually sells the blasted things. You can’t just nip into your local Marks and Sparks and grab one-off the shelf. All the usual haunts in town led to dead ends. The only thing I could find was this garish fuchsia thing in Topshop, which was the size of Jupiter.


I tried it on. It was HUGE. You could barely see my eyes.

‘Great,’ I thought. ‘No one will try to talk to me because they would just be addressing a giant expanse of pink. I could even tape a copy of the Guardian magazine to the inside of the brim and just sit and read that all day, thus reducing the need to converse with anyone. Perfect!’

I texted my friend Anna the picture. ‘Does this look like a ludicrous sun hat or an acceptably outlandish hat for the races?’

‘Ludicrous sun hat,’ she texted back. ‘Have you not read that Daily Mail’s coverage? It’s too floppy!’


Floppiness aside, in my panic hat buy, I’d forgotten one critical problem: the size of my head. It’s preposterously small. Some mean people even call me ‘pea head’. This was a new problem for me; quite the opposite of the having feet the size of a man.

For one insane moment, I actually toyed with the idea of MAKING a hat. Surely it was just a case of scrunching some papier mache together and gluing a few feathers on the sides? Perhaps I could even top it off with a bunch of plastic grapes?

But before I could begin my millinery mash-up, I suddenly remembered trusty old Debenhams.

I’d been fighting the need to enter Debenhams because I imagined it quite simply sells the dullest, mumsy-est hats imaginable. Up until that point, I’d still been hoping to stumble across a Philip Treacy-inspired piece, preferably at Primark prices.

Now it was a case of beggars can’t be choosers.

Entering Debenhams, I tried on a taupe number. It made me look like some sort of weird air cadet.


I donned a pink flowery cloche, which made me look like a deranged Hyacinth Bucket.


An announcement came over the tannoy. ‘The store will be closing in five minutes.’

I began to feel very, very panicky.

As I exited to street level, another text came through from Anna.

It was a picture of a Saturn-shaped black hat with two peculiar stripy sticks protruding from it.

I texted back. ‘I’ll take it.’