Royal Ascot: Champagne, Shenanigans, and Royalty

This story ends with me walking home near hypothermic and half a sleep. But let’s start back at the beginning.

Originally I wasn’t going to go to Royal Ascot this year. I’d just arrived in London, I was still settling in, and I was still dealing with the sticker shock that comes with moving to this city. It wasn’t like Ascot wouldn’t be held next year. But then one after another my friends started saying that they had bought tickets, and the more I heard about it the more I started to realize that as much as Ascot will still be here next year, where will I be this time next year? Who knows if any of my friends will be going again next year? If you had asked me a year ago where I would be now, I would not have said living in London. So on impulse I bought a ticket.


Officially going to Ascot!

The actual morning of Ascot started in a rush. The group had decided that we would meet for breakfast–a smart move considering the quantities of champagne we knew we were going to be given through out the day. But to have time to eat breakfast before we had to head to the BritBound base to check in meant we had to meet at 7:30, which meant I had to leave the house at 6:30, which meant I needed to be awake at 5:30 if I didn’t want to rush getting ready. I woke up at 6:15.


As Galen so aptly put it, “When your outfit says million bucks but your bank account says chill the fuck out.”

It was madness outside the base when we rocked up to check in. There were 150 people heading out with us that morning and the majority of them were standing out front of the base drinking. Checked in, first glass of champagne of the day in hand, and one selfie with the Queen later we were on bus heading out of the city. More champagne and a stunning view of Windsor Castle as we headed into the race grounds.


On the bus! Where’s the champagne?

In hindsight we should have been more prepared for the day ahead of us. We knew we were able to bring champagne into the race grounds if we brought a picnic lunch with us too–which considering BritBound took care of catering the event actually meant afternoon snack. If we had been prepared in advance we probably could have done all this for half the price, but having not thought this one all the way through we had to go into the town of Ascot and scrounge up whatever we could find–this included exorbitantly priced coolers as Ascot rules stipulate that you must bring all food and drink in either a soft side cooler bag or a proper picnic hamper. The guys picked up boutonnieres from a florist on our way back to our lunch spot and we shared a few premixed G&Ts. Noticing a theme yet? This was 11:30 in the morning, and there were already girls stumbling in their high heels.


We arrived by bus, some people (who have way more money than us) arrived by carraige

I had felt a bit awkward while we were still in London because no one was dressed up that much for that early on a Saturday morning. But when we got to the town of Ascot I felt positively under dressed. People seriously go all out for this event, and I’m not even talking about the people who are going to the more expensive enclosures. Top hats and tails, silk dresses and stilettos. If I go again next year I’m definitely dressing up more than I did this year. Part of it was a lack of planning but it was also partially a budget constraint. The dress I ended up buying was only £30 from H&M, and even that was a bit of a stretch. One great decision I made was to wear flat shoes. You stand on grass a lot which is not great when combined with stiletto heels. Flat shoes and a jacket are definite musts. Unless you plan to find a guy, lean on him and borrow his jacket. If that is your plan then, please, as you were.


What Ascot really looks like. Photos by me, Brandon O’Toole, and BritBound

BritBound put on an awesome lunch and though it had started with having to go back to the tent to get a champagne refill, by the end we were just taking bottles back to our groups. I knew my skill in opening champagne bottles would come in handy at some point! Even after lunch we stayed where we were for a bit longer rather than going into the race ground right away. We were going to see the Queen. Seriously, we walked about 50 meters to the fence and watched the whole royal procession go by. We couldn’t have been more than 10 meters away from the Queen when she rolled by and only separated by a chain link fence. She waved at us, we cheered. Yep, I’ve now seen royalty in person.


Yeah, we got to see the Queen! This awesome photo by Brandon O’Toole

We did eventually go into the race grounds themselves. It was very much like trying to maneuver through the crowd at an outdoor festival–just everyone is dressed much nicer and everything is much cleaner. We grabbed a spot by the rail settled in. This is where all the supplies we had bought came in handy. There was champagne, cigars, and strawberries. I placed one bet (just £2) and lost. Got myself lost on the way back from the bathroom–which is notable only for the fact that I have never seen a line up for the ladies room quite like this.


Seriously, this was the queue for the ladies room

The inevitable conclusion to a day spent drinking that much champagne is that by the time we left I was absolutely done and slept most of the way back to London. Though some individuals much stronger than me headed on to the after party, I just went home. I was so cold by that point that I was half a sleep and shaking the whole way back. Completely drained, I put on my warmest sweater and climbed into bed to watch Netflix and attempt to be warm again.

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The Queen and Shenanigans! Photos by Brandon O’Toole and BritBound

Will I be doing Ascot again next year? Hell yes. It was a great day spent with some great friends. What I realized was that though there are some people who do come to Ascot for the actual races, the majority of us are coming for a fun day out and an excuse to get dressed up. Its a mixture of pageantry and drunken shenanigans. It was also one of those moments that remind me that I am living in England. Now that I work full time and I no longer struggle to find my way around the city I sometimes forget that I live in another country. It is simply home now. The place where I still have to go to work, buy groceries, and do laundry. But when you are sitting at the top of a red double decker bus, wearing a fascinator, driving through London, on your way to Ascot, you are suddenly struck by how British everything is. It is the incredulous moment of, “I can’t believe I’m here.” Next year I’ll be more organized and I’ll take that opportunity to really dress up more. Hopefully there is a bit more sun so I don’t get cold again…or I could just find a guy to lend me his jacket, which does sound like the more fun option.