• Bridget Donaldson

Royal Ascot: How to do the Royal Enclosure

Ascot Racecourse was first founded in 1711 by Queen Anne and has since become an international stadium, hosting 26 flat race meetings each year. It lies just a 40-minute train journey from the centre of London in the leafy county of Berkshire and plays host to the annual 5 day event known as Royal Ascot. The event which we know and love today for its magnificent pageantry, wonderful traditions and rigid dress code came into existence in 1911 when the introduction of Royal Week saw a week long racing event on the third week of every June. Over time this became Royal Ascot. Each year, Royal Ascot is attended by Her Majes the Queen, who has a number of her own horses competing each year, as well as other members of the Royal Family such as Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince William, Prince Harry, Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and many more. The Royals arrive at precisely 2pm of each day in horse-drawn carriages to the tune of the National Anthem and the raising of the Royal Standard, closely followed by the first race of the day. Royal Ascot is a major event in the British social calendar with press coverage often focussing on the Royal Enclosure attendance list and their outfit choices rather than the actual racing.

After recent redevelopment, Ascot Racecourse boasts the biggest horse racing track and grandstand in the world with an almost shopping centre-like feel inside, littered with lifts and crisscrossed escalators which transport you throughout the magnificent structure onto multitudes of different floors housing several bars, restaurants, boxes and hospitality areas. It’s no surprise that many believe it resembles a small airport as it has played the role of 3 airports in James Bond films over the years, most recently as Shanghai Airport in Skyfall. Amongst this maze of metal and glass lies the Royal Box, housed within the Royal Enclosure and reserved exclusively for members of the Royal Family and identifiable by a line-up of bronze medallions above the door featuring images of past monarchs.

Royal Enclosure Badges

Royal Ascot, the Queen's official thoroughbred race meeting is attended by over 300,000 people each year. The event is divided into four enclosures, each with different atmospheres, dress codes and entry stipulations. Firstly, the Windsor Enclosure, with a relaxed atmosphere and no dress code other than a ban on ‘replica shirts’, it is by far the largest, occupying the biggest proportion of the racecourse lawn and the biggest proportion of racegowers. The Windsor Enclosure is a rather casual affair, housing pop up bars, food stalls, live bands and a buzzing atmosphere.

Secondly, there lies the Village Enclosure, slightly smarter with the dress code but with the same vibe as the Windsor Enclosure and only available Thursday – Saturday. The Village enclosure was only opened in 2017.

Thirdly, we have the Queen Anne Enclosure, otherwise known as the Grandstand and the equivalent of flying premium economy. This is known as the premier public enclosure where guests are able to have views of the racetrack as well as the parade ring. Tickets are slightly pricier than the previous two enclosures and a more formalised dress code exits where men are encouraged to wear a suit, and ladies, a headpiece of some sort.

The final and most famous enclosure is the Royal Enclosure, the business class of Royal Ascot, topped only by First Class taking the form of the Royal Box. The Royal Enclosure houses approximately 2% of Royal Ascot visitors and entry has long been fraught with mystery and rumour as this area houses the badge wearing upper echelons of society and celebrities alike. Entry as a guest is strictly by invitation only from a current member and to become a member yourself, you must first write to the Royal Enclosure Office and provide two letters of recommendation from at least two exiting members of the Royal Enclosure who have themselves been members of the Royal Enclosure for several years. A member is only permitted to make two recommendations per year. Once the Royal Enclosure Office is in receipt of all of the necessary paperwork, you must wait patiently for a decision to be made which may or may not be a positive one. Enquiring on the status of your application is not recommended.

For those unable to obtain membership or those who are not fortunate enough to know a member who can invite them as a guest, there aren’t many options on the table. It was once rumoured that booking a luncheon reservation at one of the many premium restaurants housed within the Royal Enclosure would obtain you a daily guest badge. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be true and any reservation without an official Royal Enclosure badge will be in vain.

If indeed, you do find yourself lucky enough to blag an invite, there is a strict dress code in place, and any oversight in this will result in entry being refused. First of all, every member or guest of the Royal Enclosure, including all members of the Royal Family (except the Queen) must wear a badge. All badges are handwritten and the handwriting is checked closely on entry into the enclosure. Men must wear traditional morning dress of either a black or grey tailcoat, striped trousers, a waistcoat and a top hat which is to be worn always and only removed in the confines of a restaurant. Ladies must wear a dress of modest length, which is to be on the knee or below and must have straps of at least 1 inch in diameter covering each shoulder. Jumpsuits have recently been allowed but are not especially popular at present. Ladies must also wear a hat and there are size dimensions on this too – the base of the hat or headpiece must be at least 4 inches in diameter and fascinators are strictly not permitted.

Regardless of the rigorous dress code, an experience in the Royal Enclosure is well worth the effort for the magical atmosphere and the ability to brush shoulders with the royals as well as many a celebrity whilst watching some of the most exciting thoroughbred horse racing the world over.

The Royal Enclosure Dress Code

The Royal Enclosure boasts a plethora of beautiful bars and restaurants for a range of different prices, typically starting at around £50 per person for lunch. We dined at the Caviar House and Prunier Seafood Bar on Level 4 overlooking the parade ring and which I can definitely recommend! Afternoon Tea is available from several restaurants and if you’re simply looking for a quick hit of coffee then Lavazza has 4 cafes across all floors of the Royal Enclosure. There are also several takeaway options available with fish and chips being served at J. Sheekeys or you can also grab a heavenly lobster roll from the Equiano Terrace. Another popular option is to pre-order a Fortnum & Mason’s picnic for two which comes with all food, crockery and cutlery as well as a bottle of English sparkling wine, and presented in a signature F&M picnic basket. This little ensemble will set you back a very reasonable £150 if purchased from Ascot directly as opposed to £495 directly from the department store itself. The only catch being that you cannot consume the contents within the confines of the Royal Enclosure and must instead, collect it and consume it within the Queen Anne Enclosure.

The Royal Enclosure is best enjoyed early. Aim to get there around 1pm in order to enjoy a drink or two at one of the many bars, without the hustle and bustle which will soon descend upon the place. Place a bet on the colour of Her Majesty’s outfit if you so wish and relax on one of the many benches scattered across the lawn in front of the Grandstand.

At precisely 1.45pm, be sure to head up to the rail in time to see the queen’s carriage procession pass by closer than you could possibly imagine and then proceed back into the garden for a glass of champagne before placing a bet on the first race. This year I attended Ladies Day, traditionally always held on a Thursday and the day of the Gold Cup. The Queen, Princess Anne and Princess Eugenie along with several other minor Royals took part in the royal procession. If you’re really keen on spotting royals then Tuesday is usually the best day for this, although the Queen does attend every day of Royal Ascot.

If you’re so inclined, watch a few races whether you put a bet on or not, sip another glass of Champagne, watch another race tactically head to one of the bars or restaurants which have a balcony overlooking the parade ring in order to see the Queen present a trophy or perhaps the Gold Cup to the winning owners and jockeys. Whether you stay a few hours or the entire day, the experience will make memories that will last a lifetime.

Caviar House and Prunier Seafood Bar

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