Keeping Up Appearances. June 2013.

Dear Rowley,

Congratulations to The Queen who is the first reigning monarch to win the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in the race’s 207-year history. Thanks to the zoom lens, it was rather a picture to see the 87-year old monarch cheering home Estimate and suppressing a tear when waving home her winning jockey Ryan Moore from the Royal Box. It has always struck me that The Queen appears entirely at her ease at the Royal Meeting. She is among her own – the racing fraternity – for whom she is highly respected primarily as a supremely informed owner rather than HM The Queen.

Didn’t HM look absolutely marvellous on Gold Cup day in the French lavender coat dress and hat designed by her personal assistant Mrs Kelly? What we didn’t see – and rarely do – is the floral silk day dress worn underneath echoed in the floral trim that bloomed above and below the brim of The Queen’s hat. Mrs Kelly is almost entirely responsible for The Queen’s ‘new age of elegance’ and a prettiness in Her Majesty’s wardrobe that two decades ago was more of a practical uniform of blocked colours and hats without a hint of frivolity.

Ogling The Queen’s brooch was always a preoccupation of mine at Ascot. For Gold Cup day HM chose to wear the amethyst and diamond brooch from the Duchess of Kent parure: a piece of jewellery introduced to the royal collection by Queen Victoria’s rather tiresome mother. At first glance I thought it might be the Albert sapphire brooch – set for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert as a wedding gift in 1840 – but the French lavender coat was obviously asking for the Duchess of Kent’s amethyst. Mind you, the Albert Brooch came out of the vaults for Day 4.

Interesting, isn’t it, which members of the family have become favourites at Royal Ascot not least the Duchess of Cornwall and the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie. The Duchess of Cambridge looked terrific on Day 2 in a green silk Anna Valentine coat dress falling into knife pleats from the pockets and a dramatic gold straw Philip Treacy hat with a broad sinuous brim and and two twirling pennants flying skyward. I’m not well-versed in the late Queen Mother’s jewellery collection but would suspect the emerald drop brooch belonged to Prince Charles’s beloved grandmama.

It has always been a mystery why the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie choose dresses cinched at the waist that balloon into short prom skirts and fiddly little hats. Terribly difficult for a young lady to wear formal day dress and not look like the bride’s mother and yet the Countess of Wessex always appears the apogee of elegance at Royal Ascot. The beige New Look silhouette she wore on Day 2 with a matching flying saucer hat trimmed with corkscrew curls of fuscia pink won best in show the moment you saw the Countess in the carriage procession.

Perhaps the point is the royal party now looks like a rather happier family than it has for a long time. It’s rather a nice touch to see the Middletons in the royal carriage procession even though to my knowledge Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge have never yet been guests of The Queen in the royal party. They’ve been at the Derby often enough but never the Royal Meeting.

The Middle Eastern Sheikhs seem to be appearing at Ascot in ever-increasing numbers. Of course Sheikh Mohammad and Princess Haya are favourites at Ascot: he as one of the most successful owners, she as a fashion icon and both as friends of The Queen. The Crown Prince of Jordan was in the royal procession today in The Queen’s carriage with his Crown Princess wearing little more than a tuft of feathers that entirely contravened dress codes for the Royal Enclosure. It would be a brave steward who challenged her, don’t you think?

The Al Thani Sheikhs have just had a winner not least for a super lemon linen waistcoat with white slips and black morning coat that looks like an Anderson & Sheppard special. The men in the Parade Ring really are becoming peacocks – perhaps in homage to the late Sir Henry Cecil – and the vinyl polish of antique silk top hats dominates one of the most picturesque scenes of the London Season.

I haven’t seen an awful lot of the Channel 4 coverage of the Royal Meeting but think Emma Spencer looks superb and wears her formidable knowledge with ease. Nick Luck could be the new picture in my locket, Rishi has always been a great favourite and Clare quite simply is Royal Ascot. To bag a line from Blackadder, ‘Royal Ascot without Clare Balding would be like a broken pencil: pointless’.

As you know I miss the Royal Meeting very much but on the plus side my fabulous partner-in-crime Suzi Perry is in town next week so we’ll have a catch up over a sharing plate of something raw and salty at Nobu Berkeley. She is doing brilliantly at the Beeb as main anchor for Formula 1 and has been flying round the world like Pam Ann so we’ve not caught up this year. Can’t wait to see the fox on the box again.

What else is new on the Rialto? We’re on the home straight with the Royal St. James’s book so I really shouldn’t be watching Ryan Moore win the King Edward VII Stakes. Speaking of which, ‘Edward the Caresser’ did win the Gold Cup at Ascot in 1897 with Persimmon but he wasn’t yet crowned hence The Queen being the first reigning winner in the race’s history. Anyway, that’s quite enough Swinley Bottom for one day as Lillie Langtry once said to the Prince of Wales. Until next time…