Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Royal Ascot: Lords and My Fair Ladies swan about in style

June 24, 2013 -- Updated 1015 GMT (1815 HKT)
Don't let the demure appearance fool you. Audrey Hepburn, better known as Eliza Doolittle in 1964 film My Fair Lady, knew how to scream obscenities with the best of them -- especially at the races. Don't let the demure appearance fool you. Audrey Hepburn, better known as Eliza Doolittle in 1964 film My Fair Lady, knew how to scream obscenities with the best of them -- especially at the races.
HIDE CAPTION
Fairest of them all
Ladylike behavior?
Royal reception
Not your average marquee
Tight security
Fit for a queen
Fashion police
High society
Class divide
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Britain's most prestigious race meeting, Royal Ascot, is held over five days every June
  • It was made famous in Audrey Hepburn's 1964 film, My Fair Lady
  • The Royal Enclosure is the most exclusive viewing area for the racing
  • Guests include Queen Elizabeth and the creme de la creme of high society

Editor's note: Winning Post is CNN's monthly horse racing show. Click here for program times and latest features.

(CNN) -- "C'mon Dover! Move yer bloomin' arse!"

And with that, the exquisitely dressed Audrey Hepburn -- playing common Cockney girl Eliza Doolittle -- smashes her genteel demeanor to smithereens, horrifying the lords and ladies gathered at Britain's most prestigious race meeting.

So scandalous is Hepburn's legendary outburst in the Oscar-winning 1964 film, My Fair Lady, one nearby aristocrat actually faints in shock.

It may seem like an overblown reaction -- by today's standards, Hepburn isn't even swearing -- but the famous scene at Royal Ascot, which kicked off on Tuesday, points to the strict protocol still permeating the historic 300-year-old horse race.

Fashion and glamor at Royal Ascot
Animal Kingdom loses final race
The rising star of French racing

This, after all, is the same five-day racing festival which opens with Queen Elizabeth II parading around the track in an elegant horse-drawn carriage.

And where does Her Majesty watch the famous competition? None other than the very same stand where Hepburn bellowed her outrageous obscenities -- the Royal Enclosure.

A class above

As the name suggests, the Royal Enclosure isn't just for any old riff-raff. This is the exclusive viewing area for royals, lords, and of course, fair ladies.

Of the 280,000 people who attend Ascot each year, just 12,000 can be found hobnobbing in the plush Royal Enclosure each day.

To enter the luxury area, you must be sponsored by someone who has attended at least four times.

Once inside, expect to rub shoulders with British high society's crème de le crème -- everyone from the royal family to business magnates and film stars.

Read: Royal Ascot offers record $7.5m prize

"It's a private club," Nick Smith, Royal Ascot head of communications, told CNN.

"But getting into the Royal Enclosure is not a class divide," Smith insisted. "In fact, we're trying to encourage more people, especially young people, to join."

Others, however, see Ascot as the very embodiment of the British class system -- from the cheapest tickets in the Silver Ring Enclosure, to the standard Grandstand, and finally the best seats in the house, the Royal Enclosure.

"Arriving at Royal Ascot is a very much like boarding an aeroplane," wrote British journalist Andrew Baker.

Royal Ascot: In numbers

245 private viewing boxes

400 VIP helicopters

1,000 visitors' limousines

51,000 bottles of champagne

174,000 pints of beer

5,000 kilograms of salmon

2,050 lobsters

8,000 Angus steaks



"You turn left for the expensive end of things -- the Royal Enclosure and the grandstands' snootier reaches -- or right for economy class, which is epitomized by the Silver Ring."

Behind the velvet rope

So what exactly does a $560 five-day ticket to the Royal Enclosure get you? Apart from obvious bragging rights, the exclusive area features seating on the Grandstand's fourth floor, offering the best views of the course.

Then there are the glamorous garden marquees adorned with chandeliers and paintings as well as five-course lunches including such delicacies as peeled quail eggs in pink salt and lobster vinaigrette.

However, calling them "marquees" is a bit of an understatement -- these sleek white structures are so huge they even include escalators and industrial kitchens.

Read: Melbourne Cup -- Supermodel who scandalized a nation

For the first time this year, Royal Enclosure ticket-holders can also lounge in one of 25 trackside gazebos, with room for 12 people and offering waiter service plus prized car parking spaces immediately next door -- all for the princely sum of $780.

Dressed to impress

All eyes will be on the Queen's horse Estimate on Thursday. The filly won a Group Three race at last year's royal meeting but her outing in the Gold Cup represents a big step up in class.

The Queen has not tasted Group One success in Britain since Dunfermline captured the St. Leger Stakes in 1977 -- her Silver Jubilee year.

Gold Cup Day is synonymous with "Ladies' Day" -- when the designer dresses and millinery masterpieces are just as much a focus as the horse racing.

And much like Hepburn's iconic white lace dress and swooping feathered hat, Royal Enclosure guests must follow strict fashion protocol or risk being turned away.

The plush enclosure has the strictest dress rules on the race course: women must wear hats, or failing that, a headpiece with a 10-centimeter base.

Fascinators -- small ornaments attached to a headband -- are a no-no.

As are strapless, off-the-shoulder and halter neck tops. All straps must also be at least one inch thick.

Read: Royal regulations for Ascot's fashionistas

Likewise, men are required to wear waistcoats, ties and top hats.

In comparison, the Silver Ring Enclosure, which offers $45 daily tickets, simply requires its racegoers to wear smart clothes, with a reminder that "bare chests are not permitted at any time."

Grand tradition

Dating back to the 1820s, the Royal Enclosure was originally a two-story stand commissioned by King George IV, with only those receiving a personal invitation from His Highness getting a look-in.

Such was the exclusivity of the enclosure, it was only in 1955 that divorcees were allowed to enter.

"Its charm is that it's so steeped in history," said Smith. "It started as a very private affair for the royal family -- basically an individual stand with a viewing garden."

"Today it's much more than a single entity -- there are the grandstands, marquees, private boxes. You will probably see the Queen there -- Her Majesty has her own official guest pen (enclosure)."

So what would the Queen have made of Hepburn's outburst? One can only guess Her Highness would not have been amused.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 4, 2014 -- Updated 1035 GMT (1835 HKT)
Amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen is perhaps best known for helping to resurrect Prince William's relationship with Kate Middleton.
March 28, 2014 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Meydan Entrance
The $10 million Dubai World Cup takes place at the Meydan Racecourse, which is a suitable setting for the world's richest horse racing day.
March 28, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
He's created some of the world's biggest shows, so it's only fitting Andrew Lloyd Webber will be in the limelight on Dubai's big-money day.
March 26, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
The world's richest horse race is the highlight of Dubai's social calendar, attracting 60,000 fans from around the globe.
March 20, 2014 -- Updated 1203 GMT (2003 HKT)
Former champion jockey Richard Dunwoody has gone from riding winners to traveling the world in his second career as a photographer.
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Wonder horse Frankel has retired but his $200,000 offspring are already been tipped as future racing stars -- to the delight of his jockey.
March 4, 2014 -- Updated 1313 GMT (2113 HKT)
Michael Owen arrives at Ascot 2012
How do you replace the adrenaline rush of scoring one of the greatest goals in World Cup history when your football career ends?
February 27, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
A Scottish artist has captured the pomp and pageantry of Royal Ascot in a collage that represents "what I love about being British."
February 26, 2014 -- Updated 1618 GMT (0018 HKT)
CNN's Francesca Cumani meets Faleh Bogunaim -- a Qatari rider who is making a name for himself.
February 25, 2014 -- Updated 1508 GMT (2308 HKT)
CNN's Francesca Cumani explores how Qatar's royal family has impacted the global horse racing scene.
February 13, 2014 -- Updated 1436 GMT (2236 HKT)
It's been a long time coming. A very long time. But S'manga Khumalo is proving that black jockeys can hold the whip hand in South Africa.
February 7, 2014 -- Updated 1603 GMT (0003 HKT)
It needed permission from the British monarch and may anger traditionalists, but one of racing's most regal occasions has crossed the rubicon.
ADVERTISEMENT