Ladies’ Day at Ascot today: and I don’t think I could say it better than I did the first time. Join me as we bawl ecstatically at Dover to move his bloomin’ a***.
It comes around, every June, regular as clockwork, a chance to put on the heels, get on the train, have a few flute-glasses of Bolly as the horses hare around, and fall out of a posh frock.
My husband’s Facebook update last Ascot said it all.
“I love going through Ascot station when the races are on,” he wrote. ” Last night there was a lady in a lovely dress with a very posh hat. She was laughing when the police helped her onto the train, though her make-up suggested she’d been crying at some point, and she only had one shoe.”
In these posh parts we spend some time snorting with laughter at the expense of the little secretaries from Ewell and Guildford who pile off the train at Ascot station, warpaint applied and ready for their day-as-a-toff.
But the toffs are fewer and further between at the royal races than you might suppose.
It all started well. Queen Anne, who did love to ride through her Windsor forests, was out one day when she came to a place called East Cote. She found a stretch on the open heathland which, she said, looked perfect “for horses to gallop at full stretch.”.
That same year, on August 11th the first races were held.
The royal connection ensured that this event has its enduring place not just in our sporting, but our social calendar. Royal Ascot is one of a handful of places where a showgirl can pick up a prince, the legend goes.
We call women who seek out financial security by marriage gold diggers. But for centuries, that was the way it was done. In Jane Eyre, the governess marries the nobleman. In Pride and Prejudice, a clever middle class girl with a nightmare family bags one of the wealthiest landowners in society.
But of course, they were very much middle class. I distinctly remember Thornfield’s housekeeper insisting Jane was the only person in the house who could supply refined conversation. The other servants didn’t figure.
Working class: now that’s another matter. Terence Rattigan, that sublime understated playwright who brought us The Winslow Boy, had a knack of homing in on our deepest hopes and fears.
Lawrence Olivier and Marylin Munroe take Rattigan’s story, ‘The Sleeping Prince’, and weave it tightly into the fabric of our modern folklore. It became The Prince and The Showgirl.
Prince Regent Charles of Carpathia is among them, with his son the young King Nicolas. They are taken to see a show: and Charles falls for one of the performers, Elsie Marina. It appears to be love at first sight.
Munro’s character enchants Charles and the queen mother not just with her beauty and ingenue, but also with people skills that help save a national incident.
Do we secretly feel that these courteous people in their ivory towers need their gene pools stirring up a little? they can remedy this by marrying a commoner. Not a member of the merchant classes, but the salt of the earth at the bottom of the pile.
Which is where Dover and his bloomin’ a*** come in.
Clever George Bernard Shaw: to explore without resolution the relationship between the bottom and top echelons of society.
Eliza, the flower girl from Covent Garden, is scooped up by Henry Higgins and equipped with all the skills to advance herself in the top social strata of society. Her appearance at Royal Ascot is iconic. She’s doing so well until she bawls at her horse, Dover, to move his behind, in no uncertain terms.
The Ascot train today carries more than a gaggle of clerks and secretaries. It trundles along the tracks which lead from everyday life to privilege; from the monthly pay cheque to large inheritances. Even on the train, matchmaking- however fleeting- begins.
At the close of Ladies’ Day today, most alight the train, their circumstances unchanged and, like Phil’s lady, a little the worse for wear.
Perhaps Ascot is a little like buying a lottery ticket: perchance, to dream.
ll the while, bawling at Dover to move his blooming a***.
Picture source here