A drunken brawl, a celebrity call girl and tattooed men (and women)... whatever happened to a genteel day out at Ascot?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

By Rebecca Evans

For 300 years, it has been the highlight of the summer calendar for the well-off and well-connected.

But these days, it seems, the enclosures and stands of Royal Ascot are becoming increasingly popular with a much less distinguished breed of racegoer.

As the Queen’s favourite racing event celebrates its tricentenary, fights have been breaking out amongst the male racegoers at the historic Berkshire course, watched by worse for wear women who can barely stay upright in their high heels.

A quick glance across the terraces reveals a sea of flesh and unsightly tattoos – of women in cheap, tawdry dresses and men who have shunned the expected top hat.

Lowering the tone: A fight breaks out between racegoers, with one man, left, wielding a champagne bottle and another, right, clutching a broken chair

Broken chairs and glasses litter the scene and the man is still wielding the champagne bottle as another man shields his face

Getting nasty: Spectators throw drinks - and punches as onlookers watch in horror

Many believe that the social fixture, once a prestigious highlight of the summer season, is becoming as bawdy as the meetings at Aintree and Cheltenham.

Yesterday was Gold Cup Day, commonly known as Ladies’ Day, but there was little evidence of ladylike – or gentlemanly – behaviour as the event ended in two arrests.
In a blatant disregard for Ascot’s strict behavioural code, a drunken brawl broke out by a Victorian band stand.

Eight men started to fight on the lawn by a champagne bar just yards from the The Royal Mile, Ascot’s home straight. Terrified racegoers fled to avoid being struck by stray punches as the drunken group, some egged on by female friends, armed themselves with bottles and chair legs.

The men, who had been drinking £98 bottles of Laurent Perrier Rose Champagne, ended up being pulled apart by members of the military.

Sophie Healy, 25, from Windsor, who witnessed the fracas, said: ‘I can remember one guy saying, “Are you mugging me off [insulting me]?”

Ouch: A racegoer takes a tumble clutching his head as he hits the floor, and right, his blood-spattered suit

Man down! One racegoer clutches his head in agony whilst another desperately grabs on to another man's leg in an attempt to floor him

What's going on here then? Members of the military step in to sort out the drama as one man holds another man in a headlock

And they're off! The fight caused such a disturbance dozens of racegoers stop to watch

‘The tone of his voice was really aggressive and then they started pushing and shoving.

‘We got out of the way and then suddenly our table, with a newly-bought bottle of champagne, went flying.

‘Things turned really nasty with one man wielding a broken chair leg and another had a bottle of champagne.’

In a separate incident, a man was arrested for hitting another racegoer in the face in the car park.

And a 24-year-old man was also arrested for possession of Class B drugs – as it emerged that racecourse bosses have installed a drugs honesty box by the gates to give visitors the chance to hand over any narcotics before entering the grounds.

Also lowering the tone yesterday was Helen Wood, the vice girl who was once involved with footballer Wayne Rooney.

Miss Wood, who attended because the festival is a ‘great place to be seen’, wore a backless, floor-length champagne-coloured gown.

New face of Ascot: A tattooed man watches from the Grandstand and vice girl Helen Wood, right

Over the top: Yet another tattoo and, right, another guest shows off her body art and fake tan

The 24-year-old, who is the subject of an injunction after having sex with a famous actor, flouted protocol by neglecting to wear a hat as she sauntered around the grounds posing for photographers.

And other racegoers seemed equally determined to disregard Ascot’s guidelines on smart dress, which explicitly warn against the perils of over-done fake tan and immodest attire.

The dress guide is posted with tickets, which cost around £60, and displayed on the website.

The decline in standards has not gone unnoticed, as racing commentator Sir Peter O’Sullevan pointed out when he said: ‘Sometimes the grandstands seem over-run by tattoos and bare flesh. It’s disrespectful – not just to the Queen, but to the horses.’

Ascot was first discovered by Queen Anne in 1711. She realised that the unbroken panorama of rich green turf, just five miles across the Berkshire countryside from the royal stables at Windsor Castle, would be the perfect place to gallop her beloved horses.

Queen Elizabeth II has not missed a meeting since she first attended with her parents in 1945, aged 19.

She spends four summer days there each year and no other engagement is allowed to take precedence over Royal Ascot, which attracts some 300,000 visitors.

Celebrity guests at Ladies’ Day yesterday included footballer Michael Owen and newly-knighted entertainer Bruce Forsyth.

Sir Bruce, who had to fight his way through dozens of photographers and fans to get to the racetrack, joked: ‘I love the crowds. It’s so restful. I come here for a restful day.’


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