Did we like it?
Spend an hour at the carefree, careless Ascot and you will soon forget that war, pestilence, famine and death have ever existed and the world revolves in perpetuity around the essentials of hats, skulls bereft of cerebral activity, happiness for all, unquestioning servility to an apathetic monarch, and more hats.
What was good about it?
• Despite the dubious nature of the event, there is no doubting the glossy professionalism of the BBC. Clare Balding is an efficient, engaging presenter, Willie Carson a likeable bolt of stunted lightning, Jim McGrath a world-weary commentator, Angus Loughran will always been Statto, and Julia Bradbury has enjoyed atonement through the superb Wainwright Walks for her days in the charnel house of GMTV’s as its Los Angeles correspondent.
• Despite the fact we despise horse racing, watching the build up to the Gold Cup at least made us interested in the race, which, as it turned out, was pretty exciting and was won by Yeats for a record-equalling third time. Kill us if we ever sound like Peter O’Sullevan again.
• The fashion show of clothes by a designer called Andrea was accompanied by the usual procession of empty praise by James Sherwood – “I like the softness of your clothes, they’re very subtle” – but with such parades there’s always the vicarious treat of observing the well-heeled, middle-aged women thronging around who can afford the clothes at the flick of a credit card but whose eyes froth with acidic bitterness at the slender, unattainable youth of the sauntering models.
What was bad about it?
• Clare Balding’s hat resembled something that crazy Americans will claim, under hypnosis, that they were transported aboard and forced to undergo warped extraterrestrial experiments.
• The assemblage of stretch limousines parked on the verdant Ascot banks as if a giant has had all his teeth smashed out, with black rotting molars mingling with the alabaster incisors.
• The dictatorial decree of forced happiness is second only to Christmas, promoting an atmosphere where everybody is happy, and sadness and misery are just myths propagated by evil spirits who want to despoil the sanctity of universal euphoria.
• This might be a more palatable approach were it not for BBC News’ rampant, sadistic reporting of apparent economic slaughter that will create sadness and misery for most of the people in Britain – but probably not the people attending Ascot.
• Rather than worry about energy bills, food and petrol shortages and job security, Ascot is an inversion of reality, which thrives on a population who are so wealthy that in order to breathe in the ecstasy of life they have to throw away their money on the holy trinity of fiscal effluence of Champagne, clothes and betting.
• Rishi Persad’s efforts to feign interest in Britain’s Next Top Model to oil the wheels of his conversation with diaphanous human washing-up liquid bubble Lisa Snowden, unaware that the axle broke on his first syllable. Although glaringly rehearsed, you couldn’t imagine a more awkward situation if Judas shared a carriage on the Orient Express with the resurrected Jesus Christ.
• In his own way, ‘style writer’ James Sherwood makes Kim Jong Il resemble the Dalai Lama. “We don’t want any monsters of frock today. And that is an order!” he cooed. While thankfully at the moment little more than an impotent school bully, his idea of “monsters of frock” are the sort of things poor people normally wear, and Ascot-goers don’t, largely because they’ve been coerced into spending thousands on a non-“monstrous frock” by the sort of sneering propaganda issued by Sherwood.
• The pristine kerfuffle over what colour hat the Queen would be wearing. Bookmakers were actually taking bets on this. It was pale blue, a 4-1 shot apparently.
• The Queen herself arrived with Prince Philip and her middle son, but for all the contribution he’s made to the country in the past 20 years you may as well replace him with a golf club entwined with a string buck-toothed slugs.
• More essential insights from James Sherwood: “It’s not appropriate for the Queen to wear a fascinator at Ascot,” Sherwood sniffed, but: “The Queen can wear diamonds whenever she wants as she has loads of them!”
• And: “Princess Beatrice has her hair back; it looks lovely!”; “Black gloves define the Queen’s wave!”
• As the Queen waved as if clearing away a puff of smoke caused by slightly burnt toast, Julia Bradbury remarked, “It’s the Ascot public’s chance to brush shoulders with the Queen”, in much the same way as Pluto “brushes shoulders” with the Earth during its orbit of the Sun.
• The Queen passes by in her carriage and gentlemen remove their top hats, but leave their sunglasses on, which is far more discourteous especially when done at funerals.
• At one point Clare Balding even had to offer a preparatory apology for Sherwood’s comments as: “James works with no notes; he says whatever comes into his head. He does not intentionally offend anyone, and does apologise if he has offended anyone so far.” Sherwood’s problem is that he is as scornful and derogatory towards anyone not of blue blood or dressed how he thinks people should dress as Marie Antoinette was towards the great unwashed of Paris.
• But because it’s a day of happiness and uniform beauty, Balding’s apology was wasted. A succession of women appear on the screen all of whom adhere to Sherwood’s autocratic ideals of fashion and as a consequence looked slightly less appealing than if dressed in their own internal organs, while the fissure smiles are as wide as a surgeon’s scalpel.
• Because it’s a day of happiness and joy, when jockey Robert Winston wins the first race of the day, Clare Balding hails it as “redemption” for him serving a one-year ban from racing after being found guilty of passing on information for reward. Winning a race does not offer “redemption” for such an offence; perhaps refunding the ‘reward’ he accrued from passing the information on would be far more apposite.
• But Balding wasn’t finished. “The troubles he’s been through,” she said admiringly, “it takes a lot to come back after what he’s been through.” Bob Champion winning the Grand National after suffering cancer would be worthy of such plaudits, Winston, who was utterly responsible for his own “troubles” is not worthy of such respect.
• Cilla Black presented the prize for the winner of the first race of the day, with a huge plug for her appearance in panto later in the year.
• Ascot is so white the cameramen had to strive harder to find non-Caucasian features than their peers working on a post-1990 Bernard Manning comedy show picking out a black face roaring with laughter to the punchline of a racist joke.