In the musical My Fair Lady, phonetics expert Henry Higgins tries to teach cockney flower-seller Eliza Doolittle (memorably played by Audrey Hepburn in the 1968 film version) how to pass herself off as a duchess. Introduced to the nobility at Ascot, she initially does well, before lapsing into her original accent during a race. A modern-day Doolittle would have no such problems – Ascot is now the preserve “of ladies in stripper heels and diamante-flecked dresses, drinking, snogging, cavorting”, says Katie Glass in The Sunday Times.
Even the Royal Enclosure, renovated in 2006 at the cost of £185m, is changing. “Name tags once reserved for Hugos or Peregrines now read Keith, Gary or Artem”. In theory, “you need to be recommended by a longstanding member to get in”, but you can get around this by paying “for a fine-dining package — prices start from £550”. As a result, it is now a mix of “slim Slavic women, estuary accents and dumpy dowagers”, with regulars complaining that, “it’s gone downhill” as “the aristos are now outnumbered”.
But snobs be assured – Ascot “doesn’t smash the class system”, it just changes it. Your accent might matter less these days, but that only means that the size of your wallet matters even more. Even in the less exclusive areas of Ascot “they’re serving Nebuchadnezzars of champagne for £1,700” and the gift shop offers “£250 diamante horseshoe necklaces”.
The dominance of wealth is made even clearer at Chelsea Flower Show, another big event of the “season”. Tickets are “allegedly available to anyone”, but the few that are not reserved for sponsors or Royal Horticultural Society members “change hands on eBay for thousands”. As a result it is “a networking hotspot for workers from the City”, whose opening gala draws “scores of bankers and FTSE-100 CEOs”. Vendors flog “£100 quilted bedspreads, £2,000 pots, giant silver stag’s heads”, and plants so expensive that they “merit tailored garden security and specialist insurance policies”.
Even more plutocratic is the opera festival in Glyndebourne, Sussex. Set in “the grounds of a grade II-listed mansion in East Sussex”, it is “easiest to chauffeur in”, but “some regulars used to prefer arriving by chopper”. A more relaxed dress code means there are a few “20-something girls in jeans and Dr Martens taking selfies on the lawn, showing off nose rings and full back tattoos”. However, in general, the lawns are “awash with opulent displays of wealth”, including “white tuxes, taffeta ball gowns and three-string pearl necklaces”.
Given all this, Epsom’s move to accept sponsorship from budget shop Poundland seems refreshing. Not everyone is happy with the deal, which covers the famous hill next to the course. It “doesn’t seem quite in keeping with the prestigious race’s surroundings,” says the Daily Mail’s Marcus Townend. “The need to bring in Poundland to back one of British sport’s biggest events reflects a serious decline in status for the ‘sport of kings’”. Then again, says The Guardian’s Greg Wood, unlike some “season” staples, Epsom has always attracted “huge crowds” with an “extraordinary range of classes and characters”. Just like Poundland.
Tabloid money… the Bank of England’s Mr Darcy
• How silly of the Bank of England to have been caught out quoting Caroline Bingley on the new £10 note, says Jennifer Selway in the Daily Express. The “frivolous” character from Pride and Prejudice says, “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading”, but only to impress Mr Darcy.
This must have needled Mark Carney, the Bank’s governor, “who when he arrived from Canada (rather in the way that Jane Austen describes Mr Darcy) ‘soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year’.” (“More like £800,000 the gossips would say”, notes Selway.)
• It’s hard to justify the £2m a year Chris Evans gets paid at the BBC. But “I’m going to give it a bash anyway”, says Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun. First, Chris has to get up in the middle of the night to host his radio breakfast show. He can never be late or ill. Then there was the whole Top Gear thing, for which he alone took the flak. “He is a public figure and he is never allowed to forget that… You might say that you’d be prepared to do that for a couple of million every year”, says Clarkson. “But I bet that after you’d spent a little while as a prisoner in your own house, you’d think differently. And bugger off to the Amazon.”
• My “football-mad hubby” has supported Chelsea his whole life and has always bought the latest strip, says Saira Khan in the Sunday Mirror. But when I saw how much clubs are charging – £73.95 for a Chelsea top – I saw red. “It’s not even silk! I’m just glad he doesn’t support Tottenham, because otherwise he’d be forking out £75”. This year he’s watching the beautiful game in a vintage shirt. Because, unlike the players, he doesn’t get paid £150,000 a week.