Look who's in my box

Nigel's there, drinking champagne, and Ivana, her hat brim ricocheting off the other ladies'. There's lobster and quails' eggs for lunch and nobody's watching the races. The place is full of ravishing blonde leggy fillies. Hello! It's another day at Ascot with Robert Sangster

OK, off to the races. More, off to the races on Ladies Day at Ascot to join the multi-millionaire racehorse owner and breeder, Robert Sangster, and his guests in his private box! Robert Sangster! The man who is horse-racing! And glamour and wealth and private jets and Filipino butlers and Derby winners and fabulously glossy wives who always seem to be called Susan and never, say, Deborah, which is a great pity because he's just separated from the latest Mrs Susan Sangster and, to my mind at least, Mrs Deborah Sangster does have a certain ring to it.

I will wear a posh frock. I will wear a posh hat. I will impress everybody. They will assume I am one of them. They will say: "Darling, is that Chanel?" And: "Do come to stay with us in Barbados for the winter." I will talk knowledgeably about form and bloodstock and whether the going is good, not so good, pretty crap or total rubbish. I will not confess that, to date, my only equestrian experience has been falling off a donkey at Margate when I was seven. Except that I do. "Of course, I understand all the thrills and spills of this business because I once fell rather sensationally at Margate, when I was seven," I find myself blurting out to Mr Sangster just as we are first introduced. He is not, needless to say, initially taken with me. He is 63, and quite handsome in his stubby, round-faced way. He is beautifully dressed in morning suit and Hermes tie. ("I always wear a Hermes tie.") He says: "I'm just going over to say hello to Nigel Dempster."

Anyway, on to the Ascot train at Waterloo, in a frock that would have been posh and possibly even Chanel, were it not for the fact it is neither, and has actually been designed, according to the label, by that up-and- coming fashion house "100% Viscose". And the hat? Well, I turned down my young son's kind offer to borrow this black knitted thing with a bobble on and "Manchester United" stitched across the front, in favour of a sweet little jade-green confection lent to me by my friend Helga who, unlike me, is popular and gets invited to quite a lot of weddings, and so actually owns a hat. I think it's very fine until I'm on the train, and look about me at the other Ascot-going women, and think I might just as well have worn the Man U job after all.

A little jade thing just does not cut it. We are talking big hats. We are talking spectacular hats. We are talking creamy walnut whips and glittering vertical spirals and bouncing, fuchsia feathers and perpendicular ostrich plumes. We are talking women who've been thinking hats since November. I am already beginning to think I might have trouble pulling this off. I am already beginning to think it's going to be yet another winter in bed socks in N4.

I make my way to Mr Sangster's box. This is The Queen Elizabeth Stand, box number 7, overlooking the Paddock. Lunch is already over, alas. (He entertains some 30 guests to lunch here daily during Royal Ascot week.) I say "alas" because I later get a look at the menu, and see I could have had "baby lobsters served in the shell", and "bowls of quails eggs with celery salt" and "layered summer pudding with raspberry puree and quenelles of clotted cream". This is a very great shame, because I do like a quenelle when they are in season. Still, all is not lost. Mr Sangster obligingly decides to overlook my pathetic Margate anecdote. There may even be an amused twinkle in his eye. "Champagne?" he even offers. "Rather!" I reply happily. He then says: "Sorry, but what is your name again?" I say: "You can introduce me as the next Mrs Sangster, if you like." He says: "Oh." There might be quite a frightened look in his eye. I'm not sure something squat in viscose is quite what he had in mind.

Yes, everyone is drinking champagne. This is what happens, it seems, in boxes once lunch is over. You hang about and drink champagne. Brian Lara is in here, drinking champagne. Nigel Dempster is in here, drinking champagne.

Robert: "Are you behaving yourself Nigel?"

Nigel: "The fact I haven't fallen over the balcony yet is enough!"

Robert: "Ha! Yes!"

Mrs Susan Sangster is even here, drinking champagne. Obviously, the separation has proved amicable enough for her to carry on acting as hostess. She is looking brilliantly elegant in something very pink and almost certainly Chanel. Ivana Trump drops in for a glass of champagne. "'Allo, 'allo..." She is in tight-fitting orange with matching, strappy, high-heeled shoes so pointy the nerves on the topside of her feet bulge quite frighteningly. Her hat is massive and black and feathery. She and Mrs Sangster go for an air-kiss - mwah! mwah! - but end up spectacularly ricocheting off each other's brims. "You look gorgeous, darlink..." Ivana spots Robert. "Robert, darlink! I bet on your 'orse yesterday (Shining Hour, which won the Queen Mary Stakes). I put on one hun-der-ed pounds and I vin two sousand six hun-der-ed pounds!"

She about-turns to do a bit of brim-ricocheting around the room. There are lots of women to brim-ricochet with. The older ones were possibly beautiful once, but are now so face-lifted it looks rather as if gravity is working upside down today. The younger ones, though, are still stunning. Very blonde, very leggy. I say to Mr Sangster, how come all these women are so ravishing? He says: "They have to be, or they'd get sacked!" This, it would seem, is a world in which all fillies must look good - young, meticulously groomed, with excellent coats and fine teeth. Horses, too, would probably seek out plastic surgeons if they thought they were getting on a bit, and it was either that or the abattoir.

Robert Sangster is not, perhaps, as successful as he was in, say, the Seventies and early-Eighties. The Aga Khan and sundry Arab sheikhs have probably seen to that. Still, he remains Britain's greatest racehorse owner. In his time, he has owned some 700 Stakes winners, with victories in the Irish Derby, Melbourne Cup, French Derby, the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Detroit and Alleged). His 2,000- acre spread at Manton, Wiltshire, is one of the world's finest racing stables. He also owns palatial villas in Barbados and the South of France, as well as a London pad. His father, Vernon Sangster, founded the Vernon Pools which Robert, the sole heir, sold in 1988 for pounds 90m shortly before the National Lottery would have decimated profits. I am fascinated by what it's like to have so much money. Have you ever been on a bus, Robert? "Of course." When? "I can't remember." Do you have any little economies? "Yes." Like? "I don't know. Oh look, there is Peggy Taylor from Monte Carlo..."

As the box doesn't actually overlook the course, everyone gathers round the telly for the races. It makes you wonder why they don't just stay at home in their big hats and watch it on the BBC. Except, of course, the races is not, actually, what Ascot is about. It's about being here, and being seen, and being seen to be here, and so belonging to a certain set.

Mr Sangster, what do you like to do which has nothing to do with horses? "I like golf. I like the cinema. I thought Hugh Grant was excellent in Notting Hill." Do you read? "Yes. Bloodstock annuals." And? "The odd Sidney Sheldon. And John Grisham, although his books get worse and worse." What makes you sad? "Watching Nigel Dempster drink my champagne!" Do you ever get bored of the lifestyle? Do you ever think: Oh, sod it. I'll stay in tonight and have beans on toast in front of Animal Hospital? "No! No! No! I had Dwight Yorke in here yesterday. Lovely man. It would be churlish to be bored, don't you think?"

After Repton School in Derbyshire, then a National Service posting in Berlin, Robert returned to take up his place in the Vernon organisation, and to marry his first wife - a society model called Christine. The first racehorse he ever bought - Chalk Stream, which cost him pounds 600 - was a wedding present for Christine, and from then on he was hooked. His life became breeding, buying and selling, as much on the wife-front as the horse-front. You buy, you breed, you parade what you've got until you get tired of it, and then you get rid of it. After producing four children with Christine, he cantered off with Susan Peacock, the wife of an Australian politician who became the second Mrs Sangster. Then, after tiring of her, he bolted with the current Susan, once the wife of the shoe-shop heir, and with whom he had a further two children. This Susan is now looking at me very sourly indeed. "My wife doesn't like journalists," says Robert. "So perhaps you had better go now. I mean, it's not like you're Nigel Dempster, who we've known and trusted for 20 years."

So, I leave the box. And I haven't even had a bet yet. In fact, I've never had a bet, ever. So I will have a bet before I go. I note Sangster has a horse - Colonial State - running in the last race. I put a fiver on it each way. The horse comes in last. The horse could not have beaten a fat man running downhill. The thing about me, I guess, is that I'm just a total loser. Mrs Deborah Sangster, indeed! Although, that said, I do have my own private jet. It's only on the gas cooker, but it's a start, don't you think?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering