It's official: Ascot just ain't posh no more

With images of brawling, tattooed men disfiguring Ladies' Day, Matthew Bell muses on the changing of the Season

Sandwiched between the Chelsea Flower Show and Wimbledon, Ascot was once a highlight of the Season. Today, the Queen's favourite race meet is more Royle than Royal Family. Its fate was sealed on Thursday when images of eight men brawling among a sea of tattoos and orange cleavage were beamed round the world, confirming what snobs have long suspected – Ascot just ain't posh no more.

No matter that the Queen still attends, as she has every year since she was 19. No matter that top hats are still worn, though there's harrumphing about whether black ones are acceptable (grey is, of course, correct for morning suits). A gradual slipping of standards reached its definitive conclusion on Ladies' Day, when a group of crop-haired businessmen traded blows using chair legs and bottles of pink Laurent Perrier as weapons. For one columnist, proof of the death of civility came with the arrival of Helen Wood, Wayne Rooney's one-time prostitute lover, who "paraded like a duchess".

But while some have reacted with horror, social commentators opine that it is what they have been saying for some time: the Season is in terminal decline. "Nothing is posh any more," says Lady Celestria Noel, author of Debrett's Guide to the Season. "A lot of the events of the Season haven't been exclusive for some time, because organisers have made it much simpler to get in. It used to be incredibly complicated to get into the Royal Enclosure – you had to be vetted and know someone, and couldn't have been divorced. It was a real hurdle. Now it's much simpler."

Ascot's complex rules of entry changed in 2007, when a controversial new grandstand was opened. Intriguingly, the man responsible for the change was Stoker Hartington, chairman of Ascot Racecourse and the Queen's representative at Ascot, who sparked controversy by announcing that he would not be using his title when he became the 12th Duke of Devonshire.

But it's not just Ascot that has changed. According to Lady Celestria, many event organisers have chosen to relax entry to make their events financially sustainable. "Going to the Derby and Goodwood also used to be very complicated. But there are no more hidden or weird criteria any more. This is partly because it's a numbers game: these events have to pay their way, and organisers don't want to make it difficult for punters. But it's also because of a change in society towards chequebook democracy, where entry to the top is now only dependent on your ability to pay."

One racing adage says "all men are equal above and below the turf", but the racing world has also changed. "Ascot is still a championship event, but racing is no longer the preserve of just the English aristocracy," says Lady Celestria. "Many more horses are owned by businessmen and syndicates."

Among such owners last week was Carole Middleton, mother of the Duchess of Cambridge, the part-owner of Sohraab. It wasn't placed in yesterday's Wokingham Handicap Stakes. Although Mrs Middleton dominated press attention by arriving in the royal cortège, finally shaking off years of sniping about "doors to manual", a reference to her past life as an air hostess, her well-chosen outfit was eclipsed by that afternoon's brawl.

The Royal Family have enjoyed a renaissance since the wedding of William and Kate, but the phasing out of centuries of toff rule continues. Britain, unlike France, still retains its monarchy, but as the fists flew, for some the scene recalled Madame de Pompadour's declaration: "Après nous, le deluge." Yet as Lady Celestria observes: "Smart or unsmart, everybody uses the events of the Season for daytime drinking."

Formerly posh

Pimm's

The 200-year-old summer drink is a staple of Glyndebourne and Wimbledon. But it was bought by the drinks conglomerate Diageo in 2006, and now aims for a wider audience. In 2004, a ready-mixed version was launched in tins.

Rolls-Royce

Once hand-made and driven by royal families and maharajas, Rolls-Royces are now popular with footballers. Among David Beckham's extensive collection is a fully customised black Phantom drophead coupé, complete with graphite black alloy wheels. The Queen prefers Daimlers.

Burberry

Perhaps the most extreme example of "prole drift" is Burberry, now better known for checked caps.

The Ritz

Teatime at London's famous five-star hotel was once a Who's Who of the rich and famous. It now goes on nearly all day and is taken mostly by tourists.

Polo

The king of sports and sport of kings became a class sore point in 2008, when Cartier banned Katie Price from its annual Cartier Cup. Price now supports a rival event, theDuke of Essex Cup.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific