Polo: Hollywood upstaged by Hanlon's theatricals: A star-studded cast descends upon Windsor Great Park for British high society's big day out - the Coronation Cup 1993. Giles Smith reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
EVELYN WAUGH once complained that picnicking amounted to nothing more than 'sitting on a thistle, eating a wasp'. Perhaps he had never tried it on the plush grass of the Guards Polo Club in Windsor Great Park. The crowd there yesterday looked comfortable enough, reclining amid the clink of cut glass and the clunk of Range Rover boot, readying themselves for an afternoon of the fastest sport on four legs, a chance to enjoy one of the staple sounds of the high society British summer - the sound of wooden ball on horse's shin.

You get a more refined picnicker at Windsor, and a higher grade of corporate marquee (Cartier were entertaining their guests in a kind of canvas city.) You even get a better sort of tannoy announcement. 'Could Lord Marquedale's driver bring the car to the Royal Box as soon as possible.'

The landed gentry was here (the Queen and Prince Charles among them; the Prince later chanced his arm in the Prince of Wales team, who lost the Silver Jubilee Cup to Canada, 7-5). Also here were the American royal family in the shape of a handful of film stars that the sponsors had bussed in - or rather, provided limos for. Richard Gere emerged with Cindy Crawford from a giant Black Daimler and swept into the Royal Box. Slightly less impressively, Goldie Hawn pushed through to the stands, but was apparently unable to find a seat, and so pushed out again, her flares dragging on the grass.

Just before 3pm - or better, just after coffee and the cheese course - everyone drifted to their seats to watch England play Chile for the Coronation Cup 1993, a fixture which Terry Hanlon, the commentator, promised us would be 'six chukkas of sizzling hot international polo'.

Despite the pressure from Hollywood, Hanlon turned out to be the afternoon's biggest star. At moments of tension, he could call on an overheated style which would make ITV's Brian Moore seem only mildly interested. On more than one occasion, when England were clear through, only for the ball to hit a divot, you would hear a noise like a cat being throttled. It was Hanlon, screaming.

You were glad that he was there to focus your attention. Polo takes place on a field so large that a Texan farmer would be proud of it. Very often you are reduced to peering at action which is taking place in a huddle of animals a quarter of a mile away. Even up close, during tussles for the ball, the game can sometimes look like a horse race which has gone badly wrong.

When it hits a flow though, there are few sports more fast and graceful. Captained by Howard Hipwood, 43, England found a flow more frequently than Chile. England went one up from a penalty, but Chile charged straight back at them, winning their own 60-yard penalty to equalise - and this despite the valiant effort of Julian Hipwood to block the ball by inserting himself and his horse in its direct line of flight. The match then stayed tight, moving to 2-2 by the end of the first chukka, and 3-3 by the end of the third and half-time. By this point, the person you are feeling most sorry for is the groundsman, who had presented a smooth glossy field for the start of play which, after 20 minutes with eight horses skidding around on it, was already beginning to look more like a poorly tended pasture.

Luckily though, the organisers of polo events have developed a technique to deal with this. During the interval, a small area in front of the Royal Box was roped off and the crowd was invited to invade the pitch, come to the perimeter and stare at the celebrities in the expensive seats - treading down any stray pieces of turf on their way. As a piece of constructive audience participation it worked superbly, though somehow one can't see it catching on at Old Trafford.

Perhaps given a stern talking to by the manager, England's ponies re-emerged after the break looking altogether pepped up. From this point on the gap between the teams widened and no amount of tough galloping around by Chile's Rodrigo Vial could do anything to close it. Vial's commitment led him to take a full-speed fall at one moment - it looked like he was trying to get to the ball by the novel means of diving under his opponent's horse. There was an audible intake of breath around the ground but, true to the Jilly Cooper stereotype, Vial got up straight away, adjusted his jodphurs and got back to the job. Unfortunately for him, England were now easing away. They were ahead 5-3 by the end of the fifth chukka and 8-3 by the end of the match.

England's William Lucas was man of the match. Pony of the match was Chile's Apache. The pony received a silver salver.

You wouldn't want to say that polo drew on a narrow social circle, but both teams of four contained a pair of brothers and Lord Charles Berrisford on the English side was related to two of the Chileans by marriage.

When the Queen handed over the giant trophy and the medals, it did not look as if introductions were necessary.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments