The University Boat Race
The starting pistol of the annual boat race between Oxford University and Cambridge University has come to mark the start of The Season. Each year over 250,000 people spread along the riverbanks to watch the 4.2-mile race from Putney Bridge to Mortlake, first rowed in 1829.
Twice the Oxford crew has mutinied, five times boats have sunk and, in 2012, a protester swam at the boats and was almost decapitated by the blades. The race had to be halted and, once started again, the boats clashed causing the race to be re-started for a third time.
What to wear – No formal dress code and many just wear casual clothing, but you will see a lot of people in rowing gear, blazers, and light linen suits, weather permitting.
What to eat – take a picnic if you can find a spot right on the river bank that’s grassy; otherwise, lots of the pubs and rowing clubs set up BBQs for the public to buy from.
What to drink – Pimm’s, beer, and bottles of fizz and rose
Best spots – The start line, finish line, and north bank at the Hammersmith Bridge bend.
Certainly, the most traditional event of The Season, alongside Trooping the Colour, this June fixture is probably the most famous horseracing meet in the world. You can attend in the public areas but you will find the crème de la crème of society in the Royal Enclosure. While there are fewer people in the Royal Enclosure, it takes up over half the racecourse, including the stables, next to which many of London’s top clubs, restaurants, and private members clubs set up temporary bars and restaurants – as well as allowing one to rub shoulders with Lords and Ladies. Entrance to this restricted area is by membership only, and it has a strict dress code with men required to wear morning dress and top hats. The rules have relaxed a little, though: divorcées are now allowed in the Enclosure.
Aside from the racing, the highlight of each day of this week-long event comes at the start of each day’s racing, just after lunch. A procession of horse-drawn carriages drive down the racecourse from neighbouring Windsor Castle, bearing the Queen, the Royal Family, and guests to the races. As the Queen’s carriage turns into the Royal Enclosure the military band strikes up the National Anthem, top hats are removed, and betting stall signs are lowered in respect.
What to wear – Must be top hat and tails. You can rent them from Moss Bros. and many do, but it’s always obvious. If you’re going to need tails more than once over coming years, it’s well worth investing in your own (the cost of renting really adds up over multiple occasions). Head to Jermyn Street or Savile Row – both Hackett, and Ede and Ravenscroft do very good off-the-rack morning suits that they finish off according to your needs.
What to eat – Picnicking in car park one is something of a tradition, but the Royal Enclosure also offers a variety of dining options from sandwich and cake stands, to fish and caviar bars, to restaurants with celebrity chefs doing special menus.
What to drink – Bottles of Champagne and jugs of Pimm’s
Best spots – Only go if you’re going to the Royal Enclosure
Henley Royal Regatta
Of all the events in The Season, this rowing regatta is the most colourful. Held over five days since 1839, this rowing regatta pre-dates national and international rowing organisations and has its own rules. It sees the best crews from across the globe race in head to head knock out races over a 1 mile, 550-yard (2,112 metre) course. Rules in the Stewards’ Enclosure are very strict with race goers being turned away for breaching the dress code, while the use of mobile phones and other rule breaches when inside the enclosure can result in expulsion and even the member having his membership revoked.
What to wear – Colourful chinos and rowing blazers or light summer jackets. Stewards’ Enclosure has a very strict dress code.
What to eat – Picnics along the river bank is the way to go, but there are also pop up food and drink stalls and some larger temporary restaurant set-ups as you get closer to the Stewards’ Enclosure.
What to drink – Bottles of Champagne and jugs, G&T or Pimm’s
Best spots – The place to be is the Stewards’ Enclosure, with its perfectly manicured lawns, but entrance is restricted to regatta officials, members and their guests.
Trooping The Colour
Since 1784, one of the Guards Regiments has paraded their Colour in front of the monarch as a tribute on his or her birthday. The Queen and members of the Royal Family travel in carriages and on horseback down The Mall from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards Parade with an escort from the Household Cavalry. The ceremony at the Parade ground includes an inspection by the Queen, a march past, the trooping of the Colour and military music from the massed bands of the foot-guards, the mounted bands and the Corps of Drummers, a combined total of some 400 musicians. Following the Parade, the Queen returns to Buckingham Palace and appears on the balcony with the Royal Family as the public fill the Mall and the RAF performs a fly by. Those at the Trooping include diplomats, politicians, international royalty and senior military figures. All come in formal wear making it quite a sight as everyone mingles on the parade square at the end.
As the Colour is trooped, the musicians’ carry out the most complicated marching manoeuvre ever devised – the spin wheel, in which they march slowly round a central pivot point created by one of their number marching on the spot. The manoeuvre isn’t written down, but is passed on from one generation to the next. The complexity comes from the number of individuals and because it requires members of the body to face and move in different directions to ensure they all finish exactly in the same space but having turned the band ninety degrees. It must be watched to understand, and many experts can’t work out exactly how it is achieved. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwL_2FS_sOw
What to wear – Suits, military dress uniform, or morning dress
Glyndebourne combines British society’s love of opera and country houses. The Christie family has held an opera festival at their country estate in East Sussex since 1934. Originally held in the 600-year-old house itself, there is now a purpose built 1,200-seat opera house. By tradition, those attending wear evening dress, with men in black tie and dinner jacket, and picnic on the lawns of the house for dinner during the long interval. Some even feast on three course picnics of lobster, roast beef and other traditional British delicacies, with silverware and candelabra. It is a rare thing to visit Glyndebourne and not bump into senior members of the judiciary, politicians, and journalists, indeed in the past I once saw Margaret Thatcher fly in by helicopter.
It’s considered one of the top opera festivals in the world and has seen the likes of Trevor Nunn directing, David Hockney designing the staging, and Pavarotti performing. The majority of tickets are sold to members and associate members (those on the decade-long waiting list) months in advance of the public, but some tickets can still be obtained during the performance season of May to August.
What to wear – Black tie or national equivalent.
What to eat – The tradition is the picnic on the lawns during the long interval. Bring your own or order from Leiths, who run some of the catering at Glyndebourne. Alternatively, there are a couple of restaurants to choose from that are run by Albert Roux.
What to drink – Champagne, of course
Best spots – for picnicking either by the ha-ha, lake or rose garden.
The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition
Each year the RA hosts the Summer Exhibition. The leading arts event of The Season, the exhibition sees professional and amateur artists from across the country submit up to two works for consideration by the Academicians for inclusion in the exhibition. Some 10,000 works are submitted and then whittled down to around 1,000 pieces, which are exhibited alongside up to six works by each of the eighty Academicians. Almost all the works on display are for sale, including works by Tracey Emin that sell in their hundreds, and Una Stubbs who plays Mrs Hudson in Sherlock.
What to wear – No dress code, but dress smartly – it’s one of the world’s leading art institutes, after all.
What to Drink – On certain days near the start of the exhibit they have a bar in the gallery serving Pimm’s and G&Ts.
The Championship, Wimbledon, famously known simply as Wimbledon, is the world’s oldest (1877) and most prestigious tennis tournament and the only grand slam played on grass. While changes have been made in recent years, Wimbledon is still by far the most traditional tournament in tennis. To this day female players are addressed as Mrs or Miss, players bow to the Royal Box when the Queen or the Prince of Wales are in attendance, and all players must wear the traditional white.
What to wear – Certain areas have dress codes, but even if you’re in one that doesn’t, wear a linen suit, or summer jacket and chinos.
What to Eat – Strawberries and cream
What to Drink – Pimms
The Great Spring Show (The Chelsea Flower Show)
Held since 1912 in the foregrounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, this world-famous garden show draws 157,000 visitors over the week to its eleven-acre site. The best garden designers and exhibitors come from all over the globe to vie for the coveted gold, silver-gilt, silver and bronze awards that are awarded each year. The first day of the show, a Monday in May, is strictly invitation only and sees celebrities and the Queen tour the show, with the rest of the week open to the public. It is brought to a close with the ringing of the bell at four o’clock on the Saturday afternoon signalling the end of show sale.
What to wear – Smart casual summer clothing.
What to eat – There are a variety of restaurants and dining options in the grounds, but they get very busy and aren’t really worth it.
Best of the Rest
Polo – The sport of the rich and glamorous, there are a number of polo tournaments held over The Season, chief among them being the Hurlingham Polo International at the Guards Polo Club, a club with a strong military and royal connection.
Lords – What better place to watch cricket, the most English of sports, than at Lords, the home of cricket, where you can see England play the best teams from across the world, and members of the MCC – the cricket club that owns Lords – in their traditional red and yellow striped blazers, ties, caps and other accoutrements.
The Proms – An eight-week series of over seventy classical concerts held at the Royal Albert Hall and other locations and parks, it has been called “the world’s largest and most democratic musical festival”. The last night has become a national fixture of patriotic singing and flag waving, with those on stage leading the concert goers (or “promenaders”) in the hall and those in parks watching live across the country.
Goodwood – The home of the Duke of Richmond is the setting for three of The Season’s events: Glorious Goodwood, a horseracing festival at the Goodwood racecourse, and the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Goodwood Revival, both car festivals.