Royal Ascot is an event which brands itself as the symbolic representation of what it means to be British. As many thousands of Youtube viewers have now seen, the idea of Royal Ascot representing Britishness is backed up by the video of an overweight, drunken idiot ripping off his shirt shouting ‘c’mon then, let’s finish it off’, before sending heeled women crashing into tables as he charges towards his target. Clearly, this is not the height of British society that Ascot seeks to portray, but is the brand of ‘classy’, well-dressed race-goers that they believe this historic event still attracts actually any better than the riled up overfed bulldog attacking a fellow punter in the video?
EDL leader Tommy Robinson’s attack on a Punter at Ascot
This was my third year working at Royal week. I’m lucky enough to work in the boxes, an area where waiters literally run to work in hope of securing the best box and therefore the chance of receiving a tip which may be greater on a single day than their wages for the entire week. However, tips are of course not guaranteed and working in the boxes is a bit like a twisted game of Deal or No Deal, only where the banker is a real banker, and you are forced to kiss his arse for eight hours only for there to be a strong possibility that he or she may walk out and leave you with nothing. This year my tips didn’t even cover the costs of the £20 a day I spend on travel just getting to and from Ascot. However, the purpose of this article is not to moan about how rich people don’t tip, rather it is more of a general polemic about what I see first hand at ‘the greatest social event in the British calendar’.
The most striking and discomforting thing about Royal Ascot is undoubtedly the level of grotesque consumption which is flaunted by the organisers and embraced by the race-goers. On the walk into the racecourse, staff and punters are bombarded with billboards boasting that ‘250,000 steaks’, ‘200,000 lobsters’ or ‘350,000 bottles of Champagne’ are consumed during Royal week. Taken alone these figures mean little, but what is more repugnant is that they are simply not true. From first hand experience I can attest that a huge proportion of these luxurious foods simply end up in the bin. Food left out on the buffet must be taken in and disposed of after two hours. This is health and safety law. What is not law is throwing away vast quantities of refrigerated food many people would only dream of being able to taste. Furthermore, during my time working at the racecourse, it has become increasingly apparent to me that it exists in a complete bubble of ignorance, where no customer’s demands are too great, and Ascot’s desire to uphold their reputation as complete caregivers to the rich and wealthy , by pampering their every need is resulting in this disgraceful level of waste.
On the Thursday (Lady’s Day), I helped serve a buffet to 32 guests, most of whom worked for in PR and fashion. They barely made a dent in the ridiculously ill-judged amounts of roast beef, filleted salmon and coronation chicken. Even after me and my box partner were obliged to eat to the point of explosion, we disposed of obscene amounts of food. Furthermore, because these body conscious fashionistas had even failed to eat enough for us to need to replenish the buffet, I almost cried as the manager watched me slide a whole untouched salmon, fresh from the fridge, into the bin along with masses of other food. As I spared a thought for the millions of starving people across the world, I couldn’t help being completely repulsed by the necessity to encourage indulgence on this scale at the expensive of enormous waste, all in the name of this British cultural tradition. This point was emphasised even more when an Ascot PR representative came into the kitchen to bollock our staff for the 15 minute gap between lunch and afternoon tea. ‘It looks incredibly bare in there’, she said, ‘there should always be food on the table. We have some very important PR people in there.’ We then proceeded to present an enormous array of sandwiches, scones and cheeses, at least two thirds of which ended up going to waste. This waste takes place on a daily bases every year. From my first ever shift when only 6 of the 26 bankers we prepared for turned up to my box, and I had to bin two whole roast chickens, to the piles of beef I was not allowed to take home due to health and safety rules this year.
We’re living in a time when 1 million people are forced to go to food banks and the gap between rich and poor is greater than ever, meanwhile the upper echelons of our society and those that aspire to reach it, indulge in an event, led by our Majesty the Queen herself, which promotes greed on a mass scale. The vast sums Ascot receive from race-goers means they dutifully go to any length to fulfil their hearts desires. The result is mass wastage to a horrifying extent. Many will also claim that it is logistically impossible to prevent food waste at such big events, but I do not buy into this argument. Yes there will always be some level of waste, but it does not have to be on this scale. I ask anyone to witness the level of wastage at Royal Ascot and not be completely and utterly appalled. I fear there is a long way to go before the richest in our society can be effectively challenged for their conspicuous levels of consumption.
words by Alfie Beswick