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Chic hats, people-watching and excited chatter: what it's really like to attend Royal Ascot with the Queen

The monarch had a particularly special year in 2013

Emily Nash

It’s one of the most hotly anticipated dates in the royal calendar and since becoming Queen in 1952, the monarch has never missed Royal Ascot. It's a spectacle like no other - a magical blend of thrilling sport, flamboyant style and superb hospitality. This year, however, Her Majesty and millions of others will watch the action on TV as the race meeting takes place behind closed doors for the first time.

READ: Royal Ascot: The best royal fashion looks from Kate Middleton, Sophie Wessex & more

I've been fortunate enough to attend on many occasions and the excitement begins weeks ahead as you decide on your outfit, paying particular attention to the racecourse guidelines, especially if you are lucky enough to have a pass for the royal enclosure. Top hat and tails for the men. For the women, dresses, skirts or jumpsuits to just above the knee or longer and with shoulder straps no narrower than an inch, hats with a base diameter of more than four inches.

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Kate made her Royal Ascot debut in 2016

As you arrive at the turnstiles, a feast of people-watching unfolds before you. I love spotting the most elaborate millinery and chic outfits as we make our way through the racecourse to meet up with fellow racegoers. There's time to check the race card and pick a few horses to back before sitting down to enjoy lunch.

Rain or shine, the Sovereign's Procession starts at 2pm sharp, with the Queen and her guests travelling in landaus led by Windsor Greys after lunch at Windsor Castle. The grandstand erupting in cheers as she becomes visible then the men remove their hats as the national anthem is played and the royal standard is raised above the grandstand. By the time the carriages pass under the walkway and through to the winners' enclosure, savvy royal watchers have already made their way to the Parade Ring in time to watch them arrive. The noise of the horses' hooves and excited chatter as Her Majesty appears is always thrilling, as is watching the interaction between her and her family members on the lawn below.

MORE: The Queen dances at low-key Trooping the Colour - video, best pictures

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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at Royal Ascot in 2018

There are also plenty of opportunities for more royal spotting as prizes are handed out throughout the day. Highlights in recent years include the Duchess of Sussex's 2018 debut as a newlywed, when winning jockey Frankie Dettori kissed her hand as she and the Duke handed him his trophy. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – channeling Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady - made their own debut at the event in 2016 as part of the Queen's extended 90th birthday celebrations. But it’s often the images from the Royal box that best capture the Queen and her family at their most spontaneous, whether it’s frantically cheering on one of her horses or celebrating a win.

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Beatrice and Eugenie cheer on the Queen's horse in 2013

Who could fail to smile at the sight of the monarch beaming and clapping in delight as her horse Estimate won the 2013 Gold Cup, while Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie jumped for joy alongside her in the royal box? Although Royal Ascot may be taking place behind closed doors this week, the Queen will no doubt be tuning in to watch every race. Here’s hoping she and the crowds might be back in person next year.

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