European nobility's love of speed sports has been well documented throughout history - from the famous Playboy Prince of Italy who notoriously water-skied his way into a party in the South of France to Prince Harry of Wales’ triumphant silver medal at the Isle of Wight’s Round the Island yacht race. It’s an interest that has continued well into the present day, and one that now fuels many of the major events in the European high society social calendar.
The latter two of our featured events are held in England during the so-called Great British Summer. When picturing the English countryside, many might envisage rolling hills and sleepy villages, but it’s also typically been a popular spot for speed-loving socialites to test out their new playthings. It even features in popular culture, from the country lanes Lord Sebastian winds his borrowed motorcar down in Brideshead Revisited to the racetrack favored by Downton Abbey’s dashing driver Henry Talbot.
Our first featured event takes place in Monaco – a country known worldwide as a “playground for the rich.” From its famed casinos to its high-speed tracks, Monaco offers the kind of adrenaline-fuelled adventures that have been sought out by the wealthy since the beginning of time.
Monaco Grand Prix
Thursday 25th to Sunday 28th May
Thrill-seekers can find entertainment of the high-speed variety being served up in Monaco in May at the world-famous Monaco Grand Prix. Holding status as one of the world’s most prestigious motor races since its founding in 1929, the Grand Prix has become a key date in every European socialite's calendar.
The unique Circuit de Monaco on which races take place winds through the streets of Monte Carlo and La Condamine, attracting tourists who are there both to bet on the racing and to take in the sights. The course passes the iconic Casino Square as well as the harbor that is home to some of the world’s most impressive super yachts. From here, European nobility and many of the continent's most wealthy socialites watch from aboard their own boats, where they also host some of the year’s most decadent after parties.
At the 2016 event, prizes were handed out by Princess Charlene of Monaco, who attended the races with her husband Prince Albert and fellow royals Louis Ducruet, Jazmin Grace Grenaldi and Princess Caroline.
Tuesday 20th to Saturday 24th June
Founded by Queen Anne in 1711, Royal Ascot is one of the highlights of the British social calendar, with members of the Royal Family making appearances each day. 2016 marked the first appearance by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. In the Royal Enclosure – the most prestigious of the three enclosures – the Windsor family mingles with invited guests, usually members of European nobility.
Perhaps the most famous of all the Royal Ascot events is Ladies’ Day – also known as Gold Cup Day. A staple part of Royal Ascot's programming, it’s a celebration that’s renowned throughout the UK and beyond. Demand for tickets is high, and the day itself is a spectacular parade of heels, designer dresses and outlandish hats thanks to the strictly enforced dress code.
To many, the Prince of Wales’ Stakes Group One race, this year held on Wednesday 23rd June, is considered to be the most important all. But in many ways style outdoes speed at Royal Ascot, with more press outlets focusing on attendees and their outfits than the outcomes of the races. Zara Tindall (née Phillips), style icon and daughter to Anne, Princess Royal, often makes the headlines, as do other notable guests such as Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie – the former being particularly well known for her elaborate headpieces.
Goodwood Festival of Speed
Tuesday 1st to Saturday 5th August
Hosted by the Earl of March, Goodwood Festival of Speed – labeled “Glorious Goodwood” by those in the know – is an annual horseracing event that attracts the attention of European nobility and royals from across the globe, with the likes of Princess Eugenie and Zoe Warren counted amongst past attendees. Despite this year being dubbed the Qatar Goodwood Festival in honor of its sponsor, it’s held in the original eponymous venue of Goodwood House in West Sussex.
This celebrated flat-racing festival is a busy event from start to finish. After the Opening Ceremony on the first day, there are the Sussex Stakes and Nassau Stakes Group One races as well as the King George Stakes Group Two race to look forward to. It’s also a place where Europe’s elite come to mingle and set trends of all sorts; it’s said to be the site of the Panama hat’s debut appearance in 1907.
The third day – this year Thursday 3rd August – is typically Ladies’ Day and the day of the Magnolia Cup charity event. High-profile guests, with little or no riding experience, will compete in this women-only race, dressed in custom creations from some of the world’s top female fashion designers. Notable names such as designer Alby Bailey and CEO Dido Harding have taken part in the event in the past.
Over time, the face of racing has changed. Horseback has given way to horsepower and circuits are expanding across land and sea. But one thing remains consistent: the European nobility's obsession with speed. It looks set to stay the course, and it shows no signs of slowing down.