Montag, 21. März 2016

The Times of London: The ugly side of a day at the races

Hospitality boxes are renowned for drunken depravity - just ask those who work there, says Danielle Sheridan.

When two footballers were photographed relieving themselves into empty glasses in a corporate box at Cheltonham racecourse this week there was uproar. The incongruous mix of luxury (cost of a box: £6,000) and boorishness (they tipped the contents of the glasses over the balcony) prompted a national debate about declining standards.

Yet to those who have worked in racing corporate hospitality, the images came as little surprise. While Cheltenham had up to now avoided accusations of debauchery, staff who have dealt with the drunken excess at Royal Ascot raised a weary eyebrow.

Natham Walters, 27, a strategy consultant from Oval, south London, worked in the boxes at Ascot during his student days. “As you leave the stadium, you are guaranteed to walk past several men in suits passed out“, he said. “In the box there is an all-you-can-drink bar, so there is a lot of drinking.“

Laura Parsons, a landscape architect living in Copenhagen, had to cope “with some drunk guys“ while waitressing in a corporate box hired by a drinks company at Royal Ascot when she was a student some years ago. “There were about six of them in their thirties and only one of them was really working for this drinks company; the rest were just faking it. They got vey drunk and were throwing all the food around.“

By the end of the day the guests were doing shots of vodka straight from the bottle. “It was a right mess afterwards“, she said.

Another waitress saw a fight break out btween two guests on one of the higher levels of the concourse about five years ago. “They were wrestling with each other and a bottle of vodka one of them smuggled out of the room was smashed in the process“, she said. “One guy was pushing the other against the glass banister and it looked like he was about to push him all the way over. I hadcto run and get security. It was horrible.“

What comes with the carpeted boxes, suede chairs and flowers is unpredictable behaviour - most of it drivenby drink.

Another student, who did not want to be named, worked in a box during Royal Ascot. It was supposed to be for 12 people “but 40 to 50 would turn up“. “It was basically a party, celebreties were involved, propably escorts, they would all get hammered“, he said. “At the end of one of the days someone got some portable speakers and basically started having a rave on the buffet table.

One day it would be loads of booze and glam girls singing songs. Then the next day they'd turn up with their wives and kids and it would be the opposite.“

With prices for hiring a box during Royal Ascot starting at £10,000 excluding VAT, plus £1,000 per person for food, the debauchery does not come cheap.

Nick Smith, director of racing and communications at Ascot, is at pains to differentiate his course from others: “With regards to boxes, we don't offer 'drinks only' packages at Ascot, which reduces the risk of people drinking without eating.“

Not all guests take the hint. Tommy Dutton, 31, a barrister in the army who lives in Plymouth, was invited to a box as a “plus one“ in 2013 and remembered getting “pretty smashed“.

“The first question I was asked was, 'Would you like a drink?',“ he said. “It was typical champagne and mimosas and that graduated to big buckets of beers. The racing doesn't start until the afternoon and you get there at 11, so you are drinking from a very early hour.“

He added: “On one side of the box, there were mountains of food and on thevother lots of drink. You have your drink topped up without even asking. I don't remember eating anything either, despite all the fantastic-looking food.“

He said that because of the top hats and tails attire, the atmosphere was a bit like a wedding so people were inclined to relax and enjoy themselves.

“You are also sheltered from the elements“, he said. “If you are downstairs in the stands you might be cold so warm up with a coffee as opposed to carry on drinking alcohol like in the boxes. People were quite boisterous because we were in our own room, we had a bit of privacy.“

Last year four people were arrested on the first day of Royal Ascot either for being drunk and disorderly or for assault. Two days later on Ladies Day six people were arrested, three of them women.

Regular racegoers would like to see more action to tackle drunkenness in the hospitality areas. Louise Ralphson, 26, from Windlesham in Surrey, has attended Ascot for the padt two years. “You see people coming out of boxes so outrageously drunk that they find it difficult to walk in a straight line“, she said.

However, with little sign of change in the drinking culture, the odds are that scenes like those in Cheltenham this week will happen again.

Fazit: Sauf-Partys im Rahmen von Royal Ascot. Very British.