IT WAS the moment York had waited two years for, reported The Press on June 14, 2005. Royal Ascot had come to the city – and with it that most ardent of horseracing fans, Queen Elizabeth II.

A report from the first day of the five-day event captures some of the atmosphere: “They came in their tens of thousands – in a magnificent array of hats and headpieces, top hats and top designer outfits,” it read.

“Mixing with the fashionistas, high society and the best of Yorkshire style, more than 35,000 found their new home for the week at York Racecourse.

“At Ascot, it was a different story. The empty stands in Berkshire contrasted with the ever filling Knavesmire.

“The going was good, the weather wasn’t – grey, overcast skies which constantly threatened rain, but failed to cloud the mood. The champagne flutes were full, the top hats mingled with their grandstand compatriots.

“The tension grew, and then Her Majesty arrived, her Ascot landaus sailing past the grandstand and royal enclosure in a blur of colour.

“The horsemen, clad in military red, led the way as the Queen, resplendent in pink, waved to a cheering public. Royal Ascot at York had finally arrived.”

The first three days were affected by heavy rain. Finally, on the Friday, the weather turned. “The downpours had not dampened an excellent three days of Royal Ascot at York, but the sight of the sun peeping through the clouds saw the glamorous meeting taking an even better turn,” The Press noted.

The following day, the Saturday – the last of the five-day event – the weather was even better. Bumper crowds turned up. “Sales of champagne were surely matched by sales of factor 20, as Royal Ascot’s swansong brought the kind of day to match the mood,” the Press reported.

The Royal Processional was an emotional occasion. “The Queen was the only Royal participant in the carriages, but the crowd did not mind. They roared their approval all the same.

“Her Majesty seemed touched, taking the warm welcome of her northern subjects to her heart,” The Press reported. “We waved, so did she, each saying our goodbyes. It had been a tremendous week on the course.”

Later, Royal Ascot at York was described, by no less an authority than the Duke of Devonshire, her majesty’s representative at Ascot, as “one of the most significant racing events in living memory, something very special and a moment of history.” A Royal seal of approval indeed for what was a remarkable week in York’s recent history.

Entertaining at Bishopthorpe Palace

THROUGHOUT her week at Royal Ascot in York, the Queen entertained guests at Bishopthorpe Palace before going to the races.

Mary Murray was then PA to the Archbishop of York – Dr David Hope had just retired, and Dr John Sentamu had yet to be appointed – and remembers the week well.

“Her Majesty was not going to stay, but wished to entertain personal guests each day to drinks and lunch before departing for the racecourse. Archbishop David Hope had retired and we were in an interregnum at that time, so it was all to fit in perfectly. Accommodation was available for the royal household in the palace itself and Archbishop David Hope’s private suite of rooms was perfect for the Queen to use.”

Security had to be tight.

“I had visits from the Metropolitan Police, the North Yorkshire Police, the Buckingham Palace security group and the Army to discuss security plans. One opinion was that the palace grounds were ‘a nightmare’ to protect because of its openness.

“The river had to be sealed off at both ends when the Queen was at the palace; all the buildings and grounds had to be searched each morning and parts were sealed off; they even pulled the drain covers up, with the exception of one where a duck had made a nest and laid eggs. “They decided not to disturb her, especially as she quacked threateningly and chased off any intruders who approached.”

The Queen arrived on the Monday of Royal Ascot at York. It was raining. “But she was cheerful and chatty, putting us all at our ease. The Bishop of Hull was present to greet her, as a representative of the church and because he was the most senior bishop in the Diocese of York. “As they had arrived early, I asked her if she would like a tour of the palace before the guests arrived, so she and the Duke of Edinburgh came round with me to look at the portraits in the Great Hall and the drawing room, to see the beautiful private chapel and to hear something of the history of the Archbishops of York.

“Each day different members of the royal family arrived along with lunch guests. Drinks were offered in the drawing room and lunch was served in the Great Hall.

After lunch, chocolates were laid out in the entrance hall for guests to take as they departed for the races. At 1.15pm promptly each day, the wonderful horses and carriages came from Fulford Barracks (where they were based), through town to Bishopthorpe. They were such a sight as they came slowly up the main drive to the palace.”