Trying to keep her distance, ech?
It is the most quintessentially British event in the racing calendar: the Queen riding in her carriage during the procession at Royal Ascot.
By long-standing tradition the Queen and her guests arrive by horse-drawn landaus, travelling down the Straight Mile before circling the Parade Ring on each of the meeting’s five days.
For the Qatari royal family the event has added significance. Not only do they sponsor Royal Ascot through their holding company Qipco, but the Emir of Qatar accompanied the Queen during one of the processions last month. According to one account, that unfortunately appears to be where the problems began.
In the account, reported by Charles Moore in his diary column in The Spectator, the Emir’s cousin Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani, chief executive of Qipco, and his mother Sheikha Amna bint Mohammed Al-Thani, expected — mistakenly as it turned out — to be riding with the Queen in her carriage the following day.
The apparent misunderstanding is understood to have emerged at a lunch held at Windsor Castle by the Queen during Royal Ascot, when the Sheikha discovered that instead of sitting alongside the Queen she and her son would be in the third carriage.
According to the account reported by Mr Moore, the Sheikha was so upset that she insisted to her son that they must return at once to London and forego the procession and the racing altogether.
Indeed both Sheikh Hamad and his mother were absent when the procession travelled down the mile and past each of the guests in the enclosures.
It is being said that shortly after Lady Elizabeth Anson, a cousin of the Queen who acts as PR to the Qataris, was found in tears at Ascot, amid reports that she had been summarily dismissed. To add to the confusion she was later reported to have been reinstated.
The unexpected absence was explained by an official notice as being “due to a family health issue”, leaving doubts over the veracity of the entire story.
The Qataris exert a significant influence on racing and sport in general. Qipco, the ruling family’s investment vehicle, sponsors the British Champions Series, which incorporates the 35 top flat races in the British racing calendar.
But most famously Qatar won the right to stage the 2022 Fifa World Cup, prompting claims that some Fifa officials were bribed to influence the outcome of the vote, held in 2010. Qatar – which has little footballing tradition and where summer temperatures can reach 50C (122F) – has rejected claims of impropriety, insisting they are simply motivated by envy.
A spokesman for Qipco said: “Sheikha Amna bint Mohammed Al-Thani was not well. That is why she was not taking part in the procession. That is all we have to say on the matter.”
Buckingham Palace would not comment on the reports or its arrangements for the Royal Ascot procession. Lady Elizabeth was travelling abroad and could not be contacted.