April is the perfect month to start planning our occasionwear outfits and, to tie in with this, my Woman of Substance this month is Commercial Director of Ascot Racecourse, Juliet Slot. Anticipated and revered, Royal Ascot is Britain’s most valuable race meeting, attracting many of the world’s finest racehorses to compete for more than £6.5million in prize money – this year is a record, the total having been increased by £1million. Long seen as a spectacle of fashion and style, the five days are made for socialising and attract visitors from all over the world.
With an impressive career in senior roles at Fulham Football Club, Haymarket Press and the marketing and communications agency, Pitch, Juliet worked on the Olympic Bid team for London 2012 – the success of which was a highlight of her career.
Juliet joined 300-year-old Ascot Racecourse in 2012 and is responsible for brand protection and income generation. She lives in Barnes, London with her Chief Rugby Correspondent husband and three children.
Juliet, you have one of the most senior roles at one of the most important events in the British social season. What is it about this job that you find most fulfilling and what has been your greatest achievement to date?
At two o'clock on the first day of the Royal Meeting, the Golden Gates open and the Royal Procession starts. As I watch Her Majesty the Queen and the four Landau carriages with her guests in gently glide up the racecourse, with the throngs of racegoers cheering by the side of the course, the hairs on my neck always tingle. It's at that moment I am proudest; proud of what the teams have achieved to get the whole site looking perfect and having delivered a marketing campaign that has ensured we are sold out in all our enclosures and restaurants. It's at that moment that I take a minute to remember all the hard work we've been through and to enjoy the success. There are so many elements of my role that are fulfilling, but this has to be one of the best. We have grown our income by 26% for the Royal Meeting alone over the last three years, whilst also reducing the numbers of people in each enclosure, and overall in fine dining. For me it's about raising the standard, and that involves improving the whole experience wherever we can and, in some instances, we have had to make hard decisions to reduce our numbers [in order] to elevate the ambience of the enclosure. Our board have been hugely supportive of this approach, as have our customers whose feedback we listen to attentively. We are not perfect but we aim to chip away at the elements where we know we can improve; it's a journey, which is what I love, because we can continually raise the bar we set ourselves.
You must be gearing up now for the biggest race meeting of the year at Ascot: Royal Ascot. What are your aims for 2016 and will the event be different in any way?
Royal Ascot is over 300 years old and every year we evolve what is one of the world's greatest race meetings. There are many traditions that are an empirical part of the race meeting which we would not change, so we like to try and raise the standard on the year before as part of our brand promise to our customers. We welcome over 300,000 guests to the event and this year we have renamed our two public enclosures (the grandstand is now the Queen Anne Enclosure and the Silver Ring, the Windsor Enclosure) as well as introduced an evolution of our Royal Ascot logo. We are delighted that Her Majesty the Queen will once again be attending, as she has every year since she acceded to the throne, especially in her 90th birthday year. We are also delighted to be running the Gold Cup, our most famous race, in honour of her 90th birthday this year. Overall, our aim is to ensure that we deliver the very best day's racing and a special occasion for everyone who attends.
You have spoken of the pride felt by the 60,000 Royal Ascot race-goers when the Queen processes down the straight mile to herald the iconic start of every race day. What is the history of this royal association and have you met the Queen?
It was Queen Anne in 1711 who first saw the potential for a racecourse and the first race meeting ever held at Ascot took place later that year, on Saturday 11th August. Since that day, racing has been held at Ascot. For many years, Royal Ascot was run by a direct appointee of the Royal Household – the Master of the Buckhounds. Now we have a modern incorporated business, but ultimately, Ascot is still overseen on behalf of the Crown by a representative appointed by the Monarch. The title is now Her Majesty's Representative, and the current incumbent is Johnny Weatherby, supported by two other Trustees. As an owner and breeder of racehorses, the Queen takes a keen interest in the races, and has had great success with her own horses. Indeed, during my first year, her wonderful filly Estimate won the Gold Cup. During Royal Ascot, the Queen traditionally presents the trophies for the Gold Cup and The Diamond Jubilee Stakes, but in 2012, when she was the winning owner, her son, The Duke of York, presented the trophy to her, which was a wonderful moment for me, for all the staff and for the people there and watching on TV who will never forget it. Each year as a Director I am presented in an official line up to the Queen, which is a great honour.
The five days of Royal Ascot are the jewel in the crown of the racecourse, and indeed the British social season. I know there are 21 further race days throughout the year, including events such as a fireworks night race and a music race night in May. How do you maintain the momentum across the year and have you introduced any new initiatives?
We are constantly looking ahead, challenging the status quo and coming up with ideas and initiatives that can enhance the customer experience. We have a jockeys' competition in the summer, the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup, which is completely different to Royal Ascot; and we also look to improve established race meetings such as our Fireworks Night where we aim to give the best display in Berkshire; or our Beer Festival which is now ten years old. This year we are hoping to introduce a selection of beers from around the world and expand the whole event. Since I began, the team and I have focused a great deal of effort into asking our customers about their experience and how to improve it – we pride ourselves that we listen. One key change is the amount of information and help we give to all attending customers in our "Plan Your Day" emails, which we have fantastic open rates on, because it's all about helping customers get the best out of their day at the races.
This year, one new initiative is to use Raymond Blanc in the Parade Ring Restaurant during King George Saturday and QIPCO British Champions Day to provide a unique dining experience, but also for him to oversee an Ascot Academy for our staff so we can improve the training across all our restaurants to deliver a best-in-class fine dining experience.
You have a busy work schedule and a family. How do you relax?
Work can be incredibly busy at times. My favourite way to relax is to go skiing with my family, we can all really switch off and enjoy each other’s company. I also love going to the theatre and out for dinner with friends, or simply going for a walk with my dog, Lola, and my husband of course. My family are incredibly supportive of my hectic work schedule but we do work hard to carve out family time every week. Otherwise, what's it all for?!
We all labour over what to wear to special occasions – we want to look our best, with respect for dress codes. You recently partnered with Fenwick Bond Street, a stockist of Winser London, to offer styling advice for Royal Ascot. What a fabulous idea, though you must be an expert at choosing the perfect outfit for yourself. What is your personal style – and are you a hat-lover?
I absolutely love millinery and not just at Royal Ascot. It’s much easier to find an outfit to suit a hat, so I would definitely choose a hat first. I like to play with colours and prints to keep each look unique. Floral prints are always flattering and polka dots are another good option. I go to a wonderful personal shopper at Bentalls (part of the Fenwick Group) and she and I choose all my outfits together – I show her my proposed hats, which I either own or borrow, and we work out what goes with what. We also ensure that I reuse pieces from before, maybe matching with a different jacket, for example. Formal wear can often be timeless, or a more traditional piece can be matched with a modern twist, which I love. It's not often that we get to dress up and being able to do so at all our race meetings is definitely a perk of the job!
You discovered Winser London early on and I know you are a real fan. What are your favourite pieces in our Spring/Summer collection?
Winser was recommended to me by a fellow working mum who doesn't have much time to shop. I literally bought three dresses when I first went to the website, thinking I'd take one and send the others back – needless to say I have all three still! The fit is so perfect and hides a million sins! I particularly love the Grace Miracle dress in this season’s collection and the new colours.
For tickets to this year’s Royal Ascot (Tuesday 14th – Saturday 18th June) from £27 – £80, visit ascot.co.uk or call 0844 346 3000.