Interview – It’s All About The Social Season..
Sophie Campbell is an award-winning travel journalist who spent a summer investigating and experiencing the English Social Season. From The Derby at Epsom to the Royal Chelsea Flower Show, she explored every aspect of this most quintessential of English traditions. Her book, The Season, takes you behind the scenes of Society’s greatest events.
How did the Social Season start?
It really comes out of the traditional English sporting year. The aristocrats would have spent the winter on their estates. The whole social scene came alive as people came back into London in spring and not only wanted to meet each other, gossip and have a good time but also marry their children off. The two things began to evolve into a party.
What makes it so quintessentially English?
If there’s anything I would say it’s the illusion. These events give the illusion that they are completely unchanging and are charmingly English in that they’re quite quirky and a little bit eccentric. What they are, in fact, is highly professional and absolutely at the top of international standards. Along with the fun, the froth, the hats and the partying, they are phenomenally respected. There’s an ability to make it look very easy, when in fact it’s a really impressive range of events, some 300 years old.
What makes the Social Season so popular?
The icing on the cake is the people and the fashion and glamour. The spectators are as important as the spectacle. It’s also about how old it is. Royal Ascot began when there was a Stuart queen on the throne, the year after St Paul’s was finished. People can feel that there’s a long history behind all of this. Our events are so old that they actually exist outside the international rules because they were taking place before the rules were invented.
Which is more important – the sport or the socialising?
If it was purely fantastic sport, you could get that elsewhere, but what you don’t get anywhere else is the focus on the crowd, the little rituals that they engage in like the strawberries and cream or having picnics in your best dress at Glyndebourne opera festival. These are things which are almost as interesting as the event, yet, if you didn’t have that calibre of event, you wouldn’t get that calibre of audience. It’s that combination which makes them totally different from anywhere else in the world. Nowhere else do they exist in the variety and structure that we’ve got, where they happen in a running order every summer, every year as they have done, many, for over a century.