Henley is the third major event of the summer season after Royal Ascot and Wimbledon. First staged in 1839, The Henley Royal Regatta takes place over the first weekend in July (from Wednesday to Sunday) in the town of Henley-on-Thames.
Whilst people often know quite a bit about racing and tennis, less is known about rowing and guests often visit Henley with little knowledge, and come away with not much more! A rarity in boating events, the regatta pre-dates any international or national controlling body and as such has its own rules and organisation, although both the Amateur Rowing Association and the International Federation of Rowing Associations recognise the event. Stewards who are mostly former rowers themselves control the races.
The regatta can be viewed from several locations along both banks of the river Thames, although viewing areas for the general public are largely on the Berkshire side of the river. The Buckinghamshire side is limited to private clubs and residences as well as the odd bit of corporate entertainment and entry is not too expensive. Young people have a fantastic time, and there are many opportunities for picnics with a really fun day out. The course is one mile and 550 yards long and there are 16 events over the programme. It is relatively easy to attend via the Regatta Enclosure, but membership of the Stewards Enclosure is limited to 6000 and there is a very long waiting list of people wishing to join, who must be proposed by existing members, rather like entry to the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot. There is a one-off membership fee and an annual subscription. Members of the Royal Family do not often attend, although HRH Prince Michael of Kent can sometimes be spotted!
The event takes place during the first part of summer so the weather can be mixed. Henley is the right place to wear blazers, or cocktail dresses (and possibly a hat) for the ladies, although keen rowing fanatics may wish to get on board one of the Umpires launches and so something a little sturdier may be needed. Ladies must wear a dress which covers their knees and are not allowed trousers or culottes. Men must wear lounge suits or blazers with flannels and a tie or cravat, and if sporting a boater, these must be genuinely acquired from a school rowing team or a rowing club. Designer blazers are frowned upon, plain navy is best! The most distinctive dress at Henley will be a cerise pink cap and tie: this is the dress of the Leander Club, an almost exclusive body comprising those who have rendered special service to rowing.
A popular event in the corporate entertainment calendar, Henley is very male, very English and very charming.
The English Manner (www.theenglishmanner.com) are always happy to advise event-goers on dress or protocol. Please feel free to contact us for advice.
William Hanson & Alexandra Messervy
The English Manner