It’s one of the most highly-anticipated society events of the summer season.
The Henley Royal Regatta made its long-awaited return yesterday, with thousands of spectators making their way to the sidelines along the Henley-On-Thames river for a day of sun, sport and rubbing shoulders with many of the most prominent figures amongst the London social elite.
Having taken place annually since 1839, the event has only ever been cancelled on three occasions within its extensive history – for both World Wars and, of course, in 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With its return came some changes, too. The event’s chair, Sir Steve Redgrave, recently announced changes to Henley’s 182-year-old dress code, which saw women prohibited from wearing trousers or garments with hemlines above the knee. Now, women are free to wear shorter, more modernised pieces, as well as wearing trousers or jeans.
It comes following pressure for the event to fall in line with the modern world, which it now seems to be looking to do as it makes its long-awaited comeback.
Changes to the dress code aside, spectators still appeared to have welcomed the opportunity to look their best and enjoy the first day of this important event within the London social season. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that those attending the event were in high spirits yesterday as the first teams took to their boats and awaited the starting gun.
It was an action-packed first day of the event, with eighty races taking place. It’s clear to see why the schedule needs to be so tightly packed – a total of 481 highly-skilled rowing teams have entered this year’s regatta, with 41 teams travelling to the event from outside of the United Kingdom.
Once spectators – who all had to provide proof that they were ‘COVID-safe’ before being allowed into the regatta’s extensive grounds – had made their way to the riverbank and grandstands, the racing could begin. The initial heats for the Wyfold Challenge Cup were the first to take place, with Nottingham Rowing Club taking first place against Upper Thames Rowing Club following an impressive first contest.
It was a fitting start to an exciting day, as the captain of the team himself admitted that they weren’t expecting the win.
“We don’t know how we did that,” he told reporters on the sidelines, “It was fantastic.”
They were joined as winners shortly later by contenders from the Reading Blue Coat School, who beat Pangbourne Challenge for their chance to lift the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup following further races against other teams.
The rowing fixtures continued for the remainder of the morning, with events paused at 12:20pm to give both spectators and competitors a chance to enjoy some lunch. For those on the sidelines, there was an impressive selection of catering available, with markets and kiosks set up around the event offering a wide range of artisan treats.
Action recommenced at 2pm, with later races including the heats for the Thames Challenge Cup and the Junior Women’s Eights. Races for these coveted prizes will continue across the event, which concludes on Sunday with 26 finals. Day one offered an exciting glimpse into the identities of the teams who could be taking away these exciting awards following the first event since Henley’s 2020 cancellation.
However, there’s plenty of competition yet to come before proceedings close. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on things…