Presidents Club: What happened at the men-only charity event at centre of sexual harassment scandal, and who attended?

Hostesses required to be 'tall, thin and pretty' at secretive gala attended by business moguls

Lucy Pasha-Robinson
Wednesday 24 January 2018 17:43 GMT
Financial Times reporter Madison Marriage exposed the allegations after going undercover at the event
Financial Times reporter Madison Marriage exposed the allegations after going undercover at the event (Screenshot)

A men-only, London charity event has been the subject of string of headlines after hostesses made a raft of shocking sexual harassment allegations against senior businessmen in attendance.

Hostesses at the Presidents Club charity dinner, who were allegedly told to wear “black sexy shoes” and black underwear, accused attendees of groping and propositioning them.

The allegations were exposed by undercover Financial Times reporters who were at the fundraising gala last Thursday night.

'I was groped': Journalist Madison Marriage talks about hostessing at the Presidents Club Charity Dinner

But what exactly happened at the secretive dinner?

The black-tie event, attended by 360 figures from business, politics and finance, is held every year at the Dorchester Hotel.

The FT investigation revealed 130 women hostesses were hired by the Artista agency, to keep attendees “happy” and serve them drinks.

Artista allegedly required the women to be “tall, thin and pretty”, and paid them £150 for the night, plus £25 for a taxi home.

Hostesses were allegedly provided with a uniform consisting of a “short, tight black dress, black high heels and a thick black belt resembling a corset”.

They were also offered a glass of wine before entering the ballroom in pairs to music, the FT report claims.

Artista founder Caroline Dandridge reportedly told the women the men at the dinner might be “annoying”, according to the FT investigation, later telling them if the men were too annoying they should tell her.

This year, auction lots allegedly included a free lapdance at a Soho club and plastic surgery that could be used to “add spice to your wife”.

An unnamed “society figure” allegedly told one hostess: “I want you to down that glass [of champagne], rip off your knickers and dance on that table,” according to the report.

The FT alleged: “According to the accounts of multiple women working that night, groping and similar abuse was seen across many of the tables in the room.

“Hostesses reported men repeatedly putting hands up their skirts; one said an attendee had exposed his penis to her during the evening.”

Who was in attendance?

The event was hosted by comedian and children’s author David Walliams, who is not the subject of any allegations and is understood to have behaved correctly throughout the night. He has since said he is "absolutely appalled" by reports of the event.

It allegedly began with another male compere – not Walliams – telling the men “Welcome to the most un-PC event of the year”.

Companies in attendance included WPP, the FTSE 100 advertising conglomerate, which also sponsored a table - but has since cut ties with the event.

Other table sponsors included CMC Markets, the UK-listed spread betting company, and Frogmore, the London-based real estate investment business, according to the FT report.

A seating plan seen by the paper showed British business figures including Arcadia’s Philip Green, Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones and Ocado boss Tim Steiner were due to attend.

Financial figures said to be in attendance included Henry Gabay, founder of hedge fund Duet Group, and Makram Azar, the head of Barclays’ investment bank’s Middle East business, according to the FT.

Undersecretary of state for children and families Nadhim Zahawi attended - subsequently saying he had left early and had not witnessed any of alleged events - and Jonathan Mendelsohn, a Labour peer and party fundraiser.

However, it was not clear how many of those on the guestlist turned up on the evening.

The charitable trust behind the event is co-chaired by non-executive director for the Department for Education David Meller, who was made a CBE earlier this month, and Bruce Ritchie, a Mayfair property developer and top Conservative party donor. Mr Meller stepped down from his education role on Wednesday following the allegations.

Previous patrons of the charity dinner include property magnate Nick Candy, formula 1 boss Bernie Eccelstone and TV presenter Vernon Kay.

What has the reaction been?

The event was conceived more than 30 years ago to raise money for charity. Great Ormond Street Hospital said it would return all previous donations from the trust.

A spokesperson for Great Ormond Street Hospital said: “We are shocked to hear of the behaviour reported at the Presidents Club Charitable Trust fundraising dinner. We would never knowingly accept donations raised in this way.

“We have had no involvement in the organisation of this event, nor did we attend and we were never due to receive any money from it.

“All monies raised in our name go to support vital work. However, due to the wholly unacceptable nature of the event we are returning previous donations and will no longer accept gifts from the Presidents Club Charitable Trust.”

MPs across the political spectrum have also been quick to condemn the alleged behaviour.

Deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, said the report showed “a rotten, sexist culture is still alive and kicking in parts of the business community.”

Labour MP Jess Phillips wrote on Twitter: “FFS. Call me a snowflake or a feminazi if you want, send me hate, but while this s*** persists I will keep on speaking up @foreignoffice may I introduce you and @BorisJohnson to Global Goal Five, oh and the concept of dignity.”

The Presidents Club charitable trust, which said the event raised millions of pounds for disadvantaged children, said it was “appalled by the allegations of bad behaviour” and pledged to investigate.

Ms Dandridge was quoted by the FT as responding to the allegations by saying: “This is a really important charity fundraising event that has been running for 33 years and raises huge amounts of money for disadvantaged and underprivileged children’s charities.

“There is a code of conduct that we follow, I am not aware of any reports of sexual harassment and with the calibre of guest, I would be astonished.”

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, issued a statement saying: "I am utterly appalled by the behaviour at the Presidents Club fundraising dinner. I am clear that sexual harassment has no place in civilised society.

"It is right that David Meller has today resigned as a trustee of the Mayor's Fund for London."

When contacted by The Independent, a spokesman for Artista provided the same statement as that provided by the Presidents Club.

The Dorchester Hotel said it had a zero-tolerance policy regarding harassment of guests or employees.

In a statement, the hotel said: “We are unaware of any allegations and should we be contacted we will work with the relevant authorities as necessary.”

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