Hostesses 'groped and harassed' at secretive men-only charity gala
Hostesses hired to entertain figures from business and politics at a secretive men-only charity fundraising gala in London were groped, propositioned and sexually harassed, the Financial Times reported yesterday.
The detailed report of the Presidents Club's gala evening comes at a time of intense public debate about issues of sexual harassment in the workplace and pay discrimination against women.
The newspaper, which sent two people undercover to work at the event, said hostesses were told to wear skimpy black dresses with matching underwear before being paraded in front of braying men.
"Welcome to the most un-PC event of the year," announced the host at the start of a charity auction to raise funds for good causes, according to the article by undercover reporter Madison Marriage.
The Presidents Club Charitable Trust says on its website that it was founded more than three decades ago to raise money for underprivileged children. It announced yesterday that it would close down as a result of the scandal.
The trust could not immediately be reached for comment as the website contained no contact details.
Lots put up for auction included a night at a strip club and a course of plastic surgery, with the invitation "add spice to your wife".
The Financial Times said the trust had two joint chairmen, London property developer Bruce Ritchie and luxury goods businessman David Meller. It said neither man had provided a comment for publication.
The gala, held in the ballroom at the Dorchester Hotel on prestigious Park Lane, was attended by 360 men from British business, politics and finance, and the entertainment was provided by 130 hostesses hired especially for the occasion.
The Financial Times said hostesses had reported men putting hands up their skirts. One said a guest had exposed his penis to her.
The newspaper reported that at an after-party, held in a smaller room off the main lobby of the Dorchester, a man described as a prominent society figure had grabbed a hostess by the waist and pulled her in against his stomach.
"You look far too sober," the man was reported as saying. "I want you to down that glass, rip off your knickers and dance on that table."
The Financial Times report sparked a swift backlash against the event. Martin Sorrell, chief executive of global advertising group WPP, said the company would no longer be supporting the charity.
Sorrell said he had attended the charity's gala event many years ago and had not seen anything like what was described in the report.
"If true, it's highly regrettable," he said.
MP Maria Miller, who chairs the UK parliament's committee on women and equalities, tweeted that she hoped every man who attended the event would think twice before accepting another invitation to a men-only event with hostesses.