The Presidents Club Charitable Trust disbanded on January 24 after revelations about a men-only fundraising dinner where hired hostesses were allegedly groped and harassed. The gala, held in London last week, was reported by undercover reporter Madison Marriage for the Financial Times. Attendees of the charity come from the higher echelons of society, including politicians, billionaires and celebrities.
The Financial Times’ report depicted sordid behavior by men dressed in black tie while women – some of whom are students – “were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels”. Women were also subjected to groping and repeated requests to join diners in their bedrooms. They were asked to sign a five-page non-disclosure agreement before the event.
“It was unclear why men, seated at their tables with hostesses standing close by, felt the need to hold the hands of the women, but numerous hostesses discussed instances of it through the night. For some, this was a prelude to pulling the women into their laps,” Marriage reported, who herself was groped repeatedly.
The official goal of the gathering is to raise money for upstanding causes including Great Ormond Street Hospital, the renowned children’s hospital in London. Auction prizes included lunch with the the UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson.
What is the Presidents Club?
- The Presidents Club Charitable Trust is a long-running charity known for its annual dinner held at London’s Dorchester Hotel.
- Joint chairmen in 2018 were property developer Bruce Ritchie and businessman and Department for Education director David Meller.
- Over more than 30 years, it has raised $20 million for children’s charities, including Great Ormond Street Hospital.
The Guardian newspaper released the full list of men who had allocated seats, though it’s unclear who attended the event. The list includes:
- Sir Philip Green – A retail billionaire who has been involved in a number of controversies throughout his professional career, including tax avoidance and worker’s rights.
- Peter Jones CBE – A British entrepreneur and host of the popular UK reality TV series, Dragons’ Den.
- Gino D’Acampo – A celebrity TV chef and media personality in the UK.
Among the confirmed attendees are:
- Nadhim Zahawi – A British Conservative MP and the UK’s newly appointed Parliamentary Secretary for education. Zahawi has now been reprimanded for attending the gala, though he said he left before the hostesses were announced. UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who is currently at Davos, said she was “appalled” by the allegations but backed Zahawi. “I understand Zahawi left early from that particular event,” she said.
- Tim Steiner – The chief executive and co-founder of British online supermarket Ocado.
- Makram Azar – The vice-chair of investment banking at Barclays.
David Walliams, the British comedian and talent-show judge, has entertained at the dinner for the past three years. Walliams tweeted that he was there in a “professional capacity” and that he did not witness the behavior stated in the report.
2) I left immediately after I had finished my presenting on stage at 11.30pm. I did not witness any of the kind of behaviour that allegedly occurred and am absolutely appalled by the reports.
- Great Ormond Street Hospital and Evelina London Children’s Hospital have said they will return the donations following the report.
- The Royal Academy of Music said it will refund a £10,000 donation, citing the “deeply disturbing allegations”.
- Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, told the BBC: “Dragging progress for women’s rights back 50 years in the name of charity is deplorable.”
- Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, tweeted: “This is brave reporting from the FT, exposing behaviour that is outrageous and unacceptable.”
- The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, described it as “appalling” and that the resignation of the Club’s chairman, David Meller, was “right”.
I want London to be a city where all women are safe from sexual harassment. The behaviour that took place at the Presidents Club dinner is utterly appalling. It is right that David Meller has today resigned as a trustee of the independent charity, the Mayor’s Fund.