Hostesses 'groped' at men-only London gala

Journalist posing as hostess at charity dinner says guests repeatedly put hands up skirts

LONDON • Women hired to entertain businessmen and politicians at a men-only charity fund-raising gala in London were groped, propositioned and sexually harassed at the secretive event, the Financial Times reported yesterday.

Each year, for 33 years, The President's Club Charitable Trust has organised a fund-raising dinner at London's exclusive Dorchester Hotel to benefit "worthy children's causes".

The male attendees last Thursday, as in the past, were an elite group from Britain's business, finance, fashion, entertainment and political establishments.

For the female hostesses hired to attend to them, the job requirements included "tall, thin and pretty", the Financial Times reported. While the dinner was black-tie only, for the hostesses it was "black sexy shoes, black underwear" and "short tight black dresses", along with a "thick black belt resembling a corset".

The master of ceremonies at the Dorchester event began the evening by welcoming the men "to the most un-PC (un-politically correct) event of the year".

"A number of men stood with the hostesses while waiting for smoked salmon starters to arrive. Others remained seated and yet insisted on holding the hands of their hostesses... a prelude to pulling the women into their laps," wrote undercover journalist Madison Marriage, who posed as a hostess at the event along with a woman working with her.

As burlesque dancers entertained on the stage, dressed in furry hats like those worn by the famous guards at Buckingham Palace, except for the "star-shaped stickers" hiding their nipples, a 19-year-old hostess was asked by a "guest nearing his seventies" whether "she was a prostitute", which she was not, Ms Marriage reported.

DISTURBED

The Prime Minister was uncomfortable at the reports that she read this morning. I say 'reports' in part because clearly this is an event to which she would not be invited, because she is a woman.

SPOKESMAN FOR PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY

One hostess recounted to the Financial Times a scene of "braying men" fondling her bottom, stomach and legs. Another guest "lunged at her to kiss her".

Hostesses said men "repeatedly" put their hands up their skirts, with one exposing himself to her during the festivities.

Coming at a time of intense public debate about sexual harassment at the workplace, the report caused an immediate backlash against the President's Club charity.

One of the charity's beneficiaries, London's famous Great Ormond Street Hospital, said it would be returning previous donations from the President's Club after the report. Advertising group WPP said it had traditionally sponsored a table at the annual event, but would now be ending its association with it.

The Financial Times said the President's Club trust had two joint chairmen, London property developer Bruce Ritchie and luxury goods businessman David Meller, who also runs a chain of schools and is a non-executive board member at Britain's Education Ministry.

The hostesses, who were paid about US$211 (S$276), were between the ages of 19 and 23. Many of them were students, while some were actors, dancers or models.

British Prime Minister Theresa May was uncomfortable reading reports about the alleged sexual harassment, her spokesman said yesterday.

"The Prime Minister was uncomfortable at the reports that she read this morning. I say 'reports' in part because clearly this is an event to which she would not be invited, because she is a woman," the spokesman told reporters.

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2018, with the headline 'Hostesses 'groped' at men-only London gala'. Print Edition | Subscribe