Britain's Most Exclusive Fraternity

Britain’s Most Exclusive Fraternity

 

On the 18th of January 2018 The President’s Club annual dinner was well under way in The Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair. This charity event has been held for the last 33 years and raises money for many NHS hospitals. It was packed with some of the most prestigious men in the UK and oozing with wealth, however, unbeknownst to them, in the days to come the horrific behaviour that followed would be plastered over one of the biggest newspapers in the UK.

Madison Marriage from The Financial Times went undercover to the event to find out the truth about one of the most prestigious events in the London diary. The event comprises an all-male guest list including many of the most powerful men in the UK, from MPs to business tycoons. Guests included Peter Jones from the BBC’s Dragon’s Den, Philip Green of Arcadia Group, and David Walliams, the famous comedian and author of children’s books.

Around 300 men were in attendance, as well as around 130 young female hostesses. These women were recruited by Caroline Dandridge, the founder of hostess agency Artista. Many of the women were students or those with part-time acting or dancing jobs. They were required to fit the criteria of being “tall, slim and pretty” and were told to wear matching back underwear and “sexy heels.” The women were offered £150 for the evening. On arrival they were made to sign a disclosure agreement which they were not given time to read or given a copy of. They had their hair and make-up done and were given short, tight, black dresses and belts that resembled corsets. The women were assigned tables and were to wait on the guests, hand and foot.

Alarm bells first started ringing when one hostess who had worked at the event previously disclosed that she “couldn’t believe she was here again.” During the event, the men’s behaviour towards the women very quickly took a sinister turn. Many insisted on holding the hands of the hostesses who were at their table, so they could pull them onto their laps. The women were groped, invited up to hotel rooms, and received unwanted sexual advances. One hostess was told she “wasn’t drunk enough” and was asked to remove her underwear. One of the hostesses said the event was very different to the others she had worked at, and whilst the men at these events often flirted with her she had never felt uncomfortable or frightened before.

Artista had a team of suited men and women who kept a close watch on the girls and prodded those who weren’t seen to be interacting with the guests enough. The girls were monitored when going to the toilet and if they took too long they were called out. A couple of the older and more experienced hostesses said the younger girls looked “shocked, frightened and exhausted.” One girl was asked if she was a prostitute, and another stated “I am never doing this again…it’s fucking scary.”

The event was reported in The Financial Times by Madison Marriage a few days later. The event made around £2 million pounds for selected charities such as Great Ormond Street Hospital, however after the expose many of the donations have been returned. The President’s Club has been shut down and many of the culprits, such as Labour peer Jonathan Medelsohn, have been sacked. Ms Dandridge has taken no responsibility for the position she put the girls in, stating “they knew exactly what they were getting themselves into” and that “you just have to put up with the annoying men.” Scarily, this attitude is exactly the kind that perpetuates and justifies the harassment of women every day. Whilst never acceptable, it is even more terrifying that a powerful business woman who should be supporting other women also holds this view.

The fact that the event raises money for such worthy causes appears to be used as a justification for the shocking behaviour of the guests. Ms Dandridge herself said,

“This is a really important charity fundraising event… and raises huge amounts of money for disadvantaged and underprivileged children’s charities… I am not aware of any reports of sexual harassment and with the calibre of guest, I would be astonished.”

The wealth and status of the guests matched with the important charities supported by the event have overshadowed the basic levels of dignity and respect that should have been shown to these women. There is also something particularly vile and sleazy about young women being paraded and felt up whilst images of children in intensive care flash across screens. The juxtaposition of the sick children and the harassment of these women is both grotesque and perplexing

Sadly, the view that the harassment of these women should be swept under the rug is also held by members of the public, shown by comments on newspaper articles such as “Are you happy now that the children of Great Ormond Street Hospital cannot get the treatment they need?” Other supporters of Artista have said the reaction has been “over the top” and that the “hospitality industry has been the same since the Roman Times” (as if because women have always been harassed then this is ok). Supporters of Ms Dandridge have said the claims are “designed to ruin the reputation of the men who attended.” In typical slut shaming fashion, the responsibility for the actions of these men has been pushed onto the women who were the victims at the event.

The misogynistic attitudes at the event didn’t stop with the treatment of the hostesses. Even the auction fuelled the objectification of women by offering prizes such as plastic surgery which was presented with the statement “this is what your wife could look like.” The whole event bled with the objectification of and degrading behaviour towards women.

There are two main points that have to be clarified in all of this. First of all, these women did not know what they were getting into- despite the apparent views of many, no one signs up to be groped or accosted. There are few young girls living in London who would turn down £150 for a night of working in a skimpy outfit and agreeing to work as a hostess means you are agreeing to do just that. It is not an invitation to be sexually harassed. Secondly, those comparing this event to men working as topless butlers at a ladies’ lunch are simply deluded. The concept is the same in that they are being used for the entertainment of others, however the power imbalance apparent at this event is unmistakable and incomparable. Putting these young women to work at an event with the most wealthy and powerful men in the UK business world was nothing short of feeding them to the lions.

Images: Google Images

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