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Theresa May ‘appalled’ by charity gala sleaze

Theresa May (pic on Jan 8) condemned ‘appalling’ sexist behaviour at a men-only charity gala that has left one of her own ministers fighting to save his job

Theresa May last night condemned ‘appalling’ sexist behaviour at a men-only charity gala that has left one of her own ministers fighting to save his job.

Downing Street said reports of scantily-clad female hostesses being flashed and groped at the Presidents Club dinner showed there was ‘a long way to go to ensure all women are treated properly as equals’.

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi was struggling to save his career yesterday, after joining 300 guests at the fundraiser in Mayfair’s Dorchester hotel, where they were served by 130 ‘tall, thin and pretty’ waitresses.

It was claimed last night that prostitutes were at the event where billionaires bid up to £400,000 for lots including a night at a strip club, tea with Bank of England governor Mark Carney, and lunch with Boris Johnson.

Yesterday the row over the dinner saw one of the organisers quit a Government job, questions in Parliament, several charities handing back donations and the Presidents Club announcing that it would permenantly close.

Millionaire Tory MP Mr Zahawi was last night hauled in for a ‘dressing down’ by Chief Whip Julian Smith. Sources said Mr Smith wanted to ‘establish the facts’ about his attendance. 

Businessmen outside the secretive Presidents Club charity dinner, at which more than 100 'hostesses' were brought in, with some reportedly being groped and propositioned. It not suggested those in this image took part in an impropriety

Businessmen outside the secretive Presidents Club charity dinner, at which more than 100 ‘hostesses’ were brought in, with some reportedly being groped and propositioned. It not suggested those in this image took part in an impropriety

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi was at the event but is said to have left early and is 'truly shocked'

There were calls for Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi (left) to be sacked yesterday. Businessman David Meller (right) yesterday stepped down from his role at the Department of Education after it emerged he was involved with the club which organised the sexist event

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi, who attended the event, tweeted saying he was shocked by the reports. He is said to have left early, having found it 'extremely uncomfortable'

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi, who attended the event, tweeted saying he was shocked by the reports. He is said to have left early, having found it ‘extremely uncomfortable’

A Government source said Mr Zahawi was ‘reminded of his obligations and responsibilities’, adding: ‘He was told it is not appropriate to attend events of this sort.’

A No 10 source said Mrs May was ‘appalled’ by the revelations about the dinner, which were uncovered in an investigation by the Financial Times.

Mr Zahawi was still in post last night. But a senior Tory said he was on ‘very thin ice’. Sources suggested he could face the sack if more revelations emerged. No 10 was unable to say whether other ministers had attended the event.

The fundraiser boasted of being the ‘most un-PC event of the year’. It prompted an Urgent Question in the Commons where it was accused of ‘crimes against a decent society’. Among yesterday’s developments:

  • MPs urgent police to investigate claims of sexual assault and indecent exposure;
  • Two hospitals said they would return the charity’s donations;
  • Presidents Club trustee David Meller quit his roles at the Department for Education and the Mayor’s Fund for London;
  • The Presidents Club announced it would close, as the Charity Commission said it was looking into the allegations;
  • The Mail has seen diktats from previous fundraisers in which hostesses were ordered never to reveal anything about the night.

Undercover FT reporter Madison Marriage who attended the event described how she and other women were ordered to wear figure-hugging dresses, matching knickers and ‘sexy shoes’, and women reported being groped multiple times with ‘hands up skirts, hands on bums … The worst I was told by one of the hostesses was a man taking his penis out … The other one was another man telling a hostess to … rip off her knickers and dance on the table.’ 

Men asked hostesses to join diners in bedrooms in the Dorchester, it was claimed.

A second hostess who spoke anonymously to ITV News said: ‘The men were treating them like sex workers.’ Mr Zahawi tweeted: ‘I do unequivocally condemn this behaviour. The report is truly shocking. I will never attend a men-only function ever.’

But according to BBC Newsnight, he attended before he was an MP in 2010. A senior No 10 source said the minister had told them he left ‘before the hostesses were introduced’. 

But the FT reporter said the women were introduced as the event began at 8pm. Labour MP Sarah Jones said: ‘If it transpires that the minister did not report his concerns and that he was there on previous occasions … he needs to resign.’ 

Fellow Labour MP Jess Phillips added: ‘Women were bought as bait for men … it is totally unacceptable.’

Mr Zahawi was seen in the Commons talking with education minister Anne Milton, who told MPs: ‘It is quite extraordinary to me that in the 21st century allegations of this kind are still emerging.’

Businessman Mr Meller, 58, quit his role a non-executive board member of the DfE in the wake of the allegations, she added.

Great Ormond Street Hospital and Evelina London Children’s Hospital are among causes to have benefited from £20million raised by the Club over more than 30 years. They said they were shocked and were returning donations.

A No 10 spokesman said Mrs May had full confidence in Mr Zahawi, despite being ‘uncomfortable’ with the men-only nature of the event.

Two undercover reporters who posed as hostesses for the evening claimed some women were repeatedly propositioned by the male guests, with one man accused of exposing himself

Two undercover reporters who posed as hostesses for the evening claimed some women were repeatedly propositioned by the male guests, with one man accused of exposing himself

Financial Times reporter Madison Marriage

David Walliams is pictured at the National Television Awards on Tuesday night

Undercover reporter Madison Marriage (pictured left) recorded footage from inside the event, which was hosted by David Walliams (pictured at the National Television Awards on Tuesday night, right)

The event was referred to as the slimeballs' "charity event" by Tory MP Margot James

The event was referred to as the slimeballs’ ‘charity event’ by Tory MP Margot James

‘Wear a skimpy dress and remain discreet’: The strict orders issued to Presidents Club waitresses

Hostesses at the fundraiser were ordered to wear a skimpy dress over a strapless bra, ‘remain discreet’ and never reveal anything they witnessed, rules show.

They were told to ensure they had ‘gorgeous hair’, banned from taking photos, and warned that their boyfriends should not turn up uninvited.

Women employed for the annual event were sent three pages of strict rules by hostess firm Artista, run by Caroline Dandridge, 55.

Caroline Dandridge

The ¿uniform¿ from the 2015 rules

Boss: Caroline Dandridge and the ‘uniform’ from the 2015 rules

In the instructions from 2015’s fundraiser an image of a partly see-through dress showed the ‘uniform’ staff were handed on arrival. Women finishing work at midnight would have red belts and nail varnish, while those finishing at 2am had the same items in black.

They were told to wear a ‘black strapless bra’ or tuck in the straps. Flat shoes were banned.

The hostesses had to sign legally-binding Non Disclosure Agreements on the night. The document added: ‘Absolutely nothing must be discussed/disclosed before, during or after the event to anyone … ever.’

An ex-employee of Miss Dandridge yesterday told of how hostesses would be treated as if they were entering ‘prison’ and made to put their mobile phones in a sealed plastic bag outside the room. She claimed on one occasion a sobbing 18-year-old told Miss Dandridge: ‘A guy has tried to kiss me.’ The boss allegedly told her to ‘buck up’.

There was no answer at Miss Dandridge’s cottage in Berkshire yesterday and she did not respond to a request for comment.

Comedian David Walliams, who hosted the fundraiser, tweeted saying he ‘agreed to host as it is one of the biggest charity fund raising events of the year’.

He added: ‘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.’

A leaked brochure from the notorious night at London’s Dorchester hotel shows off the items the super-rich guests could bid for as they were served drinks by the ‘tall, thin and pretty’ hostesses who were allegedly groped.

Lot One in the booklet is the chance to have a character in David Walliams’ next book named after your child and the chance to meet the author.

Tory MP Margot James branded the event the ‘slimeball’s ‘charity event [sic]’. 

WPP, the world’s biggest advertising agency, which had sponsored a table at the dinner, said it was withdrawing its future support.

Boss Sir Martin Sorrell, who did not attend, said his guests did not see such behaviour. 

But he told Sky News standards in the City need to raise.

Gala was attended by prostitutes who began ‘immediately kissing’ the all-male guests and soliciting them for sex, hostess claims

The Presidents Club gala was attended by prostitutes who began ‘immediately kissing’ guests and soliciting them for sex following dinner, according to a hostess.

The waitress described seeing ‘around five’ women in red dresses turning up for an after-party following the male-only charity fundraising event at London’s Dorchester Hotel last Thursday and acting ‘very provocatively’ around guests.

The woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described seeing men ‘putting hands up skirts’ and ‘touching inappropriately’. When asked if she thought the five women were sex workers she said, ‘I’m 100% sure’.

‘They were wearing red dresses,’ she told ITV News. ‘And they were acting very provocatively around the men. Kissing men almost instantly. It was really shocking to see.’

The woman, who looked after a table and poured drinks until 2am, claimed several of the guests at the event paid the women in red dresses for sex.

‘I was really wary of it and I was disgusted that was happening. I was worried about some of the girls who were talking to men,’ she said.

‘The men were treating them like sex workers. They were putting hands up skirts. Touching inappropriately. Some guys kissing other girls. It was uncomfortable.’

The hostess said she started feeling ‘uneasy’ when she was given a ‘revealing’ dress upon arrival and told to hand in her phone.

‘I had a table and had to look after that table and pour them drinks,’ she said.

‘On my table the men weren’t too badly behaved but on the table next to me, within five minutes a girl was sitting on a guy’s lap. Sitting next to men.

‘Men pouring drinks down girls’ throats. Yes there were some girls there who didn’t mind that but there were equally girls who hated it and felt very uncomfortable.’

The woman claimed the waitresses were aged between 18 and 45, although some may have had surgery to look younger.

Unusually for a formal event, the hostesses were allowed to drink alcohol.  

‘I was worried for them. A lot of them hadn’t done it before,’ the waitress said in the ITV News interview.

‘Some had and knew what it was about and it was a fun time for them to get drunk but the women who hadn’t done it before.

‘When it started there was a look around the room. Is this real? Is this actually happening? Some of them looked really worried.

‘The whole environment was very intimidating. I couldn’t wait until 2am came.’

According to the woman, the situation got even worse later in the evening when people were getting ‘more and more drunk’.

‘There were a lot of girls who were really drunk,’ she said. ‘One girl was sick in the toilets.

‘There were other girls who entered the room in the after party who about five of them maybe who had different coloured dresses on and acted more provocatively.’

Their comments came as businessman David Meller, a trustee of the Presidents Club, quit his role as non-executive board member at the Department for Education. 

Education minister Ms Milton told the Commons her first reaction to reports of the event was ‘words fail me’.

‘It is quite extraordinary to me that in the 21st Century allegations of this kind are still emerging,’ she said. ‘Women have the right to feel safe wherever they work and allegations of this kind of behaviour are completely unacceptable.

‘David Meller has been a non executive board member of the department for education. The government expects board members to adhere to the code of conduct for board members. 

‘David Meller has stepped down as a non-executive member of the board of education. I know that the Secretary of State is clear that this is the right thing to do.’ 

Meller, 58, is chair of the Meller Group, one of the largest luxury home and beauty suppliers in the UK. His work sponsoring academies and schools led to him getting a CBE in this year’s New Year’s Honours list for ‘services to education’.

Asked for Theresa May’s opinion of the Presidents Club event, a Downing Street source said: ‘The Prime Minister was uncomfortable at the reports that she read this morning.

‘Clearly, this is an event to which she would not be invited, because she is a woman.’

The Number 10 source said that Mr Meller ‘has been asked to step down’ from his role in the Department for Education, adding: ‘The Prime Minister thinks that is the right decision.’

Meller, pictured with his wife Wendy, was asked to quit after details of the event emerged

Meller, pictured with his wife Wendy, was asked to quit after details of the event emerged

Lunch with Boris, tea with bank of England boss and a walk-on part in David Walliams’ next book: The prizes on offer at presidents Club gala

The all-male big-money guests at a charity event dubbed the ‘slimeballs’ gala’ had the chance to rub shoulders with City power players and drive off in top-of-the-range sports cars.

A leaked brochure from the notorious night at London’s Dorchester hotel shows off the items the super-rich guests could bid for as they were served drinks by the ‘tall, thin and pretty’ hostesses who were allegedly groped.

Lot One in the booklet is the chance to have a character in David Walliams’ next book named after your child and the chance to meet the author.

The chance to have your child's name in the next David Walliams book was among the lots up for auction at the Presidents Club gala at which hostesses were alleged groped by guests

The chance to have your child’s name in the next David Walliams book was among the lots up for auction at the Presidents Club gala at which hostesses were alleged groped by guests

Another Lot was the opportunity to have lunch with Boris Johnson and Ian Botham

Another Lot was the opportunity to have lunch with Boris Johnson and Ian Botham

One of the most controversial lots was this chance to have tea with Mark Carney at the Bank of England. The Bank says it is investigating how the prize came to be on offer

One of the most controversial lots was this chance to have tea with Mark Carney at the Bank of England. The Bank says it is investigating how the prize came to be on offer

Walliams hosted the evening but said today he left at 11.30pm and didn’t see any of the misconduct exposed by the Financial Times undercover reporters.

Another of the luxury lots up for sale was lunch with foreign secretary Boris Johnson hosted by famous England cricketer Sir Ian Botham.

The prize which has caused the biggest scandal is the chance to tour the Bank of England and have tea with its govenor, Mark Carney.

The Bank of England has distanced itself from the dinner this afternoon, claiming it was not aware of the event and ‘did not approve any prize for auction at the event’.

Governor Mark Carney is ‘deeply dismayed that such an event could take place’, the Bank added.

A new BMW i8 Roadster, worth around £125,000 was another lot at the event, proceeds of which went to children’s charities. Another was plastic surgery at a Harley Street practice.

The lavish menu for the raucous evening included steak, caviar, salmon and Champagne

The lavish menu for the raucous evening included steak, caviar, salmon and Champagne

The list of table names includes some of the City's biggest firms

The list of table names includes some of the City’s biggest firms

The sumptuous menu offered to guests includes kosher hors d’oeuvres, followed by smoked salmon and keta caviar. For main guests enjoyed ’34 day aged Black Angus beef fillet with chips and onion rings, followed by black forest gateau with coffee and petit fours.

The wine list included a 2015 Chablis Cuvee, a 2012 Bordeaux and Dom Perignon. Whisky, vodka and Patron were also on offer.

Madison Marriage, the reporter who went undercover, said she was groped 'several times'

Madison Marriage, the reporter who went undercover, said she was groped ‘several times’

David Walliams is ‘absolutely appalled’ by ‘groping and flashing’ at bankers’ charity ball he hosted

David Walliams said he didn't see any sexual misconduct at a men-only charity fundraiser that he hosted, adding he was 'absolutely appalled' by the reports

David Walliams said he didn’t see any sexual misconduct at a men-only charity fundraiser that he hosted, adding he was ‘absolutely appalled’ by the reports

Comedian David Walliams said he didn’t see any sexual misconduct at a men-only charity fundraiser that he hosted, adding he was ‘absolutely appalled’ by the reports.

Last week’s Presidents Club dinner at London’s Dorchester hotel saw women hired as hostesses being harassed and groped at the event, which was attended by hundreds of senior executives.

Leading figures in business, politics and finance attended the event hosted by comedian and children’s author David Walliams, who is not the subject of any allegations. 

Walliams, who is also a successful children’s author, tweeted today that he left London’s Dorchester Hotel once he had finished his presenting duties at the dinner and did not witness any of the reported misconduct.

Mr Walliams said in a statement: ‘I was there in a strictly professional capacity and not as a guest. 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.’

One of the organisers of a men-only fundraiser has quit as trustee of a children’s charity. 

Walliams said today he left at 11.30pm and did not witnesses women being groped

Walliams said today he left at 11.30pm and did not witnesses women being groped

Businessman David Meller, Presidents Club trustee and co-chairman of the annual dinner at London’s Dorchester Hotel, has quit his role at the Mayor’s Fund for London and the Department for Education.

It came as two hospitals said they were returning donations from the trust in the wake of the allegations.

A spokesman for the Mayor’s Fund for London, which supports disadvantaged young people, said: ‘David Meller has this afternoon resigned as a trustee of the Mayor’s Fund for London.

‘The Mayor’s Fund for London is not and has never been a beneficiary of, nor has it had any involvement with, the Presidents Club or its events.’

Education minister Anne Milton told MPs Mr Meller was quitting as non-executive director of the DfE board following the reports.

Madison Marriage, the reporter who went undercover, said she was groped 'several times'

Madison Marriage, the reporter who went undercover, said she was groped ‘several times’

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi also attended but ‘found the event extremely uncomfortable’ and left early, Ms Milton said.

Mr Zahawi tweeted: ‘I do unequivocally condemn this behaviour. The report is truly shocking. I will never attend a men only function ever.’

Labour MP Jess Phillips, who tabled an urgent question in the House of Commons, welcomed news that Mr Meller was standing down and asked if it was ‘appropriate’ that Mr Zahawi made an appearance.

She added: ‘What happened is that women were bought as bait for men who were rich men, not a mile from where we stand, as if that is an acceptable behaviour – it is totally unacceptable.’

A spokeswoman from Evelina London Children’s Hospital said: ‘We are very alarmed by the allegations about the behaviour of some of those attending the Presidents Club fundraising dinner.

‘This is not the kind of event we would wish to be associated with and we will therefore be declining funding from it and returning all previous donations from the Presidents Club.’  

Sir Martin Sorrell, head of advertising firm WPP, said he had attended the event ‘many years ago’.

‘(I’d) never seen anything like that,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘If it’s true, we checked with our people who were there at our table and they said they saw nothing of that kind. 

Mr Sorrell added: ‘We issued a statement last night saying that we won’t support the charity in future, which is regrettable because it is a charity that supports numerous children’s charities and has done a lot of good work.’

Asked if the sort of behaviour alleged was normal among top firms, he said: ‘No, that’s not the case, certainly not in this case, the particular case you are referring to.

‘I don’t know about other cases, but no, I think if true it’s highly regrettable.’  

Now, a furious backlash has begun, with MPs, business leaders and others (pictured) slamming the sexist event and telling those who allowed it to happen 'time's up on this crap'

Now, a furious backlash has begun, with MPs, business leaders and others (pictured) slamming the sexist event and telling those who allowed it to happen ‘time’s up on this crap’

 Financial Times reporter Madison Marriage, who was one of those to go undercover at the event, told BBC Newsnight: ‘I was groped several times and I know that there are numerous other hostesses who said the same thing had happened to them.

‘It’s hands up skirts, hands on bums but also hands on hips, hands on stomachs, arms going round your waist unexpectedly.’ 

One unnamed man, described as ‘a society figure’, reportedly grabbed a hostess by the waist and said: ‘You look far too sober. I want you to down that glass, rip off your knickers and dance on the table.’

The undercover reporters also spotted a troupe of burlesque dancers ‘dressed like furry-hatted Coldstream Guards, but with star-shaped stickers hiding [their] nipples’.

Labour MP Jess Phillips, who had tabled an urgent question about the event in the House of Commons yesterday said: ‘What happened is that women were bought as bait for men who were rich men, not a mile from where we stand, as if that is an acceptable behaviour – it is totally unacceptable.’

Evelina London Children's Hospital (pictured) have said they will return all previous donations from the Presidents Club

Evelina London Children’s Hospital (pictured) have said they will return all previous donations from the Presidents Club

What is the Presidents Club and how long has it been holding its secretive auctions?

The Presidents Club Charitable Trust emerged in the mid-Eighties, shortly before City of London executives began filling their pockets on the fruits of 24-hour financial trading and a deal-making boom sparked by the arrival of US investment banks.

While it was launched a year before the Big Bang of 1985, the club would find its feet in an era of fortune, as the City prospered from the sweeping financial deregulation backed by prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Attracting esteemed figures from the worlds of business, politics and celebrity, it held men-only dinner parties where guests were encouraged to make hefty charitable donations through prize auctions.

The Presidents Club hired 130 women as hostesses at the annual black-tie fundraiser, which was held at The Dorchester hotel in Mayfair last Thursday (pictured in 2012)

The Presidents Club hired 130 women as hostesses at the annual black-tie fundraiser, which was held at The Dorchester hotel in Mayfair last Thursday (pictured in 2012)

After 33 years, it claims to have raised more than £20 million for charities such as Action for Kids, the Sick Kids Friends Foundation and Marie Curie Cancer Care.

According to financial records held by Open Charities, it dished out £2.2 million to charities in 2016, nearly double the £1.22 million paid the year before.

However, a Financial Times investigation exposing alleged instances of sexual harassment at the club’s most recent event at The Dorchester hotel has cast a dark shadow over the organisation.

The three men listed as the club’s trustees on the Charity Commission website are David Meller, Harvey Soning and Bruce Ritchie.

As well as chairing the Meller Group, one of the biggest luxury home and beauty suppliers in the UK, Mr Meller was until Wednesday a non-executive board member for the Department for Education and the Apprenticeship Delivery Board.

With operations in London and Bradford, the Meller Group specialises in accessories, textiles, jewellery and beauty products.

Mr Soning, 72, is a property developer who chairs agency James Andrew International, which he founded in 1974 following stints at Peachey Property Corporation and Guardian Properties.

He has been involved in several ‘major property developments’, investment acquisitions and disposals around the world, according to James Andrew’s website, and is a well-known face within the property industry.

Last year, Mr Soning sold a majority stake in his cleaning and security business Templewood to South African investors.

Mr Ritchie, another property tycoon, is chief executive and founder of Mayfair-based Residential Land Group.

He started life as a sole trader and, according to the company, has over the years built up ‘prime central London’s largest private landlord’.

He was also the joint owner with Marco Pierre White of the White Star Line restaurant group, which included Mirabelle, Drones, Quo Vadis and Criterion. 

The club announced it would shut down this afternoon.

A statement said: ‘The trustees have decided that the Presidents Club will not host any further fundraising events. Remaining funds will be distributed in an efficient manner to children’s charities and it will then be closed.’

Tracy Howarth, head of regulatory compliance at the Charity Commission, said: ‘The public hold charities to the highest standards, both in what they do and how they go about it.

‘They will rightly be dismayed by the reports they have read today and will consider that the alleged behaviour has no place being taken in the name of charity, whether raising funds for good causes or not. Charities have a duty to fundraise responsibly and in line with their values.

‘Trustees must also consider the well-being and protection of staff and all those who come into contact with their charity – not just those they are there to help.

‘We are aware of concerns reported by the Financial Times about the Presidents Club charity dinner.

‘We are assessing these allegations as a matter of urgency and will be contacting the charity named in the reporting.’ 

Sir Philip Green

Peter Jones

Sir Philip Green (left) and Dragons Den star Peter Jones (right) were seen on a seating chart ahead of the event. There is no suggestion that they were involved in the organisation of the event or any alleged groping

According to the reporters, the women were given dresses to wear during their shift and had to line up and parade in front of the guests at the start of the night

According to the reporters, the women were given dresses to wear during their shift and had to line up and parade in front of the guests at the start of the night

In a statement, the luxury hotel said it had a zero-tolerance attitude to harassment and said it would cooperate with the authorities if any complaints were made. Miss Dandridge told the Financial Times: ‘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.’

MailOnline has contacted Sir Philip Green and Peter Jones for comment. None of the club’s trustees provided any comment last night.

A spokesman said: ‘The Presidents Club recently hosted its annual dinner, raising several million pounds for disadvantaged children.

‘The organisers are appalled by the allegations of bad behaviour at the event asserted by the Financial Times reporters.

‘Such behaviour is totally unacceptable. The allegations will be investigated fully and promptly and appropriate action taken.’  



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