'An incessant stream of harassment': Undercover FT reporter describes high-powered charity dinner where she was groped 'several times'

Financial TimesFT reporter Madison Marriage.
  • Reporter Madison Marriage went undercover at the Presidents Club Charity Dinner at one of London’s most glamorous venues.
  • She described being groped by high-powered figures at the all-male event.
  • Other women working the event had worse experiences than her, she said.

The Financial Times journalist who went undercover as a hostess at a seedy, men-only gathering of Britain’s elite described the experience as “an incessant stream of harassment.”

Madison Marriage, who is an accounting and tax correspondent for the newspaper, was hired to work at the Presidents Club Charity Dinner at London’s Dorchester Hotel, which took place last Thursday.

Along with around 130 other women, she was told to wear a revealing black dress, matching underwear and high heels while entertaining guests from the highest echelons of business, the media, sport, and entertainment.

The details, and names of some men present, were revealed in a long account published online by the FT.

In an interview with the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire, Marriage described the “uncomfortable” experience, and said she was personally groped several times.

Presidents Club DinnerFinancial TimesA frame from inside the Presidents Club Dinner.

She said other women there experienced worse, including being groped, being asked to join drunken men in their bedrooms, and one who was directly asked whether she was a prostitute.

Marriage said that after men groped her she did her best to “move away from that person as quickly as possible and avoid them for the rest of the night.”

She said it was difficult for the women to know exactly who was groping them, as men would only introduce themselves by their first names. “I’ve never done this before, and I’m never doing it again,” a 19-year-old hostess told the paper. “It’s f—ing scary.”

The Dorchester stock photo 2013 flickrFlickr/Spanish CochesA photograph showing the outside of The Dorchester hotel in London, where the event took place. This photograph was taken on a different night.

Describing the atmosphere at the event, she said: “[It was] very macho and excitable. I’ve never witnessed an environment like that in my life. It was shocking, and surprising to see it still going on in this day and age.”

Marriage and the other hostesses were offered £150 ($US212) for the evening, and £25 for a taxi home. They were encouraged to drink while working.

The Presidents Club Charity Dinner presented itself as an opportunity for an exclusive, all-male collection of men to enjoy themselves while donating large amounts of money to charity.

Madison Marriage FT undercover videoFinancial TimesMarriage describes the evening in a video recorded immediately after the event.

However, according to Marriage’s account for the Financial Times, it was little more than a boorish festival of testosterone, where harassment of young women was licensed by the event’s charitable aims.

Auction prizes on offer included high-powered lunches with figures like Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney. Cars were also raffled off, as was a round of plastic surgery for “your missus.”

After the reports came to light, beneficiaries of the funds raised moved to distance themselves from the event.

Great Ormond Street Hospital, which treats seriously ill children in London, said it was giving back the money it received. Evelina London Children’s hospital said the same.

In light of the outrage caused by the event, which led the day’s news cycled and was debated in the Houses of Parliament, organiser David Mellor stood down from an advisory position with the UK Department for Education.

A Presidents Club spokesman said they were shocked by the FT allegations. He 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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