Many people were shocked at the recent expose of the annual President’s Club meeting with its normalised harassment and workplace abuse. The President’s Club is a charitable trust that has fundraised over £22 million for disadvantaged and underprivileged children’s charities during its 33-year history. It is famed for hosting an annual secretive fundraising gala at The Dorchester, dubbed ‘the most un-PC event of the year’, where affluent businessmen, celebrities, and politicians are among those in attendance at the all-male event.
The club was founded in 1985 in the financial milieu of the 24-hour trading system and the boom sparked by the arrival of the US investment banks in the City of London. However, it was not until the Big Bang of 1986, and its associated financial deregulation effected by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, that it was able to establish itself.
Since its founding in 1985, it has held annual fundraising dinners where guests are encouraged to make sizeable charitable donations through prize auctions. The auction items at the 2018 President’s Club fundraiser ranged from lunch with Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary, to a course of plastic surgery to ‘add spice to your wife.’
130 hostesses were hired to attend to the 360 male guests, the only requirement that they be ‘tall, thin and pretty.’ The women were instructed to wear revealing black dresses, with matching underwear and ‘sexy shoes.’ Many of them were subjected to groping, sexual harassment, and persistent invitations to join the guests in their bedrooms, seemingly a return to the anachronistic practices of the 1970s and 1980s. Non-disclosure agreements were forcibly signed by the hostesses to ensure the confidentiality of the male guests in attendance.
One of the founding fathers and lifetime presidents of The President’s Club, Barry Townsley, said he had not attended the dinner for a decade. Trying to distance himself from the 2018 scandal, he claimed that the dinner was hitherto ‘very nice and civilised’ and a ‘mild-mannered charity.’ The other lifetime presidents include Harvey Goldsmith CBE, Peter Shalson, Harvey Soning and Jimmy Tarbuck OBE.
The club used the act of charitable fundraising as a smokescreen for their outrageous and raucous behaviour. With #MeToo becoming a viral trend on social media to emphasize the normalized harassment and workplace abuse, it is clear that the UK President’s Club bears a striking resemblance to the Harvey Weinstein scandal that hit Hollywood in 2017. In the city of London, just like in Hollywood, entrenched gender-based abuses continue to exist among society’s rich and famous. The President’s Club is a prime example of this deep-rooted secrecy and misogyny.