I was at the Presidents Club afterparty – old creepy men treated us like prostitutes
Six student hostesses tell us how they were pressured for sex at a private party after the charity dinner
"I was groped a lot, the whole party was set up in a way that encouraged men to grope us. The men who were well behaved downstairs suddenly became creepy". Lucy* is a 22-year-old grad who picked up regular hostessing jobs while she studied. She was one of the many students and grads to work at the Presidents Club dinner. She was also one of the select few chosen to attend a private afterparty with a handful of guests.
The event has now been exposed as a party where a group of wealthy and high-profile men harass hostesses and proposition them for sex.
Lucy was signed up through a company called Artista events. Most of the jobs Artista recruits for are corporate hospitality – checking people into events, giving out name tags. But then as soon as the girls got to the Presidents Club dinner, they knew this was different.
The Tab has spoken to six girls who have worked as hostesses at the Presidents Club dinner over the past few years. One worked at the 2018 event.
They told their stories of harassment, groping and being pressured for sex. At a secret afterparty hosted by a guest of the dinner is where the story gets the most uncomfortable.
From the moment they arrived at the Dorchester hotel's Orchid Room, the hostesses were told to keep quiet about the event. They were made to sign a non-disclosure agreement and had their phones locked away in a separate room.
Hostesses were given short black dresses to wear for the dinner, some girls were given red belts and red nail polish, others black. Red meant the girls were leaving after the main event finished at 12am and the most attractive hostesses were told to wear black and work the afterparty in the private suite.
They were given a meal before work started. Bottles of wine were handed out to everyone and they were encouraged to drink.
Emily* realised something was off about it just before the guests arrived.
"It all seemed normal until we went there in the early evening and did a run through of our 'entrance.' Even the word entrance seemed a bit bizarre.
"They told us we'd be walking out on a stage in front of all these men and then going to an allocated table while the song Blurred Lines was playing.
"We had to parade across the stage in pairs and for me, that was the first 'what the hell is this' moment."
A couple of hours later, after the guests had arrived, they had their real entrance.
After being shown off to the room of around 350 rowdy guests, girls were given table assignments with strict instructions not to talk to their friends, to be attentive to their guests' needs, to make sure they were having a good time.
The guests themselves differed from sweet and normal to propositioning their hostesses for sex. Sarah* was cornered by a man on her table.
"He kept filling up my glass and telling me that he had a room upstairs. It was very clear to me what some people were looking for.
"Some of the girls went into the event not knowing anything, and others went in with the expectation that they could take advantage and make more money, because they knew that's what the men were looking for."
Rebecca*, who worked the event four years in a row, including this year said she was offered a stay in St Tropez by a businessman and in 2016, a man pressed his face close to hers and asked if he could kiss her.
"I knew he had a wife and kids, I wasn't very drunk and knew it would be a bad idea to do anything."
As the dinner wound down, men at the tables would pull their hostesses over, whispering in their ears and grabbing them around the waist. Girls would be dragged on to laps and hands placed on thighs. Certain hostesses were offered an extra £50 to join the afterparty.
This is where things became even more awkward.
The afterparty was held in a suite for around 40 personally invited guests. Bedrooms led off from the main area where hostesses who had been singled out to attend were mingling with guests and girls who they believed to be prostitutes.
Alice and Lucy were among the girls chosen to go on to the suite. They were searched again and made to sign another NDA before going inside.
Lucy described the scene as "way seedier" than the main event.
"It was a suite so it was a very different atmosphere. There were bedrooms, so guys would take girls off from the main room, it was far more sinister.
"Men who had been fine at the main event suddenly became creeps. They assumed we were all prostitutes. When I said I wasn't, they asked me why I'd even bothered coming.
"I was groped a lot, the whole party was set up in a way that encouraged men to grope us. New girls arrived, that hadn't been working at the event".
At the afterparty, hostesses were offered what they believed was cocaine, more alcohol and propositioned for sex.
Some girls who were chosen refused the invite.
When asked if there was a chance anyone at the event or at the afterparty could have been oblivious to the way they were treated, all said no.
Alice and Lucy described a spectrum of men at the dinner. While some were actively involved in harassing, pulling girls onto them and touching inappropriately, there were others that were more passive.
"There are a lot of men that don't agree with everything that happens, but they're all there still enjoying the night.
"Everyone just normalises it, from the guests to the organisers. Artista warn the girls that the men might be a bit handsy, but they tell us not to worry and that they're just 'harmless'".
It's clear to all that they are anything but. Three of the girls I spoke to only worked at the event once, refusing to go back the following year.
Kate said: "It just makes you feel horrendous, by the end I was left feeling like a prostitute. If you wanted to leave your table it was hard. Artista had people patrolling the dinner, I couldn’t hide.
"The men in the room are all very powerful, they think that because they’re donating to charity, they’re entitled to the world. They think they have a right to grab you whenever they want, that they have free rein.
"They think they own the world, the whole night is a dick-measuring contest. They outbid each other on ridiculous prizes just because they can."
In the moment, a lot of the girls just took it as it came, grinning and bearing it until they could leave.
When they tried to go home, the girls say some men were persistent, asking for their numbers or trying to get them to stay just a little longer.
Emily described a moment that put into perspective what she was walking out of.
"One of the men was a kind older man we’d been talking about uni and I'd been telling him about my studies.
He came over to me, shook my hand and said :“I really hope I don’t see you here again next year."
Artista Events have been contacted for comment, and we will update this post when they respond.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the subjects
Featured image is posed by a model.
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