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The new children’s and families minister Nadhim Zahawi has been criticised for attending a men-only charity gala where ‘tall, thin and pretty’ women were hired as hostesses and told to wear skimpy clothes and ‘sexy, black shoes’.
Mr Zahawi, who was recently appointed parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Education, following the departure of minister of state for families and children, Robert Goodwill, is responsible for the early years, adoption, fostering and social work.
An undercover investigation by the Financial Times has revealed that Mr Zahawi was one of 360 men from the worlds of business, politics, finance as well as the entertainment industry, who attended a controversial black tie bash last week, known as the Presidents Club Charity Dinner.
The annual event raises money for charities such as Great Ormond Street Hospital, with items auctioned off such as lunch with Boris Johnson and tea with the Bank of England governor. One of the lots was a trip to a Harley Street clinic where the winner could buy a plastic surgery procedure to ‘add spice to your wife’.
FT journalists posing as hostesses gained entry to the event last week and were asked to wear ‘BLACK sexy shoes’, black underwear, and do their hair and make-up as they would to go to a ‘smart sexy place’. Dresses and belts would be supplied on the day.’ Applicants had to be ‘tall, thin and pretty’.
They reported that some of the 130 hostesses at the event repeatedly had men putting their hands up their skirts, sexually harassing them and making lewd comments.
The event, which was also attended by David Meller, from the luxury good specialist Meller Group, who sits on the board of the Department for Education DfE and the Mayor’s Fund for London, was hosted by comedian David Walliams.
Mr Meller has now resigned from the board of the DfE in the wake of the Financial Times investigation. The Presidents Club charity also announced it is closing due to mounting anger over the fundraising dinner.
Other men invited to the event included Dragon’s Den star Peter Jones, Philip Green of Arcadia Group and Jonathan Mendelsohn, a Labour peer and party fundraiser.
Nadhim Zahawi confirmed to BBC Newsnight that he did go to the event, saying in a statement: "I did attend and left early. David Walliams was hosting. I didn't stay long enough to really comment on the occasion."
He later said on Twitter: "I do unequivocally condemn this behaviour. The report is truly shocking. I will never attend a men only function ever."
Emma Lewell-Buck, shadow minister for children and families tweeted her condemnation, saying: “I'm absolutely appalled that new Minister for Children and Families, Nadhim Zahawi attended this shameful event last week and also reports he has attended this event previously. What sort of message does he think that sends out?”
Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson, also put out an angry tweet, saying: “Simply stomach-churning: sinister directions dictating what underwear women should wear; blurb suggesting cosmetic surgery would “add spice to your wife”; business demanding a woman rip off her knickers; multiple reports of sexual assault.”
The Department for Education has distanced itself from the event and put out a statement, saying: “This charity event was attended in a personal capacity. It was not official departmental business and as such we are unable to comment further.”
In the wake of the relevations, WPP, the world’s biggest advertising agency, announced it is withdrawing support for the Presidents Club Charity Dinner. It had sponsored a table at the event last week, which raised over £2m for charity.
Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) has also said it will return all previous donations from the Presidents Club, with a spokesperson saying: "We are shocked to hear of the behaviour reported at the Presidents Club Charitable Trust fundraising dinner. We would never knowingly accept donations raised in this way.
"We have had no involvement in the organisation of this event, nor attended and we were never due to receive any money from it.
"All monies raised in our name go to support vital work. However, due to the wholly unacceptable nature of the event we are returning previous donations and will no longer accept gifts from the Presidents Club Charitable Trust."