MP Nadhim Zahawi was summoned to Downing Street this week to explain his attendance at a sleazy “men only” party where scantily-clad hostesses were sexually harassed.
The Stratford MP was among some 360 guests at the black-tie Presidents Club Charity Dinner held at London’s Dorchester Hotel, alongside others from the world of politics, business and finance. Topshop boss Philip Green and Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones were also on the guest list at the party, which was hosted by TV star and children’s author David Walliams, and which included a charity auction to raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital.
But undercover reporters from the Financial Times say at an afterparty many hostesses were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned.
Mr Zahawi, who had attended the annual event previously before becoming an MP, said he left the event early because he felt it was ‘bizarre’ and ‘uncomfortable’.
Mr Zahawi, who is not subject to any of the allegations at the party, had to explain his attendance to chief whip Julian Smith on Wednesday.
The MP tweeted: “I told No10 and friends that I arrived at 8pm and left at 9.35pm as I felt uncomfortable. I did not see any of the horrific events reported by the FT. I am shocked by them and condemn them unequivocally.”
A spokesman for Prime Minister Teresa May said she had been “uncomfortable” at the reports.
Quizzed about Mr Zahawi’s attendance, he said the Prime Minster did not plan to speak with her newly appointed children and families minister.
He continued: “My understanding is that Mr Zahawi clearly did attend the event briefly and has himself said he felt uncomfortable at it at the point at which the hostesses were introduced by the host.
“I think it is probably safe to say Mr Zahawi will not be attending a similar event in future.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said Mr Zahawi “attended in a personal capacity” and not on “official departmental business”.
A parliamentary debate on Wednesday saw questions put to education minister Anne Milton surrounding the attendance of Mr Zahawi.
Shadow minister for children and families, Emma Lewell-Buck, tweeted: “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?”
Eleanor Whitehead, women’s officer for Stratford Labour Party, said Mr Zahawi had serious questions to answer and called on him to resign.
The Financial Times report claimed the 130 women hired to work at the event – many of them students – were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. They were paid £150 for the job and were all allegedly hired because they were ‘tall, thin and pretty’.
The event’s accompanying brochure is understood to have contained a warning that no attendees or staff should be sexually harassed.
Undercover reporter Madison Marriage, who was employed as a hostess, said she was ‘appalled and shocked by what she saw and even cried about her experience the following day.
She told BBC’s Newsnight: “I was groped several times and I know there are numerous other hostesses who said the same thing 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.
“I knew stuff like that might happen on the night but I wasn’t 100 per cent sure. But there are plenty of other women there who had absolutely no idea that was the kind of event it would be and I had one woman tell me that she was shocked. She was asked if she was a prostitute on the night.”
The charity auction featured lots including lunch with foreign secretary Boris Johnson, a night at Soho’s Windmill strip club and plastic surgery with the invitation to ‘add spice to your wife.’
Following the reports, it has been announced The Presidents Club would be closing and would hold no more events
And one of the organisers, David Meller, also quit his non-executive role on the Department for Education board.
During the three decades The Presidents Club has been running, it has raised more than £20 million for charity. Last week’s event alone is believed to have raised more than £2 million.
But charity St Ormond Street Hospital said it would not be taking the donations and had ‘no involvement’ in organising the event.
The Observer had not been able to speak directly to Mr Zahawi at the time of going to press.