Bolton v-c felt ‘uncomfortable’ attending Presidents Club dinner

University says George Holmes was ‘shocked’ by treatment of women at all-male event but did not witness any ‘assaults’

January 25, 2018
Dorchester Hotel

The vice-chancellor of the University of Bolton has confirmed that he attended the controversial Presidents Club charity dinner but has claimed that he felt “uncomfortable” at the all-male event and was “shocked” by the treatment of women there.

A statement issued by the university in the wake of allegations that hostesses had been sexually harassed at the dinner said that George Holmes had attended the event at London’s Dorchester Hotel as a guest of one of Bolton’s “key business sponsors”.

The statement says that Professor Holmes had been “approached whilst dining and served drinks by several hostess staff”, including one who it later emerged was Madison Marriage, an undercover Financial Times reporter.

“Professor Holmes recalls expressing at the time (to the woman now known as Madison Marriage) that both personally and also in the current context (in 2018, particularly post the Harvey Weinstein allegations) he was uncomfortable with the totally unexpected influx of hostess staff and certain auction lots,” the statement says. “The undercover reporter has confirmed subsequently to a fellow journalist and editor that Professor Holmes ‘looked pretty shocked’.”

According to the FT, the all-female hostesses were told to wear black underwear to match the short skirts they were given for the evening and were made to sign non-disclosure agreements. Ms Marriage said that she was groped repeatedly and that other women were to join men in their bedrooms elsewhere in the Dorchester. One woman reported that an attendee exposed himself to her.

Lots offered in the charity auction included a night at a strip club and a course of plastic surgery accompanied by the slogan: “Spice up your wife.”

The Bolton statement adds that, after speaking to another hostess who indicated that she was “uneasy” with the event, Professor Holmes chose to “seek out and speak with one of the event staff team leaders, expressing his concern that some of her staff were uncomfortable”.

“Although Professor Holmes did not witness any of the assaults subsequently alleged in the press, he chose to leave as soon as was politely possible at the end of the charity auction after he fulfilled his role to network with a number of key influential individuals as required of him when he attends such public events,” the statement says.

The university added that Professor Holmes “chose not to participate in the post dinner ‘after-party’ which he had been unaware of when he accepted the invitation to the black tie dinner, and he returned to his family who were with him in London”.

The vice-chancellor was not a member of the Presidents Club and had never previously attended one of its events, according to Bolton.

A spokesman for the University and College Union said that Professor Holmes still had questions to answer.

“Of course it is wrong for a university vice-chancellor to be anywhere near an event like this,” the spokesman said. “Who invited the vice-chancellor and did he not ask them or check what kind of event it was? If not, is he always so reckless with diary commitments, particularly ones that involve travelling to the other end of the country? Did the university pay any expenses for the trip?”

Following widespread criticism of the event, the Presidents Club has been forced to close. The joint chair of the club, David Meller, was forced to stand down as a non-executive director of the Department for Education in the wake of the allegations. 

sophie.inge@timeshighereducation.com


The full statement from the University of Bolton:

“The University can confirm that its President & Vice Chancellor, Professor George Holmes, attended The Presidents’ Club Charity Dinner event held at The Dorchester Hotel, London on Thursday, 18 January 2018. Professor Holmes has never previously attended any event held by The Presidents’ Club and is not a member. His attendance was on the basis of an invited guest to a charity fundraising dinner. More specifically, he was a guest of one of the University’s key business sponsors who hosted and paid for the table.

“Professor Holmes has confirmed that he was approached whilst dining and served drinks by several hostess staff allocated to his area of the dining room. Co-incidentally he now recognises one of those staff who spoke to him as being the undercover reporter now identifying herself as Maddison Marriage [sic]. Professor Holmes recalls expressing at the time (to the woman now known as Maddison Marriage [sic]) that both personally and also in the current context (in 2018, particularly post the Harvey Weinstein allegations) he was uncomfortable with the totally unexpected influx of hostess staff and certain auction lots. The undercover reporter has confirmed subsequently to a fellow journalist and Editor, that Professor Holmes ‘looked pretty shocked’.

“Professor Holmes has further confirmed that another member of the hostess staff also served him a drink whilst he was dining and when he asked her what she thought of the event, she similarly indicated to him that she was uneasy with the event. She stated that she was particularly nervous about descriptions she had been given of the ‘after party’ which she had heard from other hostess staff who had worked at the event in previous years. This prompted Professor Holmes to seek out and speak with one of the event staff team leaders, expressing his concern that some of her staff were uncomfortable. Although Professor Holmes did not witness any of the assaults subsequently alleged in the press, he chose to leave as soon as was politely possible at the end of the charity auction after he fulfilled his role to network with a number of key influential individuals as required of him when he attends such public events.

“Professor Holmes has confirmed that he did not and, more importantly, chose not to participate in the post dinner ‘after party’ which he had been unaware of when he accepted the invitation to the black tie dinner, and he returned to his family who were with him in London.”

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Reader's comments (1)

I gather that tickets for the event cost about £1600. Did Prof Holmes pay for this personally, did his University pay for it, or was the payment made by a third party (and if so, who was that third party)? A Freedom of Information request could be made, but perhaps Professor Bolton would like to answer directly to this forum?

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