Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Numbers aren't neutral

A S Paneerselvan in The Hindu

Analysing data without providing sufficient context is dangerous

An inherent challenge in journalism is to meet deadlines without compromising on quality, while sticking to the word limit. However, brevity takes a toll when it comes to reporting on surveys, indexes, and big data. Let me examine three sets of stories which were based on surveys and carried prominently by this newspaper, to understand the limits of presenting data without providing comprehensive context.

Three reports

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), Oxfam’s report titled ‘Reward Work, Not Wealth’, and the World Bank’s ease of doing business (EoDB) rankings have been widely reported, commented on, and editorialised. In most cases, the numbers and rankings were presented as neutral evaluations; they were not seen as data originating from institutions that have political underpinnings. Data become meaningful only when the methodology of data collection is spelt out in clear terms.

Every time I read surveys, indexes, and big data, I look for at least three basic parameters to understand the numbers: the sample size, the sample questionnaire, and the methodology. The sample size used indicates the robustness of the study, the questionnaire reveals whether there are leading questions, and the methodology reveals the rigour in the study. As a reporter, there were instances where I failed to mention these details in my resolve to stick to the word limit. Those were my mistakes.

The ASER study covering specific districts in States is about children’s schooling status. It attempts to measure children’s abilities with regard to basic reading and writing. It is a significant study as it gives us an insight into some of the problems with our educational system. However, we must be aware of the fact that these figures are restricted only to the districts in which the survey was conducted. It cannot be extrapolated as a State-wide sample, nor is it fair to rank States based on how specific districts fare in the study. A news item, “Report highlights India’s digital divide” (Jan. 19, 2018), conflated these figures.

For instance, the district surveyed in Kerala was Ernakulam, which is an urban district; in West Bengal it was South 24 Parganas, a complex district that stretches from metropolitan Kolkata to remote villages at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal. How can we compare these two districts with Odisha’s Khordha, Jharkhand’s Purbi Singhbhum and Bihar’s Muzaffarpur? It could be irresistible for a reporter, who accessed the data, to paint a larger picture based on these specific numbers. But we may not learn anything when we compare oranges and apples.

Questionable methodology

Oxfam, in the ‘Reward Work, Not Wealth’ report, used a methodology that has been questioned by many economists. Inequality is calculated on the basis of “net assets”. The economists point out that in this method, the poorest are not those living with very little resources, but young professionals who own no assets and with a high educational loan. Inequality is the elephant in the room which we cannot ignore. But Oxfam’s figures seem to mimic the huge notional loss figures put out by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Readers should know that Oxfam’s study has drawn its figures from disparate sources such as the Global Wealth Report by Credit Suisse, the Forbes’ billionaires list, adjusting last year’s figure using the average annual U.S. Consumer Price Index inflation rate from the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, the World Bank’s household survey data, and an online survey in 10 countries.

When the World Bank announced the EoDB index last year, there was euphoria in India. However, this newspaper’s editorial “Moving up” (Nov. 2, 2017), which looked at India’s surge in the latest World Bank ranking from the 130th position to the 100th in a year, cautioned and asked the government, which has great orators in its ranks, to be a better listener. In hindsight, this position was vindicated when the World Bank’s chief economist, Paul Romer, said that he could no longer defend the integrity of changes made to the methodology and that the Bank would recalculate the national rankings of business competitiveness going back to at least four years. Readers would have appreciated the FAQ section (“Recalculating ease of doing business”, Jan. 25) that explained this controversy in some detail, had it looked at India’s ranking using the old methodology.

Lessons from the IPL Auction 2018

Suresh Menon in The Hindu

Image result for ipl auction 2018

Both Neville Cardus and C.L.R. James asked whether cricket is an art, and answered in different ways. Cardus compared cricket to music while for James it belonged alongside theatre, opera and dance. Thus, art, yes, but the performing arts, and for what happens on the field.

It is now safe to say that cricket belongs to the visual and plastic arts — painting and sculpture — but not for what happens on the field. The IPL auction has added another dimension with the question: what is the value of a player? Is he like a Jeff Koons or an M.F. Hussain?

Is Jayadev Unadkat worth ₹11.5 crores? Is Hashim Amla not worth anything at all? The comparison with art is inevitable. A painting is worth exactly what someone is prepared to pay for it. In his book The Value of Art: Money, Power, Beauty, the art dealer Michael Findlay gives a more sophisticated explanation.

“The commercial value of art,” he says, “is based on collective intentionality. Human stipulation and declaration create and sustain the commercial value.” Replace “art” with “cricketer” and that still holds. If, based on sports metrics and private algorithms, Mumbai Indians think Krunal Pandya is worth ₹8.8 crores, you cannot argue.

On a weekend when every Test-playing country was engaged in an international, the focus was on a hotel ballroom in Bangalore. You can read all kinds of meaning into this. “It will be a distraction,” South Africa’s captain Faf du Plessis had said earlier. Kamlesh Nagarkoti, at the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand said, “I went and sat inside the washroom even as my bidding was going on.” It went on and on and didn’t stop till it had reached ₹3.2 crores.

It was possible to switch channels between the auction and the incredible Indian performance at the Johannesburg Test. Virat Kohli certainly wasn’t distracted — his ₹17 crores was already in the bank. It would be interesting to discover which event garnered the more eyeballs; that should tell us the direction the sport is taking. In The Australian, Gideon Haigh wrote a piece headlined: IPL auction now the real centre of world cricket.

A union minister tweeted that most players didn’t deserve half the amounts they were bought for. Politicians are allergic to such transparent contract negotiations. However, what he and others find difficult to deal with is the fact that the market decides value. And the market can be cruel and ageist, often casually dispensing with high-performing players of the past. It is influenced by the ego of the bidder too. Monetary value is not always the same as cricketing worth.

Part of the confusion is caused by top players going unsold. In the recent Test, Amla and Ishant Sharma put in inspiring performances, yet find themselves with no role in the IPL. The way to reconcile this is to acknowledge that IPL and Test cricket are as different from each other — tactically, physically, psychologically, emotionally — as soccer and cricket or kabaddi and tennis. They just happen to use the same equipment.

It took the franchises some time to realise this. The inaugural auction had nothing to go by and established Test players were most sought after. Royal Challengers had Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis, Wasim Jaffer, Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Today they would have to depend on pity-selection by friends in the franchises, if at all. Cricket has changed, the IPL most of all, and auctions, even if not fully professional yet are headed in that direction. Data is king. How good are you between overs 11 and 16, for example?

Analysts caught off guard by 41% Capita share drop

Cat Rutter Pooley in The Financial Times

There may be some red-faced analysts across the City this morning. 

Only two out of 16 analysts polled by Bloomberg had a sell rating on Capita before today, when its shares plummeted 41 per cent on a profit warning and planned £700m rights issue. 

Of the rest, 11 had a hold rating and three a buy rating. 

One of those buy recommendations came from Numis, which issued its note on the company two weeks ago. 

Then, Numis described a meeting with the new Capita chief executive as “positive”, noting that: 

 It is easy to be critical of the past, but his observations on some of the structural and cultural issues at Capita highlighted some fundamental problems, but also material opportunities. We were encouraged by [Jonathan Lewis’s] comments on the need for great focus, cost reductions (whilst also re-investing for growth), and need to focus on cash. 

Numis declined to comment immediately on whether it was reviewing the recommendation in light of the company’s update. 

Jefferies, which has also had a ‘buy’ recommendation on the stock, characterised Wednesday’s announcement as a “kitchen sinking”, or effort to cram all the bad news out at once. The revelations could generate a 40 per cent decline in earnings expectations for the full year, it said, adding that the revenue environment remained “lacklustre”. 

Shares are current trading around 210p, down 40 per cent. 

Meanwhile, the ripples from Capita’s share price drop are leaking across the outsourcing industry. Serco slipped 3 per cent, and Mitie was down 2.4 per cent at pixel time.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Shashi Tharoor "Why I am a Hindu"

Rail: frustration grows with Britain’s fragmented network

Jonathan Ford and Gill Plimmer in The Financial Times

Craig Johnstone checked tickets and train doors for more than 30 years. But if the job did not change, the uniform did: five times he donned new colours bearing fresh slogans as a different company took over running the Leeds to Manchester and Carlisle service. 

“Every uniform gets a little tighter — and I can’t fit into the old ones,” he says. “They change the roles and description and then they change them back again. That’s all the rail operating companies do. It’s continuous change, but all that changes are the colours and the corporate brands.” 

Change was supposed to mean more than just a new cap and blazer when John Major’s Conservative government released its plan to split up British Rail in 1992. Then UK ministers outlined a vision of private companies bidding for franchises and bringing fresh ideas, dynamic management and innovation. 

“More competition, greater efficiency and a wider choice of services more closely tailored to what customers want,” proclaimed the 21-page white paper that drove forward a privatisation that had been too controversial even for Margaret Thatcher, his predecessor, to risk.

Two decades on, passenger numbers have more than doubled since the last year under British Rail. The UK network saw 1.7bn passenger journeys in 2016-17, against 735m in 1994-95. After decades of decline, Britain’s trains are busier than at any time since the first world war. 

But behind the numbers lies a conundrum: how much of this is due to the benefits of privatisation, rather than demographic factors such as the shift to the suburbs, increasing urban congestion and a rising population? 

Privatisation has certainly led to more train services. According to an EU study in 2013, the UK’s trains and tracks are now more intensively used than any other developed European market bar the Netherlands, and this has undoubtedly contributed to the growth in passengers. 

Investment is up too; it is running at around four times the £1.6bn a year it averaged in the late 1980s, with £925m coming from the private sector last year, mainly to fund new rolling stock. 

“Privatisation reduced the malign influence of HM Treasury which wouldn’t allow a proper investment programme,” says Lord Freud, a former banker who advised on rail privatisation. 

But it is not obvious that two decades of private ownership have led to similar advances in service quality or have made the network more financially sustainable and secure. 

“It’s very hard for people to travel around and not suffer from the cracks in the system,” says Christian Wolmar, a train historian. “It’s everything, from knowing who to buy a ticket from to the signalling failure that delays the train to the lack of information when your train is cancelled. It’s hard to know which is worse — fragmentation or privatisation — but I’d probably say fragmentation.” 

The break-up of the network is perhaps the most hotly debated legacy of the sell-off. Instead of pushing British Rail into the private sector as a single regulated monopoly akin to water or electricity, the government chose to break it into three components of track, rolling stock and train operators, and then to sell it in no less than 100 pieces between 1995 and 1997. 

This process has not made the network cheaper to operate. The cost of running the UK’s railways is 40 per cent higher than it is in the rest of Europe, according to a 2011 government report by Sir Roy McNulty, the former boss of UK aviation group Short Brothers who has long experience in transport regulation. 

“The train you catch is owned by a bank, leased to a private company, which has a franchise from the Department for Transport to run it on this track owned by Network Rail, all regulated by another office, and all paid for by taxpayers or passengers,” says John Stittle, a professor of accounting at Essex university. “The complexity is expensive.” 

Since privatisation, the bill has mainly been shared between the taxpayer and the passenger. The contribution from the state has almost doubled from £2.3bn in 1996 to £4.2bn in real terms in 2016-17, despite a conscious decision in recent years to push more of the cost on to users’ shoulders. Ticket prices have risen: they are now 25 per cent higher in real terms than in 1995 and 30 per cent higher than in France, Holland, Sweden and Switzerland. The latest average rise in fares of 3.4 per cent, announced on New Year’s Day, was greeted with outrage. 

Privatisation was supposed to unleash efficiencies that would justify the returns private operators demand for their services. So why, more than two decades in, have the UK’s railways not delivered more? 

Despite the vastly expanded usage, the network’s costs have not obviously come down relative to its income. According to the 2011 report, unit costs per passenger kilometre were roughly 20p in 2010, much the same as they were in 1996. 

One reason, suggest the critics, is that privatisation never really took root. The network’s 2,500 stations and 32,000km of tracks were initially vested in a listed company, Railtrack, which collapsed in 2001. The infrastructure has since been back in public hands under the guise of Network Rail. 

Fragmentation, meanwhile, has encouraged each part of the system to prioritise its own profits rather than collaborating to improve the system. “It’s an adversarial relationship with Network Rail,” says one director of a rail franchise. “We call them blame departments. People who sit around at Network Rail and the train companies deciding whose fault it is.” 

Indeed, the subsidies in effect insulate the operators from those extra expenses the network incurs. While it cost £4.1bn to provide maintenance and renewals work on the system in 2016-17, the train operators paid £1.5bn to access the nation’s tracks. This is half of what they paid at privatisation, even though those tracks are now far more heavily used. 

Of the parts of the sector that remain in private hands, it is the train operators that are now the subject of fiercest contention. Although the data on quality are mixed, with the UK performing better than some European countries in terms of punctuality and reliability, there is a perception that service is poor despite all the public subsidies. 

Journeys are often uncomfortable: 23 per cent of customers commuting into London at peak hours have to stand. According to the consumer group Which?, delays of at least 30 minutes afflicted more than 7m journeys last year. 

Critics argue that train operators are able to make returns, and pay themselves dividends, despite contributing very little in the way of risk capital. While operating margins of 3 per cent are not high, the train companies paid nearly all the £868m operating profits between 2012-13 and 2015/16 as dividends — £634m in the four year period. 

The train operators have few tangible assets and almost no exposure to business risk. Indeed, their franchise agreements frequently offer revenue protection should there be an economic decline or changes in London employment levels — the two biggest drivers of passenger numbers. 

What the private owners mainly deliver is marketing nous; promoting services and experimenting with timetables and branding. While more than a third of ticket prices are set by the government, they have freedom to set the remainder at levels they believe the market will bear. 

So deep is the dissatisfaction that one group of long-suffering customers who will pay up to £4,696 this year for a season ticket on the poorly performing Southern service between London and Brighton, just an hour away, created a musical dubbed “Southern Fail”. Following a series of strikes, the satirical website The Daily Mash said Southern had decided to “replace the timetable with an avant-garde poem”. 

As with other privatised monopolies, competition was supposed to ensure lower prices and sharper services. But in recent years this has faded, raising questions over the legitimacy of the franchising system. A third of train operating companies now hold their franchises by so-called “direct awards” from government, rather than auction. 

Successive governments, out of an apparent desire to keep the private sector onside, have been reluctant to wield their powers against poorly performing franchises. Only one train operator has ever been stripped of its contract — Connex for poor performance in south-east England in 2001 and 2003. Three more have walked away after overbidding for contracts, with minimum penalties. 

Last month, the government allowed Virgin Rail and Stagecoach to terminate their East Coast line franchise three years early, saving them the need to write a £2bn cheque to the government under previously agreed revenue growth forecasts. Yet with only a handful of operators bidding for franchises, the duo may end up operating the line again — on more profitable terms. 

Lord Adonis, a Labour peer who recently resigned from the National Infrastructure Commission, called the “bailout” a “scandal” that “threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the whole franchising system”. He argues that the government should keep a state-owned operating company in reserve, to demonstrate to franchisees that it can reassume their obligations if they fail. 

When National Express handed back the keys to the East Coast line franchise in 2009, it was renationalised under an arm’s-length government body called Directly Operated Railways. Nevertheless, during the following five years under state control, it increased ticket sales, returned about £1bn to the taxpayer and delivered record levels of customer satisfaction. 

The rolling stock — which is leased to the train operators for about £1.5bn a year — is still largely owned by three companies: Angel Trains, Porterbrook and Eversholt. Each is in the hands of financial investors, each with convoluted multi-tiered, overseas ownership structures, sometimes making tracing the flow of money difficult. Eversholt is owned by a Hong Kong company with a Cayman Islands subsidiary; Angel mostly by Luxembourg-based investors; and Porterbrook by another consortium of international investors. 

The Competition Commission concluded in 2009 that the rolling stock companies could have cost the taxpayer as much as £100m a year by overcharging operators on leasing rates. More recently, the government has attempted to procure some new trains directly using complex private finance initiative deals — which cuts the rolling stock companies out of the process — although that too has been criticised as poor value for money by public spending watchdogs. 

The government’s micromanagement of procurement has also slowed the pace of ordering, meaning the average age of rolling stock has almost doubled since 2008 to 21 years — roughly the same age as pre-privatisation. 

There is a growing consensus among both executives and industry experts as well as the public that Britain’s unique attempt to create competition on Britain’s rail network has not delivered. 

While it has led to more services, and encouraged more users to pay higher prices, it has not unleashed the productivity improvement necessary both to upgrade the network and stabilise the network’s finances. 

Over the same period, for instance, London’s state-owned metro network, Transport for London, has grown just as quickly and delivered much more state-of-the-art investment.  

This has brought forward calls for more chopping and changing. To deal with the problems of co-ordination and planning, Chris Grayling, the transport secretary and an advocate of private sector involvement, is pressing for formal joint ventures between private franchises and Network Rail on some routes, so that eventually operators can take more responsibility for the tracks. 

Another option — advocated by some franchise holders — is to ape the way Transport for London commissions services from the private sector, taking the revenues and responsibility for service delivery, while contracting out bus and train provision on tightly specified terms. 

Some argue there is a simple solution: reunite track and train in the only feasible manner, a return to public ownership. 

Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour leader, has proposed putting the franchises back under state control as they expire and commissioning trains directly from manufacturers. An October poll by the conservative think-tank Legatum found nearly three-quarters of the UK population agreed with him. 

Labour’s critics, however, say that its plans would do little to solve the well-known failings of Network Rail. “The thing that makes me laugh is how people have forgotten how they used to hate BR,” says Lord Freud. “It was a national laughing stock.” 

As for Lord Adonis, he argues that further revolutionary change is pointless and “no simple ownership change can fix the railways”. 

But back in Carlisle, Mr Johnstone, who now works for the Northern franchise currently run by Deutsche Bahn-owned Arriva, supports a return to state control. “If you scrape the paint off, eventually you get to British Rail. But before you get to British Rail you get to the last time Arriva had the franchise about three coats in,” he adds. “If you keep painting them they won’t make it through the tunnels — there’s that many layers of paint on them.”

Sunday, 28 January 2018



People in long term relationships will someday get to the point where they need to ask themselves: Is this really the person I want to spend the rest of my life with? Is the woman by my side really the one?

Scientists all over the world are researching the extremely complicated issues surrounding love and relationships and they have spent thousands of hours trying to figure out how people fit together and what qualities they need to bring into a relationship to make it a happy and lasting one.

We have compiled the most important and interesting results of these studies. If the woman by your side has these 14 qualities and behaviours, you know you have found the one.

1. She is smarter than you

When you are looking for a partner for life, make sure that she is smart. Ideally, she should be smarter than you. And science agrees. Lawrence Whalley, professor emeritus of the University of Aberdeen has been researching dementia for a long time and he found that a smart woman can protect you from dementia later in life. His advice: “The thing a boy is never told he needs to do if he wants to live a longer life — but what he should do — is marry an intelligent woman. There is no better buffer than intelligence.”

The idea is that a smart partner never stops challenging you intellectually, which helps you keep your mental faculties keen forever.

2. She is honest

Everyone makes mistakes and bad decisions sometimes. This makes it even more important to have someone who can get you back on track and tell you when you are wrong. Studies show that men want to have an honest partner by their side when they look for a long term committed relationship. If you have found a woman like that, never let her go again.

3. She has a positive outlook

​Is your girlfriend the type of person who always sees the glass as half full? Could you sometimes even accuse her of naïve optimism? Then you might have found the woman of your dreams. Because look at it this way: Negative people are toxic and bad for our health in the long run.

This is because we tend to take on the negativity of people we spend the most time with. This was shown in a research paper by the psychologist Elaine Hatfield. And this internalized negativity can lead to increased heart rate, it impedes our digestion and lowers our concentration.

4. She compromises

Life can’t always be a bed of roses and at some point in your relationship, you and your partner will disagree. It’s completely normal and even inevitable. But the relationship can only work if both partners are willing to compromise.

Psychologists of the UCLA have accompanied 172 married couples for 11 years and came to a simple conclusion: “It’s easy to be committed to your relationship when it’s going well,” said senior study author Thomas Bradbury. “As a relationship changes, however, shouldn’t you say at some point something like, ‘I’m committed to this relationship, but it’s not going very well — I need to have some resolve, make some sacrifices and take the steps I need to take to keep this relationship moving forward.”

The scientists say that those willing to take the steps and make the sacrifices will have a long and happy marriage.

5. She laughs at your jokes

Of course we always want someone by our side who actually laughs at our jokes. In 2006 a study by psychologists of Westfield State University suggested that having a partner who thinks they are funny is more important for men than for women. If you have already found a woman you can laugh with, make sure to take good care of her.

6. She has an open heart

Having a partner who shines in the public spotlight and can easily make herself heard in a group makes life a lot easier.

A study by the University of Westminster suggests that people who are open hearted and share personal information are seen as especially attractive. The authors of the study even say that this quality is so important that people will judge the physical appearance of open hearted people as more handsome or beautiful.

7. She supports your goals and pursues her own

For a long time scientists tried to prove that men prefer to marry weak women. In her book “Why smart men marry smart women”, Christine C. Whelan thoroughly debunks this myth and proves with statistics that successful, well educated and high earning women do not marry less often than others.

And remember the advantages: A strong woman by your side will motivate you and won’t be dependent on you. You don’t need to worry about her and she won’t need your constant validation.

A weak person often tends to forget his or her own goals. These people don’t just prioritise the goals of their partners, they tend to co-opt them completely. This has been shown by a study of the University of British Columbia. You need a healthy combination of personal goals and goals you pursue together.

8. She has a good relationship with her parents

​If you want to know what your partner will be like in 30 years, look at their parents. If you want to know how they will treat you in 30 years, look at how they treat their parents now.

Researchers of the University of Alberta questioned 2970 people of all ages and saw a clear correlation between the relationship to the parents in their teen years and their love life later on.

But this doesn’t mean that her relationship with her parents always needs to be perfect. “Understanding your contribution to the relationship with your parents would be important to recognising any tendency to replicate behaviour - positive or negative - in an intimate relationship,” author Matt Johnson writes. The only way to learn how to do better in other relationships is to be aware of those behaviour.

9. She is kind

Science says that the keys to a long and happy relationship are kindness and generosity. Psychologist John Gottmann of the University of Washington started his research on married couples over four decades ago.

He identified two kinds of couples: Masters and Disasters. The disasters, you guessed it, break it off in the first six years of the relationship. But the masters stay together for a long time and always have this one thing in common: “They are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully,” he said in an interview with The Atlantic.

10. She remains calm in fights and calms you down too

Fights are an inevitability of all relationships. Never disagreeing is not a sign of a stable relationship. But the important thing is how you deal with disagreements and how you make up again after.

Researchers of the University of California Berkeley and Northwest University have accompanied 80 couples for 13 years and they found out that a relationship will last the longest if the woman can calm herself during a fight and transfer those emotions to the man. The effect is not the same if the man is the one to calm down first.

11. She does foolish things with you

Have you found a woman who does not hold it against you if you stayed out too long partying? In most cases because she was at the party with you? Then never let her go again.

A long term study of the University of Michigan with 4864 married individuals showed that the happiest couples where those who drank alcohol together. Of course this doesn’t mean that alcoholics are happier partners. “It could be that couples that do more leisure time activities together have better marital quality,” says Kira Birditt, author of the study.

12. She has a life of her own

Having your own space and privacy is even more important for your relationship than a good sex life. This has been shown by a long term study of the University of Michigan. “When individuals have their own friends, their own set of interests, when they are able to define themselves not by their spouse or relationship, that makes them happier and less bored,” Terry Orbuch, author of the study, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

13. She accepts your flaws

Too many relationships only seem to consist of one partner criticizing the other. Their ugly pants, their bad jokes, their annoying habit of chewing too loudly, you get the picture.

If you have found a woman who can just accept you, you should consider yourself lucky. “An optimistic approach will rub off on you and attract you to others who are seeing the world as half full,” psychologist Terry Orbuch said in her column for The Huffington Post.

14. She does not bear grudges

If you found a woman who can forgive others, you will have her by your side for a long time. A study by researchers of the Luther College, the Duke University, and the Harvard Divinity School showed that people who can unconditionally forgive others live longer lives.

But perhaps more importantly: Forgiveness is the foundation of a healthy relationship. People are not perfect and neither are you. There will be times when you inadvertently do something that hurts your partner. And then you will need her to be able to forgive you.

If you have found a woman who has some or all of these qualities, treat her well and never let her go. Your life will be better for having her.


Rachel Hosie in The Independent

There are certain traits that the majority of heterosexual women look for in a man: kindness, GSOH, an understanding that the fight for gender equality is very much still ongoing.

But other aspects of your personality could be a deal-breaker for one woman and simultaneously the reason another falls in love with you.

Beauty of all kinds really is in the eye of the beholder, and human uniqueness is what makes the search for ‘the one’ all the more interesting (and difficult).

That said, with scientists having spent decades trying to work out the key to why we fall in love, there are certain things you should look for in a potential suitor which suggest you may have found a keeper.

With the advent of dating apps meaning another love interest is never more than a right swipe away, it can be hard to commit.

So if you're wondering whether to settle down with your current partner, it might be worth taking a step back and asking yourself whether he ticks the boxes below.

If he doesn’t, that doesn’t mean he isn’t the one for you. But if he does, you’ve likely got a pretty good egg on your hands.

1. He’s smart

While some of us are naturally brainier than others, a new study from the Hanken School of Economics in Finland suggests that the smarter the man, the less likely he is to be unfaithful. According to the research, more intelligent men are more likely to get married and stay married.

So if you’re worried your boyfriend might be too brainy for you, a) don’t be intimidated because intelligence isn’t everything, and b) know that you may have a guy who’s more likely to be faithful on your hands. 

2. He makes you laugh

Finding someone you can have a laugh with is crucial - even if everyone else rolls their eyes at his dad jokes, if they crack you up, that’s all that matters.

And a study has shown that men are more likely to have “mating success” if they have a GSOH. 

3. He actively supports your career

A study found that husbands were a deciding factor in two-thirds of women’s decisions to quit their jobs, often because they thought it was their duty to bring up their children.

Even when the women in the study described their husbands as supportive, they also revealed that the men refused to change their own work schedules or offer to help more with looking after children. 

4. He makes as much effort with your friends and family as you do with his

It’s not uncommon for a woman to end up giving up her own social life to slot into her new man’s. But it’s rare that a man does the same once entering a relationship.

In fact, a recent study found that young men get more satisfaction out of their bromances than their romantic relationships with women. While this is clearly ludicrous, maintaining your friendships is important. So make sure you’re with a man who not only wants you to make time to see your friends but also makes an effort to get to know them too.

5. He’s emotionally intelligent

If stereotypes are to be believed, it is women who are always desperate to talk about feelings and never men who fall hard. Whilst this definitely isn’t true, it’s important each person in a relationship has a certain level of emotional intelligence.

Studies suggest that women are better at taking the opinions and views of their partner into consideration than men, which is essential for a healthy relationship.

6. He respects your opinions and listens to what you have to say

Being closed-minded isn’t a trait that’s exclusive to a particular gender, but if a man is convinced he’s always right and will never consider your argument, it’s not a good sign.

If a man rejects his female partner’s influence, it may be a sign that he has power issues, according to Dr John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

7. He’s willing to put the work in

A study from the University of Texas found that the most successful relationships weren’t down to compatibility, but rather making the relationship work. “My research shows that there is no difference in the objective compatibility between those couples who are unhappy and those who are happy,” study author Dr. Ted Hudson said.

So if you or your partner is always looking for the next best thing rather than committing to make your relationship last, it may not bode well. 

8. He celebrates your achievements

Whether it’s deadlifting your bodyweight or learning enough German for a trip to Oktoberfest, it’s important to have a partner who celebrates your achievements.

But this isn’t just to make you feel great - a study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that couples who did so were more satisfied with their relationships than those who reacted negatively or were indifferent.

9. He shares your values

Having a similar outlook in life could be crucial to a successful relationship, according to a study. The more alike your personalities are, the more likely you are to approach problems in the same way.

You and your partner will share similar approaches to everything from socialising to working if your priorities are the same, and this is likely to lead to a greater level of respect for one another.

Of course, if your partner doesn’t have all the above qualities that doesn’t mean you should necessarily dump him immediately - we all look for different things in a partner and a relationship, after all.

But if he does tick all these boxes, he could be one to hold on to.

The Presidents Club is the tip of the iceberg

Samantha Rea in The Independent

The Financial Times has revealed that the Presidents Club Charity Dinner procured a harem of “tall, thin and pretty” hostesses for its exclusively male guest list. Wearing “skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels” the women were apparently groped, propositioned, and subjected to lewd comments. The report, which the FT has hailed as their “most read story”, has prompted apoplectic reactions in the media, the business world and on social media, where #PresidentsClub topped the trends on Twitter.

The event has been perceived as so scandalous that the money raised is now being rejected by charities. David Meller, Chair of the Presidents Club, has had to step down from the board of the Department for Education, and Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi faces pressure to resign since it was revealed that he attended the dinner. Big businesses were quick to distance themselves from the event. The backlash has ultimately resulted in the disbandment of the Presidents Club.

All the outrage may well be justified – but I can’t help feeling that it’s disingenuous. Because the Presidents Club Charity Dinner is no different to a normal night in a lap dancing club. 

I’ve spent the last three months investigating the lap dancing industry, working undercover in eight different lap dancing clubs in London. Like the charity dinner, the attendees tend to be well-off men, and those working there are usually young women, many of whom are at university or supporting children, and often from poorer countries.

Hostesses at the dinner reported men repeatedly putting hands up their skirts and one said an attendee had exposed his penis to her during the evening. At the lap dancing clubs, I witnessed men grabbing women’s bums, breasts, and genitals while sitting there rubbing their erections through their trousers. I was on the receiving end of this myself.

For although the licensing laws forbid touching, the women’s financial instability meant the men were able to push the boundaries. Working on a self-employed basis and having paid the club a fee to work there, the women are effectively pitted against each other to compete for custom. Under pressure to earn money (and to make back the “house fee” which could be up to £85) straying hands were often tolerated in an effort to keep the customer. And in more than one club, I was shown the camera “blind spots” where licensing laws are flouted with impunity. 

The FT referred to the hostesses receiving “repeated requests to join diners in bedrooms elsewhere in the Dorchester”. In the lap dancing clubs, I was repeatedly propositioned by customers who asked me to join them in their hotel rooms. They were not ambiguous about what they wanted. One asked me specifically, “how much for a f***?” Another was willing to pay for VIP if it ended in a blow job.

VIP is where the money’s really made, with some clubs in central London charging upwards of £500 an hour for a customer to spend one-to-one time with a lap dancer in private. Typically, the women take home around two-thirds of this after the club take their cut. So if a customer spent several hours in VIP, it was possible for the woman to take home over £1,000. However, it wasn’t unusual for customers to make it clear that if they paid for VIP, they’d expect sex or a blow job at the end of it.

When I turned down a guy who wanted a blow job, he said he’d give VIP a miss – then he casually told his work mates he was leaving as he wanted to go and get “sucked off”. He was a Mayfair based lawyer in his 50s, out for his work Christmas drinks.

There were businessmen, sales directors and – creepily – a gynaecologist. In one club, a surgeon told me he’d heard about the place from guys at work. He’d finished a shift and wanted to relieve some stress. Another guy was a partner at one of the Big Four accounting firms, out entertaining a client.

How do I know who these men were and what they did for a living? Because when I wouldn’t give them my contact details, they’d insist on giving me theirs. I exchanged messages with the Big Four guy, via his work email address.

One of the lap dancing clubs that I investigated was actually linked to an event very similar to the Presidents Club Charity Dinner. The club paid lap dancers to work as hostesses at a men-only black tie charity boxing dinner at a central London hotel. The men – who paid £250 a ticket for ringside seats – were encouraged to follow on to the club, to join the lap dancers in VIP once their hostessing duties had ended.

MP Maria Miller has condemned the Presidents Club Charity Dinner, saying: “How seriously is business taking equality at work if they are still using men only events for entertainment?” She’s suggested that the event could be a catalyst for tightening equality law. This can only be a good thing. But I hope that the Presidents Club Charity Dinner isn’t made a scapegoat, only for similar events to continue slipping through the net, along with “normal” nights in lap dancing clubs, where the same sort of behaviour is re-enacted every day of the week, all over London.

Is single the new black?

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu in The Hindu

Last evening, I went out with my college friend to a popular coffee shop in Kolkata, crowded with young lovers bedecked in the colours of Saraswati Puja, a festival that heralds the beginning of spring.

At the table beside us sat a couple who looked like typical millennials — they constantly clicked indulgent selfies, pouted non-stop, uploaded everything online immediately, with the boy checking and declaring the number of Likes triumphantly by thumping on the table.

‘Young love… wait till they are married and saddled with kids, pets, maids, homework and in-laws,’ my friend smirked.
Feminist type

‘We’ll be told we are eavesdropping, bad manners,’ I winked. My friend was about to say something when the girl at the table, who wore a purple sari and backless choli, raised her voice.

We stole a fleeting glance.

‘Let me tell you straight… I have no interest in being married. I am extremely independent, love my job, enjoy solo travel, I can’t give up my flat… and anyway, I am… umm… commitment phobic…’ She made a face and pushed away the boy’s left hand.

Was there a ring in there?

My friend and I exchanged looks.

‘Dude,’ the boy sniggered, taking back his arm defensively, adding almost under his breath, ‘You don’t want to grow into a sexless spinster, living alone with a bunch of cats in a cold, lonely apartment at 40.’

I’d just turned 40 in December, on the 14th. The last word stuck to me, more than the rest of his bhavishyawani.

I waited for the girl’s response.

‘Besides, I don’t think you are commitment phobic, you’ve had a string of flings, haven’t you?’ the boy clicked his tongue, resuming sheepishly, ‘I would say you are nothing but a bloody feminist.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ the girl retorted in a shrill octave.

The boy asked for the bill.

‘Nothing,’ he shrugged his shoulders.

‘No, tell me,’ the girl met his eyes.

‘It means that you hate men… that you think you are better and can survive alone. It means that you are too opinionated and have a foot-in-mouth disease. It means you want multiple partners, and maybe you are a lesbian. It means you have jholawala, nari morcha type principles… it means you are lonely, lousy and lost…’

* * * *

Single women reportedly constitute 21% of India’s female population, being close to 73 million in number. These include unmarried, divorced, separated and widowed women. Between 2001 and 2011, there was an almost 40% increase in their numbers. Media reports say that the Women and Child Development ministry under Maneka Gandhi is slated to revise policy for the first time since 2001 to address the concerns around being single and female, which include social isolation and difficulties in accessing even ordinary services. .

There’s been a huge growth in this demographic, and ministry officials have said that government policy must prepare for this evolution by empowering single women through skills development and economic incentives.

The policy revision also aims to address concerns related to widows and universal health benefits for all women. And yet, a little over a year ago, and despite the social relevance of the subject, when I actually discussed the idea of a non-fiction book on single women in my circle of single women friends, I sensed a reluctance to talk freely about what being single really meant in India.

Some of them, 40-plus, shyly confessed that they’ve just created their nth profile on a matrimonial site, but made me swear I would not tell anyone else lest they be laughed at. Others clandestinely admitted to flings with married or younger men.

They spoke of serious struggles with basic life issues such as getting a flat on rent or being taken seriously as a start-up entrepreneur or getting a business loan or even getting an abortion (statistics collated by Mumbai’s International Institute for Population Sciences claim that 76% of the women who come for first-time abortions are single).

They confessed to a gnawing sense of loneliness, the looming anxiety about the onset of old age, health issues, of losing parents, siblings and friends over time, of personal security, of being elderly and alone.

I started introspecting on my own single life. When did I begin to realise it wasn’t so much a choice as a culmination of circumstances that I must eventually get used to and learn to adapt to, despite the occasional speed-breaks. That being single wasn’t only about relationship-centric fears.

It also covered physical and mental health, living with parents vis-a-vis alone in another city, the nauseating, never-ending pressure of marriage, the need for sex (a friend insists on calling it ‘internal servicing’), the desire to birth one’s own children, coupled with a general all-consuming pressure to conform to the larger majority, the statistic that sells — married people — who seem to be swallowing you up and swarming in population, be it virtually or really.

* * * *

‘Get her uterus removed,’ the gynaecologist declared. It was three years ago and I was at one of Delhi’s prestigious hospitals. She was the third gynaec I was consulting. I kept going back to her every Wednesday at 4 p.m., waiting on the claustrophobic ground floor, complaining of how my menstrual pain had gotten severe in the last few cycles, even unbearable. My mother accompanied me on most occasions, vouching for me, a lingering sadness in her ageing eyes. Perhaps she was just as fragile. In ways that we could never show each other.

‘But she’s so young, only in her 30s?’ my mother stuttered, protesting, as if against a looming death warrant. The doctor was busy talking with the nurse about a woman in labour. Not very interested in the ones who didn’t qualify in her estimation. Those like me who kept coming back — same complaint, same pain, same marital status.

“Why don’t you find her a husband soon? With her history… first Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome… now endometriosis…and, of course, her weight… is she interested in having a baby anyway?” I pushed my chair back impatiently, fighting back tears.

‘Shall we try Ananda Bazaar? They have a ‘Cosmopolitan’ section… more your type,’ Ma had whispered on our way back, as I looked away.

Beleaguered. Belittled. Barren?

* * * *

Nita Mathur (name changed on request) was born in a conservative Uttar Pradesh family, and grew up watching her mother ostracised for not bearing a son. I met the 34-year-old HR professional in an upscale South Delhi café a month before her marriage, which had been arranged by a family astrologer. Nita was preparing to return to Kanpur, her hometown. ‘I grew up with a gnawing guilt that I was born a girl… I wanted to get out of Kanpur at any cost. I battled with my father and uncles to come to Delhi to get an MBA degree,” she told me.
Like a virgin

For Nita, living alone in a Delhi PG meant life on her own terms, earning her way. She started dating, had sex. “It was, strangely, a way to get back at the closeted patriarchy I had been forced to deal with as a girl,” she said.

But her single status and living alone was a stigma for her parents, who wanted Nita married, and her sisters after her. They pressurised her, using tears and threats. “My mother always cried on the phone, warning me that life as a single woman, though seemingly attractive, would return to haunt me later. She told me my behaviour would affect my sisters’ lives….”

Nita finally agreed to marry. And since she could not tell anyone that she was sexually active, she decided to have a hymen reconstruction surgery. “It was the first question my to-be groom asked when we were granted half an hour alone.” Nita spent ₹60,000 on the half-hour procedure.

In an April 2015 report in, Dr. Anup Dhir, a cosmetologist from Apollo Hospital, said, ‘There’s been an increase of 20-30% in these surgeries annually. The majority of women who opt for this surgery are in the 20 to 30 age group.’

* * * *

I went to visit a single friend in her 40s who lives in a plush apartment complex in Thane. As my rented car entered the imposing iron gates, a lady security officer asked which apartment I was visiting. When I told her my friend’s name and flat number, she smirked: ‘Oh, the madam who lives by herself? Akeli? Not married?’

In the course of my interviews with 3,000 single urban women across India whose voices are integral to breaking the stigmatised silence around singlehood, I came across Shikha Makan, whose documentary Bachelor Girls is on the same subject.

Shikha spoke of being in the advertising industry, of keeping late hours. “From the first day, we felt uncomfortable. The watchman stared at us, as if he wanted to find out what we were up to.” Once, when she returned home at 2 a.m., a male colleague escorted her home. But when they reached the gate, the watchman stopped them and called the society chairman who accused Shikha of running a brothel. He threatened to throw her out.

“I called my father, who gave him a piece of his mind, and we continued to stay there. But we felt extremely uncomfortable. Then, the harassment started; someone would ring our bell at 3 a.m. or write nasty stuff on the walls. We decided to leave.”

* * * *

Ruchhita Kazaria, 35 and single, born to a Marwari family, started her own advertising agency, Arcee Enterprises, in 2004. She has since faced backlash for trying to conduct business without the backing of a husband’s surname or the validation of a male partner. Running her own company for the past 12 years has led to Ruchhita believing that “women in general, unfortunately, are still predominantly perceived as designers, back-office assistants, PR coordinators, anything but the founder-owner of a business entity.”
Sans arm candy

“In October 2014, a friend asked if I was “secretly” dating someone, probably finding it difficult to digest that a single woman could head a company minus a male counterpart and socialise sans arm candy,” she wrote to me. Within 15 minutes, the friend had sought to enrol Ruchhita with couples and groups that participated in swapping, threesomes and orgies, encouraging her to be a part of this ‘discreet’ group, to ‘hang loose’.

With single women, it’s their sexuality that’s always at the forefront of social exchanges, not their minds or talents.

* * * *

‘What did you say?’ the girl at the next table squeals, her eyes glinting.

The boy’s chest heaves as she shoves in the returned change into his shirt pocket.

‘I am a feminist,’ I say, suddenly, protectively.

Then before the boy can say something, I add, ‘and I am single, 40. So?’

The girl pushes her chair back.

‘I’m Payal,’ she swallows hard.

‘I’m Riya, 54, divorced, two kids, that’s my son,’ the lady sitting behind them walks over to the girl’s table.

‘Amio single, feminist, war widow,’ says another woman who has just walked in. ‘Can I have your table please after you leave? Bad knees!’

The boy looks genuinely puzzled.

‘I hate cats. But I love sex,’ my friend pipes up.

We burst out laughing.

‘Single, huh?’ the boy barks.

‘No, but my husband is away on work in another city, so maybe, umm, okay, just feminist,’ she grits her teeth.

Five of us then make a curious semi-circle. Standing around the girl, who wraps her hands around her shoulders.

We watch him stomp off and leave. The girl looks at me. I hold my friend’s hand. The older lady touches my back. The woman waiting for the table clumsily clicks a selfie.

And just like that, in the middle of an ordinary, noisy restaurant, we become the same. A statistic. A story.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Men Only: Inside the charity fundraiser where hostesses are put on show

Madison Marriage in The Financial Times

At 10pm last Thursday night, Jonny Gould took to the stage in the ballroom at London’s Dorchester Hotel. “Welcome to the most un-PC event of the year,” he roared. 

Mr Gould — who presented Channel 5’s Major League Baseball show — was there to host a charity auction, the centrepiece of a secretive annual event, the Presidents Club Charity Dinner. 

The gathering’s official purpose is to raise money for worthy causes such as Great Ormond Street Hospital, the world-renowned children’s hospital in London’s Bloomsbury district. 

Auction items included lunch with Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, and afternoon tea with Bank of England governor Mark Carney. 

But this is a charity fundraiser like no other. 

Auction lots included a lunch with foreign secretary Boris Johnson and former England cricketer Ian Botham. 

It is for men only. A black tie evening, Thursday’s event was attended by 360 figures from British business, politics and finance and the entertainment included 130 specially hired hostesses. 

All of the women were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party many hostesses — some of them students earning extra cash — were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned. 

The event has been a mainstay of London’s social calendar for 33 years, yet the activities have remained largely unreported — unusual, perhaps, for a fundraiser of its scale. 

The questions raised about the event have been thrown into sharp relief by the current business climate, when bastions of sexual harassment and the institutionalised objectification of women are being torn down. 

The Financial Times last week sent two people undercover to work as hostesses on the night. Reporters also gained access to the dining hall and surrounding bars. 

Over the course of six hours, many of the hostesses were subjected to groping, lewd comments and repeated requests to join diners in bedrooms elsewhere in the Dorchester. 

Hostesses reported men repeatedly putting hands up their skirts; one said an attendee had exposed his penis to her during the evening. 

WPP, the FTSE 100 advertising conglomerate, sponsored a table at the event as it has in previous years. Martin Sorrell, chief executive, was not present this year — though he has attended in the past. 

Andrew Scott, its chief operating officer for Europe, hosted the table in his absence. Other table sponsors included CMC Markets, the UK-listed spread betting company, and Frogmore, the London-based real estate investment business. 

A seating plan for last week’s event seen by the FT listed those due to attend as including well-known British business figures such as Philip Green of Arcadia Group, Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones, and Ocado boss Tim Steiner. 

Financiers on the seating plan included Henry Gabay, founder of hedge fund Duet Group, and Makram Azar, the head of Barclays’ investment bank’s Middle East business. From the world of politics were Nadhim Zahawi, newly appointed undersecretary of state for children and families, and Jonathan Mendelsohn, a Labour peer and party fundraiser. It is not clear whether those listed all turned up on the night. 

The comedian David Walliams was the host for the evening. Previous attendees have included Michael Sherwood, a former vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs, and Poju Zabludowicz, a Finnish real estate billionaire and Conservative party donor. 

Current and past supporters provide a roll call of British wealth and business influence: patrons include high-end developer Nick Candy; former Formula 1 magnate Bernie Ecclestone; and TV presenter Vernon Kay. CMC Markets founder Peter Cruddas is also a regular attendee. 

The event has a laudable fundraising aim with prestigious prizes offered for auction. During the three decades The Presidents Club has been running, it has raised more than £20m for charity. Thursday’s event alone raised more than £2m. 

The organisation’s charitable trust has two joint chairmen: Bruce Ritchie, a Mayfair property developer who founded Residential Land, and David Meller, from the luxury good specialist Meller Group, who also sits on the board of the Department for Education and the Mayor’s Fund for London. 

But the auction offers a hint of the evening’s seedier side. Lots included a night at Soho’s Windmill strip club and a course of plastic surgery with the invitation to: “Add spice to your wife.” 

The accompanying brochure included a full-page warning that no attendees or staff should be sexually harassed. The glossy auction catalogue distributed to attendees during the evening included multiple images of Marilyn Monroe dressed in revealing, tight dresses. 

The nature of the occasion was hinted at when the hostesses were hired. The task of finding women for the dinner is entrusted to Caroline Dandridge, founder of Artista, an agency specialising in hosts and hostesses for what it claims to be some of the “UK’s most prestigious occasions”. 

At their initial interviews, women were warned by Ms Dandridge that the men in attendance might be “annoying” or try to get the hostesses “pissed”. One hostess was advised to lie to her boyfriend about the fact it was a male-only event. “Tell him it’s a charity dinner,” she was told. 

“It’s a Marmite job. Some girls love it, and for other girls it’s the worst job of their life and they will never do it again . . . You just have to put up with the annoying men and if you can do that it’s fine,” Ms Dandridge told the hostess. 

Two days before the event, Ms Dandridge told prospective hostesses by email that their phones would be “safely locked away” for the evening and that boyfriends and girlfriends were not welcome at the venue. 

The uniform requirements also became more detailed: all hostesses should bring “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. 

For those who met the three specific selection criteria (“tall, thin and pretty”) a job paying £150, plus £25 for a taxi home, began at 4pm. 

The backgrounds of the dozen or more hostesses met by reporters were varied: many were students, hoping to launch careers as lawyers or marketing executives; others juggled part-time jobs as actresses, dancers or models and did occasional hostessing work to make ends meet. 

Upon arrival at the Dorchester, the first task given to the hostesses was to sign a five-page non-disclosure agreement about the event. Hostesses were not given a chance to read its contents, or take a copy with them after signing. 

At first, hostesses were assembled in the Dorchester’s Orchard Room, where a team of hair and make-up artists prepped women for the evening ahead. During the pre-event preparations, some of the women new to hostess work sought advice from those with more experience. The feedback was mixed. 

A number of the hostesses seemed excited about the evening ahead. It was a fun night, they said, especially as — unlike most hostessing assignments — you could drink on the job. 

One experienced hostess acknowledged that a portion of the men were likely to be “arseholes”, but said others were “hilarious”. “It really depends on the luck of the draw,” she added. 

Others were more apprehensive. One woman who had last worked at the event five years ago sighed to herself: “I can’t believe I’m here again.” 

Towards 7pm, during a staff buffet dinner, Ms Dandridge entered wearing a smart black suit and gave a briefing; she said if any of the men became “too annoying”, the hostesses should contact her. 

Hostess uniforms were distributed — short tight black dresses, black high heels and a thick black belt resembling a corset. Once dressed, the hostesses were offered a glass of white wine during the final countdown to their entrance into the ballroom. 

As the 8pm start time approached, all of the hostesses were told to form two lines in height order, tallest women first, ready to parade across the stage as music began to boom across the venue: “Power”, by British girl band Little Mix. 

Entering in twos from opposite sides on to a stage positioned at the front of the ballroom, hostesses presented themselves to the men before walking towards their allocated tables alongside dinner guests. This continued until all 130 women were spread across the room. 

With the dinner properly under way, the hostess brief was simple: keep this mix of British and foreign businessmen, the odd lord, politicians, oligarchs, property tycoons, film producers, financiers, and chief executives happy — and fetch drinks when required. 

A number of men stood with the hostesses while waiting for smoked salmon starters to arrive. Others remained seated and yet insisted on holding the hands of their hostesses. 

It was unclear why men, seated at their tables with hostesses standing close by, felt the need to hold the hands of the women, but numerous hostesses discussed instances of it through the night. For some, this was a prelude to pulling the women into their laps. Meanwhile champagne, whisky and vodka were served. 

On stage, entertainers came and went. It was soon after a troupe of burlesque dancers — dressed like furry-hatted Coldstream Guards, but with star-shaped stickers hiding nipples — that one 19-year-old hostess, recounted a conversation with a guest nearing his seventies: who had asked her, directly, whether she was a prostitute. She was not. “I’ve never done this before, and I’m never doing it again,” she said later. “It’s f***ing scary.” 

According to the accounts of multiple women working that night, groping and similar abuse was seen across many of the tables in the room. 

Another woman, 28, with experience of hostess work, observing the braying men around her said this was significantly different to previous black tie jobs. At other events, men occasionally would try to flirt with her, she said, but she had never felt uncomfortable or, indeed, frightened. 

She reported being repeatedly fondled on her bottom, hips, stomach and legs. One guest lunged at her to kiss her. Another invited her upstairs to his room. 

Meanwhile, Artista had an enforcement team, made up of suited women and men, who would tour the ballroom, prodding less active hostesses to interact with dinner guests.

Outside the women’s toilets a monitoring system was in place: women who spent too long were called out and led back to the ballroom. A security guard at the door was on hand, keeping time. 

At 10pm, the main money-raising portion of the evening got under way: the charity auction, where the lots on offer ranged from a supercharged Land Rover to the right to name a character in Mr Walliams’ next children's book. 

Richard Caring, who made his fortune in the retail sourcing business before scooping up a long list of London’s most fashionable restaurants, including The Ivy and Scott’s, rounded off the money-raising portion of the evening with a successful £400,000 bid to place his name on a new High Dependency Unit at the Evelina London children’s hospital for sick children. 

It was a moment of respite for the women, most of whom had been allowed to return to the Orchard Room. Some were excited to have been offered jobs by men in the room. Others had been offered large tips, which they had been obliged to decline. One woman struggled to re-apply her eyeliner. “I’m so drunk,” she said apologetically, blaming tequila shots at her table. 

The women filed back into the ballroom at 11pm for the final hour of the main event, which would be followed by an “after-party” elsewhere in the hotel. 

Most hostesses had been told they would be required to stay until 2am. One was told that this final leg of the evening offered a chance to drink what she wanted and seek out those men she found “most attractive”. 

The after-party was held in a smaller room off the main lobby at the Dorchester, packed tight with guests and women. 

According to the 28-year-old hostess, while men danced and drank with a set of women on one side of the room, a line of younger women were left seated on a banquette at the back of the room, seemingly dazed. “They looked shocked and frightened, exhausted by what had happened,” she said. 

Meanwhile, in the centre of the room, Jimmy Lahoud, 67, a Lebanese businessman and restaurateur, danced enthusiastically with three young women wearing bright red dresses. 

“You look far too sober,” he told her. Filling her glass with champagne, he grabbed her by the waist, pulled her in against his stomach and declared: “I want you to down that glass, rip off your knickers and dance on that table.”

In a statement the Dorchester said it had a zero-tolerance policy regarding harassment of guests or employees. “We are unaware of any allegations and should we be contacted we will work with the relevant authorities as necessary,” it said. 

The Presidents Club said: “The Presidents Club recently hosted its annual dinner, raising several million pounds for disadvantaged children. The organisers are appalled by the allegations of bad behaviour at the event asserted by the Financial Times reporters. Such behaviour is totally unacceptable. The allegations will be investigated fully and promptly and appropriate action taken.” 

Ms Dandridge of Artista stated: “This is a really important charity fundraising event that has been running for 33 years and raises huge amounts of money for disadvantaged and underprivileged children’s charities. There is a code of conduct that we follow, I am not aware of any reports of sexual harassment and with the calibre of guest, I would be astonished.” 

None of the trustees of the charity provided a comment for publication. 

Harvey Goldsmith, a former trustee, said he was “gobsmacked” by the accounts of sexual harassment taking place at the event. “I’m totally shocked to be quite frank,” he said. 

The BoE said: “The Bank of England did not approve any prize for auction on the occasion described nor would it have for that organisation under its guidelines for charitable giving.” 

Mr Walliams declined to comment. 

Mr Caring said he “was not aware of any of the alleged incidents”. 

Barry Townsley, a well-known stockbroker and lifetime president of The Presidents Club who helped to set up the charity, said he had not attended the dinner for a decade. He added that it was previously “very nice and civilised” and a “mild-mannered charity”. “What goes on now is not my business,” he said.