Simon Hoare among reported members of exclusive ‘men-only’ Garrick Club in London

FOUNDED in 1831 to ‘tend to the regeneration of the Drama’, the Garrick Club in London’s West End is one of the oldest members’ clubs in the world.

A list of those to have ventured through its imposing doors reads like a list of the great and the good of theatre, art and music through the centuries, with the likes of Charles Dickens, Laurence Olivier and HG Wells sitting alongside modern greats like Brian Cox, Jeremy Paxman and Stephen Fry.

They are joined by judges, KCs, politicians and many, many more. Indeed, the King himself is listed as a member in a list of those to join which reportedly dates from 2023.

But despite the rich tapestry of professions, status and industries, there is one notable absence on the list; women.

With a reported 1,500 members, there is not one female, as they are effectively banned from joining.

Indeed, until 2010, women were not allowed to even visit the club as a guest or a spouse.

In 2015, the last time a vote on the matter arose at the Garrick’s AGM, one member was reported to have said admitting women would “change the nature of the club”.

“Men behave differently if there are no women there,” one said. “There is camaraderie, banter, the knowledge you can say anything you want and have a jolly good discussion about anything in a completely egalitarian atmosphere in which no one is trying to impress anyone else.”

The notion that women are the only reason men show off, or are braggadocious is debatable, but despite 50.5% of members voting to admit women, it failed, falling short of the two-thirds majority required.

And so the ban on female members remains.

Back to that list of members of the Garrick Club, which the Guardian claims to have obtained a copy of.

On it are numerous members of the Government, including the perhaps surprising – deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden (Con, Hertsmere) and secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, Michael Gove – to the predictable – Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con, North East Somerset).

They sit alongside football manager Roy Hodgson, Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, Crispin Odey and, perhaps most predictably of all, editor in chief of Daily Mail publisher DMG, Paul Dacre.

However, another name will jump out at Dorset residents – Simon Hoare.

The Conservative MP for North Dorset is on the list seen by The Guardian.

Like cabinet secretary Simon Case, or head of MI6 Richard Moore, Mr Hoare has not, it appears, been vocal about his membership.

Despite repeated attempts by your New Blackmore Vale, Mr Hoare has not commented on the reports. However, his link with the Garrick Club was highlighted in a parliamentary debate, when Mr Rees-Mogg referred to the MP as “my fellow Garrick member”.

But is Garrick Club membership simply an old-fashioned in-joke among the privileged establishment, or is there more to it?

Harriet Harman (Lab, Camberwell and Peckham) brought forward the Equality Bill in 2010, which was later passed into law.

She said clubs like the Garrick “prop up structures that restrict women’s access to power”.

Under the 2010 Act, the club can’t actually prohibit women from using the facilities, but they are only ever invited as a guest. And that is rare.

A dining room at the Garrick Club

A dining room at the Garrick Club

Jolyon Maugham, a director at the Good Law Project, said: “You can either believe in equality, or you can belong to a club that bars women, but you can’t do both.”

During a meeting of a cross-party parliamentary committee after his membership was revealed, Mr Case – who is the head of the 500,000-strong civil service – was asked about what that said about his role.

“Can you foster a genuine culture of inclusiveness while being a member of an all-male club like the Garrick? Is that a good signal to send to the machine?” asked Jim Byrne (Lab, Birmingham Hodge Hill).

Mr Case, in an adept piece of spin and with an air of jocular certainty well suited to the panelled walls of the Garrick, claimed his membership motives were all for the greater good.

“I have to say my position on this one is also clear,” he said. “If you believe profoundly in reform of an institution, by and large it’s easier to do if you join it to make the change from within, rather than chuck rocks from the outside.”

That’s alright then. He only joined, in 2019, in a bid to help the righteous efforts to reform the Garrick Club and let women in.

“I think when you want to reform, you have to participate,” he added.

Partcipate? Yes. Join a male-only members’ club? Hmmmm.

Anyway, the defence didn’t last long, as it was reported a day later Mr Case had resigned his membership.

And MP Stella Creasy (Lab, Walthamstow) did not laugh along.

“This is the head of civil service – so manager of thousands of women in it – joking about how he is a member of the Garrick club to ‘reform it from within’,” she said. “How the other men chortle.

“If any of them can name a date (they) tabled a vote to let women join it, or spoke out, that might help.”

Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, a charity that campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights, told your New Blackmore Vale membership of the club was “at best careless and at worst arrogant”.

“You can only come in if a man gives you permission? What place is there for that in the 21st century?” she said.

“We talk about the establishment as an old boys’ club and this is literally a club for boys.

“Because these clubs have existed historically and because powerful people continue to be members of them, it almost makes it seem as if it’s normal to have this kind of discrimination. It isn’t acceptable.”

She added: “Why would you not want women there? What would having women there do that would be so harmful to the purposes of the club?

“You’ve got to look at what is the motivation for keeping women out. I can’t see anything other than sexism and misogyny at the root of that.

“All these senior professionals know that there is a problem where women, and in particular women of colour, are systematically disadvantaged and underrepresented.

“Theoretically, the organisations they work for are committed to challenging that. So to have senior influential people still indulging in the mechanisms that we know keep that system in place, does feel at best careless and at worst arrogant.”

Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of the Fawcett Society

Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of the Fawcett Society

Another prominent and powerful person to resign their membership after initially defending their place at the Garrick table was head of MI6, Richard Moore.

Like Case, he initially defended his membership on the grounds of campaigning from within to change admission rules, but with the spy agency itself in the midst of a bid to encourage women to join up, he sent a note to staff on Wednesday (March 20) confirming he was standing down.

Meanwhile, one voice stalwartly defending the club came from Kelvin MacKenzie, the former editor of The Sun when it ran the disgraced ‘The truth’ headline during coverage of the Hillsborough stadium tragedy, which killed 97 Liverpool football fans.

“Can’t see why the diversity and inclusion mob are so enraged over the Guardian’s “revelation” that they have seen the membership list of the 193-year-old men only Garrick Club and it’s almost exclusively made up of older, white men,” he said. “They’re a minority and unusually for London are welcome.”


Another Garrick Club member, MP and former justice secretary Robert Buckland (Con, Swindon South), speaking to Kay Burley on Sky News, said members were “told you shouldn’t do business there”.

“The idea you go there to try and get influence or network I think the word is, is, I think, a misunderstanding of what a social place is, where you should be going to talk about the nice things of life, whether it’s sport, whether it’s the theatre, whether it’s the arts,” he said.

“You’re told you shouldn’t do business there. I go and have fun there when I can and relax when I can, which isn’t as often as I would like.”

“To do that in nice surroundings is wonderful,” he added.

Mr Buckland did say he thinks women should be admitted.

But despite his protestations, and those of Mr Case and the 50.5% who voted to allow female members in 2015, another old adage Garrick Club members might appreciate is that you can always vote with your feet.

Many of us outsiders would find that approach preferrable to accepting defeat and putting those feet up, nice though the chairs may be…

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I am the editor in chief of Blackmore Vale media, which includes the New Blackmore Vale, New Stour & Avon, Salisbury & Avon Gazette and the Purbeck Gazette, having been a reporter for some 20 years. In my spare time, I am a festival lover, with a particular focus on Glastonbury. I live in Somerset with my wife and two children.