Gilded Balloon takes principled stand against toxic culture – Tom Wood

The MeToo movement, sparked by Harvey Weinstein’s crimes against women, is continuing to produce a real change in attitudes in Scotland, writes Tom Wood.
Comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli has been given a life ban from the Gilded Balloon (Picture: Jane Hobson/Shutterstock)Comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli has been given a life ban from the Gilded Balloon (Picture: Jane Hobson/Shutterstock)
Comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli has been given a life ban from the Gilded Balloon (Picture: Jane Hobson/Shutterstock)

As the latest sordid chapter in the life of the late financier Jeffrey Epstein unfolds, you could be excused for thinking it was a continuance of the recent Harvey Weinstein saga.

It really is the same story, rich and powerful men abusing their power to procure young women and girls for their pleasure.

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One was in showbusiness, the other in finance but they mixed in the same glamorous world and they both got away with it for years.

When their fall came, it was complete but the question remains – how did they get away with it for so long, so many victims, so many people must have known and a good few must have enabled their predadatory behaviour. Why did no one blow the whistle earlier?

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Disparity of power is one reason but there is something else – put simply, their behaviour did not stand out, it was unremarkable.

The best interview on the Weinstein affair was a brief piece by a famous Hollywood actress. Instead of handwringing and condemnation, she was candid.

Weinstein, she said, was just one of many in showbusiness like him – it went back to the casting couch of the golden age of Hollywood.

Powerful producers were habitually surrounded by a bevy of beautiful girls – it went with the territory, it was part of the culture.

So if we think that bringing down a couple of despicable characters, no matter how big, will change behaviour, we can think again. Toxic cultures have deep roots.

And it’s not just an ‘A-list’ millionaires problem or only something that involves actual criminality. The MeToo movement has thrown up other examples of allegedly unacceptable behaviour.

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In recent weeks, the Gilded Balloon, one of our oldest Scottish comedy production companies, has taken the highly unusual step to publicly announce a life ban for the comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli after comedian Lulu Popplewell complained he tried to use his status to proposition her with sex at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. Certainly no A-lister, Mr Kohli hardly fits the bill as famous or powerful but even so the same culture of silence seems to have protected him for years. What goes on backstage, stays backstage seems to have been the code.

There have always been people like him and worse, but in the entertainment industry they seem to have been tolerated more than most. The line between bawdy humour and bawdy behaviour seems blurred.

But now a stand has been taken - difficult for an insider but no one who knows The Gilded Balloon’s matriarch Karen Koren can doubt her resolve.

In what must be the most difficult of times for the theatre she has fought 30 years to nurture, the Gilded Balloon has broken the silence that has protected such people for years.

This not only sends out a strong message, it also illustrates a fundamental truth. Toxic cultures and behaviours can only really be tackled from within.

No sporadic interventions by a criminal justice system will change a culture. Only the kind of principled stand taken by the Gilded Balloon can free people to raise concerns and send out the sort of horrible warning required to deter bad behaviour.

It may not be Hollywood or the billionaire set, but here in Scotland we have taken a positive step.

Tom Wood is a writer and former Deputy Chief Constable.

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