Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman, as Tammy Wynette taught us, and not merely because of giving all our love to just one man.
As 21st-century everywomen/superwomen, we are expected to take work, home and stimulating social lives in our stride. We must handle board meetings and birthdays, hard graft and emotional labour, while staying fit, sane and scoring enough sleep. Plus, society expects us to do all this while looking the part — bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and groomed; if not impeccably, then at least enough not to terrify our colleagues.
Which is why, as I enter the AllBright Club — the super-chic new London HQ of a global women’s empowerment movement — all I can think is: ‘Give me a break!’ Literally and metaphorically. As a lifelong feminist and working woman, I don’t need to be patronised with some sort of Amazonian ghetto. I’d just like another hour in bed before I take on the world.
Hannah Betts (pictured third from right with with the AllBright wellness team) gave her verdict on Mayfair’s women’s only club
Call me beta — gamma, even — but the word ‘network’ brings me out in hives: an Eighties anachronism rebooted as part of ‘be your best self’-type millennial mantras. I don’t want to feel empowered, I just want to get on with it; then lie on my own in a darkened room.
Others will take a dimmer view: in this age of equality, isn’t the establishment of a single-sex environment actually sexist?
Anna Jones, one of AllBright’s two impossibly glamorous founders, patiently sets me — and them — straight: ‘There’s nothing patronising about it,’ she says when we meet within the club’s ritzy interiors.
‘If we look at the stats, only one in five businesses in the UK have female founders and female-run businesses only attract two per cent of venture capital funding.
‘It’s clear we still have a long way to go when it comes to achieving equality. When we reach 50/50, then it’s time for us to hang up our stilettos!’
Once you consider the bonding opportunities men have long created for themselves, and still continue to enjoy, in traditional, male-only clubs, it is more obvious why ambitious women would want something similar, albeit on their own terms — said terms being friendlier, less fusty and more fabulous.
Which explains the club’s success: the enterprise already boasts several thousand members (plus thousands more virtually), with new outposts in the pipeline in LA and New York.
‘We like to think of it as organised serendipity,’ says Anna, 44, former CEO of the Hearst UK magazine empire. ‘Women network in a different way to men. It’s about inspiration and fun, leaning in and letting your hair down.’
Debbie Wosskow, 45, and Anna Jones, 44, (pictured left to right) raised £11 million to debut the original AllBright club in Bloomsbury’s Rathbone Street in 2017
As we talk, her co-founder, super-successful entrepreneur Debbie Wosskow OBE, 45, charges by in a designer frock on her way to a tech event at Number 10.
The three of us have a brief bond over what she wants to achieve there, the fate of Theresa May and the art of rain-proof hair (at which they have succeeded and I have failed).
These are just the sort of women you’d want to have your back. Both have a couple of children (babies-in-arms are welcome at all times at the club — smallBright, a kids’ club, operates on Saturdays for offspring aged two to seven). Both have brought their husbands into the club for Father’s Day and birthday celebrations (yes, men are allowed as guests).
Having been introduced at a party, the duo raised £11 million from investors and in September 2017 opened the original AllBright, in Bloomsbury’s Rathbone Street.
We still have a way to go when it comes to equality. When we reach 50/50, then it’s time for us to hang up our stilettos! – Co-founder Anna Jones
Billed as Britain’s first female-only members’ club, designed for working women by working women, members pay a £300 joining fee, plus a £1,300 annual subscription (£200 plus £1,000 for the under-30s).
In anybody’s money, this is a lot. Still, given what people regularly throw away on unused gym memberships, it begins to look less exorbitant. What’s more, women who can’t afford club membership can sign up to the AllBright Academy online and access a series of free, ten-week courses aimed at professional development.
Once they have graduated from one of these courses, they are eligible to join a ‘work sisterhood’ run through the AllBright connect app, for £9.99 a month.
As Anna says: ‘The whole point is how does our movement reach working women not just in London, but Manchester and Cardiff, too?’
AllBright is named after America’s first female secretary of state, Madeleine Albright (pictured: The club’s dining room)
AllBright’s Mayfair premises boasts five floors for fitness, nutrition, grooming, professional coaching and wellness (pictured: wellness clinic)
Martha Lane Fox, Kanya King, Sarah Brown and Anya Hindmarch are among the power players who’ve backed the cause
AllBright is named after America’s first female secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, she of the maxim: ‘There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’
Power players such as Martha Lane Fox, Kanya King, Sarah Brown, Anya Hindmarch, Naomie Harris and Ruth Wilson have all rallied to the cause.
Recent speakers at the club include the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, tech giant and philanthropist Dame Stephanie Shirley (at one generational extreme) and healthy-eating millennial Melissa Hemsley (at the other).
Unlike mixed membership clubs such as Soho House, AllBright is unapologetically aimed at ambitious career women.
And with these new Mayfair premises, there are now five floors that focus not only on the meeting, talking and working side of creating alpha females, but a complete, and rather radical, package that includes fitness, nutrition, grooming, plus professional coaching and wellness therapies.
The notion of empowering yourself by treatments focusing on physical, emotional and spiritual development feels very millennial. And more than a little airy fairy to some ears.
Anna and Debbie recently welcomed 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, tech giant and philanthropist Dame Stephanie Shirley to speak at the club
To qualify for the AllBright sorority, it appears, you must be not merely working, but woke. Think: warrior women open to womb massage and ancestral healing, the whacky and the woo-woo — anything so long as it propels you forward on your all-conquering path.
A mantra on the gym mirror declares: ‘We are women and we are always stronger than we think.’ Accordingly, if you decide you are made stronger by a walk on the alternative therapy wild side, then, sister, knock yourself out.
The woman responsible for this innovative ‘career spa’ is the dynamic Michal Cohen-Sagi, who was a globe-trotting Microsoft executive before she set up wellbeing clinic 58 Lifestyle.
‘I brought together female therapists who could create an integrated approach to support women with no time,’ she explains.
‘OK,’ I reply. ‘But can their treatments really make me more alpha?’
‘Yes,’ cries Michal. ‘I once went to see Clare, who does our Empowering Fertility Massage, and she told me I looked empty. The treatment she gave me was like a rebirth. Our reiki specialist, Kuumba, releases the fear in any situation. She makes you feel: “Yes, I can do this!” These therapists will make you feel empowered as a female.’
Hannah (pictured third from right) was treated to a red carpet facial, reiki session and an Empowerment Body Treatment while visiting the club
You don’t even have to be an AllBright member to avail yourself of this support system; as with the exercise classes, anyone can book in (although members do receive a discount).
I give Michal and her girl-power squadron eight hours to transform me from middle-aged apathy to professional powerhouse, at a moment when I am so work-stressed I feel as if I am in an out-of-body state.
My first stop is Emma Brown, a facialist whose signature red carpet treatment is sought out by Hollywood power women including Salma Hayek (£165 for an hour for non-members, £150 for members). It is more medical than massagey (although, what hands!), with a peel, a spot of micro‑needling and the use of cosmeceuticals. I emerge fresh-faced for the first time in weeks.
per cent of UK companies still pay their male employees more than women
Onto something billed as ‘Empowerment reiki Reset Career Coaching’ with Kuumba Nia, who describes herself as a ‘transformational coach’ (£100 for 90 minutes for non-members, £90 for members). ‘As ambitious women, we can accumulate emotional blocks in our chakras, the energy centres of our body,’ Kuumba explains. ‘reiki — in which I transfer energy through the palms of my hands, can clear those, leaving you feeling focused, clear and grounded.’
She listens acutely to everything I say — from work issues to the tale of my parents’ deaths, interpreting recent bouts of ill-health as a way of my body acknowledging fear while my mind remains closed to it.
This makes sense not only in my current circumstances, but in terms of my entire life.
The club’s Empowerment reiki Reset Career Coaching with Kuumba Nia,is priced at £100 for 90 minutes for members
Hannah describes the club’s Empowerment Body Treatment with Clare Spink which involves a womb massage as ‘lunatic’
I hop onto her couch, close my eyes, and she holds her hands both over and on me, freeing my energy blockages.
Afterwards, she shares insights about my character, such as my ridiculous capacity for stoicism that it has taken me decades to realise — or not to realise. Kuumba is as intelligent as she is intuitive. I love it, love her, and leave determined to return.
Alas, my next treatment provokes the opposite reaction. Clare Spink’s Empowerment Body Treatment is emphatically not my thing (£136 an hour for non-members, £120 for members).
Clare, a qualified holistic massage therapist, wears a T-shirt announcing ‘Love Your Womb’. She talks a lot without asking questions, informing me that our wombs are the source of our creative power. I prefer to see my brain as my creative force.
Clare’s (happily external) womb massage is relaxing, but I can’t do business with all the guff. I am ‘rigidly creative’, she tells me, in a way that is ‘more masculine and linear’ and I need to find my ‘inner goddess’ and release the ‘juiciness’ inside my womb.
‘Too spiritual for you?’ asks Michal as I emerge.
‘Too lunatic,’ I want to respond.
Hannah says the hypnotherapy on offer at Debbie and Anna’s club didn’t work for her personality, sessions with Sarah Bannock start at £1,200 for members
After a pause for a miso salmon lunch, it’s on to career coaching with Nick Porter, a certified executive and leadership coach, who is utterly brilliant (it’s members-only: first session free, price on application thereafter).
Nick is whip-smart and attentive, drawing me out and challenging my ideas in the most constructive and amusing way possible.
‘Coaching asks the question: how do you want to be different? Then looks at what you have to do to get you there,’ she grins.
It feels like therapy without the tissues, although I do almost start blubbing, so penetrating is her way of steering me toward character revelations in terms of my core values. At one point, when we’re talking about how I could choose not to make a joke of a recent award, I experience a rush of adrenaline.
Much of what she says chimes with Kuumba’s insights — and, again, I start to realise why I have always acted in a certain way professionally, and how this might change. I leave fully intending to stalk the woman.
I’ve been hypnotised before and gained a lot from it, but clinical hypnotherapist Sarah Bannock’s approach doesn’t work for my oddball personality (£1,350 for four hour-long sessions for non-members, £1,200 for members).
Hannah describes Debbie and Anna’s club as a power base for women, AllBright is an attempt to redress gender balance
For me, there’s way too much talking without any sign of listening. For someone who tells me that understanding my language is the biggest issue, I find the language she uses all platitudes and fortune-cookie wisdom.
The final trick up Michal’s sleeve is an IVta Me Vitamin Infusion, an intravenous drip teeming with B vitamins and magnesium that promises to have me in Wonder Woman mode by morning (£228 for non-members, £200 for members).
I head off to the club’s beautiful changing rooms to primp myself for a work dinner, comparing notes with the elegant fiftysomething advertising executive at the next mirror. ‘This place has only been open a month,’ she observes. ‘But already it feels like home. I work and it works.’
‘It’s a high-vibe club that feels more supportive for proactive businesswomen than anywhere else,’ adds fellow member Poppy Delbridge, 36. ‘I can work here as a TV company owner, speaker and life coach with everything I need to succeed.’
As I stride back out onto the hectic London streets, do I feel more alpha? On the way to alpha, certainly; buoyed, bolstered.
Detractors may rail against the women-only aspect. But for decades, centuries, millennia, men have networked in male-only environments and reaped the rewards. The AllBright is an attempt to redress that balance. Finally, it looks like we have a power base to call our own.