The Truth About The Girls Of Hedsor Hall

What does it take to transform "a rowdy, mischievous girl into a true lady?" That's the concept showrunners pitched to MTV for The Girls of Hedsor Halla short-lived, critically maligned reality show that premiered on Feb. 9, 2009. Based on the exceedingly similar British program Ladette to Lady, producers promised to showcase the exploits of "one dozen misbehaving American girls" who were carted off to "a proper English finishing school" to learn some good old-fashioned manners (and potentially win loads of money). Badgered by supposed "headmistresses" and "disciplinarians," contestants balanced books on their heads, blasted pheasants out of the sky, and theoretically learned why they shouldn't say things like, "I'm a nympho, but I'm not a slut." Adding another sordid layer to the enterprise: Donald Trump was one of the show's executive producers.

In the years following the solitary eight-episode season of Hedsor Hall, a few former contestants have come forward with troubling allegations about what exactly went on behind the scenes. In September 2018, one woman even told The Hollywood Reporter that the show was "the worst experience of [her] life." Let's take a closer look at this misguided reality show calamity.

Trump wanted to 'troll the clubs' for contestants

On June 14, 2007, the New York Post reported that Donald Trump had a brand-new reality show in the works. Originally attached to Fox and titled Lady or a Tramp, the series would feature "rowdy female club-hoppers" being dragged off to "charm school," where they'd master the intricacies of needlepoint, learn how to preside over tea parties, and ultimately become extremely prim, proper ladies. 

Trump intended to use an exceedingly hands-on approach to find all these unwashed party Pygmalions. "I think it will be easy," he told the New York Post. "You troll the clubs." He went into further detail with The Washington Post: "The best casting will be by going into the various clubs and picking them out." He added, "You can pick a whole room of them. Unfortunately, who knows that scene better than I do? Somebody's got to do it."

Talking to Variety, Trump evidently fancied himself a sort of Patron Saint to Lost Party Girls: "We are all sick and tired of the glamorization of these out-of-control young women," he said. "So I have taken it upon myself to do something about it." He also took full credit for the concept, despite the proposed show being an adaptation of Ladette to Lady. "I am creating a real-life version of My Fair Lady with my company Trump Productions," he gushed. "The idea is genius and the show will be huge." 

​Tara Conner's 'second chance'

How did a pageant queen become the host of The Girls of Hedsor Hall? A bit of background: According to the New York Daily News (via Pressreader), former Miss USA Tara Conner (pictured, right) was close to "losing her crown" in December 2006 after "testing positive for cocaine" and "lustily kissing" then-Miss Teen USA Katie Blair.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Trump — who owned the Miss Universe Organization at the time — forgave Conner during a widely-publicized press conference, saying, "I've always been a believer in second chances." The speech captivated Chris Coelen, a former executive at RDF, the production house behind Ladette to Lady. In 2018, Coelen told THR the company "wanted to package a version" of the British program for American audiences: "When Trump forgave Tara Conner, that story arc of forgiveness seemed very much in line with the idea for the show," he said.

Trump later held another press conference to promote Hedsor Hall, a show Conner hosted under the pretense of being a "visiting instructor." He sounded quite proud: "The last time I stood here with Tara Conner, it was a rough time" (per NYDN). Trump then bashed Rosie O'Donnell, who had taken issue with his previous presser: "A disgusting pig named Rosie O'Donnell couldn't stand it. She said, 'Who is he to give her a second chance?'" He grimly added: "Rosie would have given [Tara] a second, third, and fourth chance, and she would have loved every minute of it." 

​MTV had high hopes for the show

Although Lady or a Tramp never saw the light of day, a version of the show was eventually developed for MTV under the new, Gothic-tinged title The Girls of Hedsor Hall (per Jezebel). In December 2008, MTV released a caffeinated press release trumpeting a roster of fresh shows that would tap "into this generation of risk takers" and "demolish cubicle culture" (via the Futon Critic). The Hedsor Hall blurb proudly boasted the names of "Executive Producer Donald J. Trump and Trump Productions LLC along with RDF USA."

At the time, network execs sounded ecstatic about the project: In January 2009, former MTV bigwig Tony DiSanto told the New York Daily News"It's grand entertainment but also has a great message for our viewers." According to The New York Times, MTV brass hoped their new lineup would boost the channel's "declining ratings," with former "president for entertainment" Brian Graden promising fare that "focus[ed] less on silly hooks and more on young people proving themselves." Pointing out Hedsor Hall's "late-night Cinemax premise," the NY Times called Graden's statement "slightly specious."

Meanwhile, the Hedsor Hall trailer offered a tantalizing taste of the "breakthrough content" to come: A manic parade of party girls screaming out of car windows, pouring cocktails on themselves, and beating one another to a pulp, while an ominous voiceover introduced the cast as "the most violent, crude, and downright disgusting women in America... but they know the partying can't go on forever..." 

The audition process sounds heinous

Tracking down twelve party girls — let alone twelve party girls with the potential to become proper ladies — isn't something you should expect to accomplish overnight. In June 2007, The Washington Post reported that Donald Trump and his minions had "put out a casting call" in search of young women "who 'love to party and are full of attitude.'" Nevertheless, the actual auditions for The Girls of Hedsor Hall apparently took place approximately one year later "in the summer of 2008," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Here's how that particularly unseemly scene reportedly went down: THR reports twenty-four good-looking women marched into Bungalow 22, The Beverly Hills Hotel's "signature suite." The contestants each stood before a camera, while a nosy "casting agent" asked about their penchant for booze and sex, presumably to gauge their level of outrageousness. Meanwhile, Trump allegedly "sat glumly on a sofa and watched." When it finally came time to hand off "his notes," Trump reportedly had only one: "Not hot enough. We need hotter girls."

According to an unnamed TV exec, producers tried convincing Trump that the candidates needed some "personality," seeing as "a bunch of models staring into the camera like in a Robert Palmer music video" wouldn't make for particularly riveting TV. The exec told THR: "I don't think he got it." Perhaps unsurprisingly, THR further reported that most of the girls who made the final cut came "from auditions Trump didn't attend."

Meet the cast

Following this arduous audition process, who were the twelve "violent, crude, and downright disgusting women" who ultimately made the cut? On March 29, 2008, an "insider" told People that Donald Trump really wanted "infamous" escort Ashley Alexander Dupre to participate. A key player in Eliot Spitzer's 2008 "prostitution scandal," Dupre would've been "the perfect candidate," this insider said. 

That didn't happen. Instead, we got "heavy drinker Samantha, bad-tempered Margie, [and] high school-dropout Jenna," according to Hedsor Hall press materials. Then there was "gutter-mouthed Lillian, wild child Amanda, [and] party girl Kim." We should probably also mention "snobby b***h Jen M, foul-mouthed Maddy, booty-baring punkette Hillary," and, of course, the inimitable "bar brawling Paola." Last but not least: Jennifer, "the self-proclaimed 'Blackout Queen of North Carolina." But which of these girls had the mettle to become a truly proper lady? More importantly, why did three of the names have to be Jenna, Jen, and Jennifer?

As if the promise of ladyhood wasn't already incentive enough, these contestants were also clambering for a generous cash prize: "In the end, only two girls will graduate," intoned the sinister voiceover in the show's trailer, "and only one will take home a $100,000 trust." Meanwhile, each week, the most ill-behaved contestant would be "driven away from the castle in a little black car," according to Boston.

​Want to watch full episodes? Good luck.

If you're ever seized by a masochistic urge to engulf all eight episodes of The Girls of Hedsor Hall, you'll have a very tough time finding them. In fact, it's unlikely you'll even track down a single episode. According to The Hollywood Reporter, clips are "difficult to find online," and there's precious little "evidence" that Trump was ever involved with the show. (He's listed as "executive producer" of the first two episodes on IMDb, so there's that.)

As of this writing, at least one Hedsor Hall scene still festers on YouTube, and it's quite the doozy: It features the titular girls sitting down to an exceptionally grim breakfast under the unwavering eye of "Disciplinarian" Rosemary Shrager, who psychologically tortures the participants with palpable relish: "The trouble with these girls," Shrager muses, "[is] they all live in their little boxes, filled with alcohol, men, and complete lack of ambition." Ostensibly in the hopes of broadening her subjects' "horizons," Shrager introduces the girls to a theoretically sick-making array of dishes.

The first offering is "spotted dick." ("I'm there, all the way," self-proclaimed "nympho" Brianna says in response.) Black pudding comes next. "It's blood," Shrager taunts. "Pig's blood." Then it's time for Dish Number Three: "We love our tongue," Shrager trills, adding: "It's delicious." Kimberly cries while eating her ox tongue: "I don't know why," she says. "I just... didn't want to put it down. ... It was chewy. It was gross."

​Rosemary Shrager didn't like Trump

A few important notes on so-called "Disciplinarian" Rosemary Shrager (pictured, left): If she looks familiar to you, it's likely because she's appeared on several British TV shows over the years. As The Sun reports, she's enjoyed roles on Soapstar Superchef, I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!, and The Real Marigold Hotel. As of this writing, she's also a judge on the BBC cooking show The Big Family Cooking Showdown

According to The Sun, Shrager "first found fame" in 2005 with her recurring role on Ladette to Lady, where she acted as "Vice Principal and cookery teacher." When she appeared on The Girls of Hedsor Hall, that role was inexplicably changed to "Disciplinarian." (In its blistering review, The National Post noted that "Disciplinarian" is "an educational title unknown outside highly specialized establishments.")

In a December 2016 interview with The Sun, Shrager didn't have a single kind word to say about Donald Trump: "I worked with him once," she said, "and I told him he was the rudest man I've ever met in my life." However, she wouldn't reveal exactly why: "That's another story for another day. I will talk about it, but another time." 

Reviews were abysmal

On Jan. 6, 2017, then-President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter to lament Arnold Schwarzenegger's performance on The Celebrity Apprentice, claiming he got "destroyed... by comparison to the ratings machine, DJT." In reality, Trump hasn't always struck gold with his reality-show enterprises. According to The Daily Beast, his resume is checkered with several best-forgotten shows including Pageant Place (beauty queens living together) and Donald J. Trump Presents: The Ultimate Merger (a reality dating show starring Omarosa Manigault Newman and twelve "eligible bachelors").

Somehow, despite all the Sapphic kisses, drunken catfights, jiggly pole dances, impromptu public urination breaks, freewheeling pheasant hunts, guttural sobs, and flummoxed head mistresses ("Will you sit down?"), The Girls of Hedsor Hall didn't prove to be a critical smash. Even the usually chirpy People torched the show, calling its contestants "twelve pathetic examples of young American womanhood — proud, partying maniacs," and ultimately concluding, "The premiere is mostly just sad."

Alibi wrote that "like most of Donald Trump's ideas, this MTV reality show ... is a shameless rip-off of other stuff." The New York Times called the show "clunky," while the AV Club assured readers Hedsor Hall was "nothing you haven't seen before." Meanwhile, The National Post pointed out that even the title was misleading: "The whole thing is set up on, literally, false premises," they wrote. That's because the establishment is actually called "Hedsor House," and, despite the show's talk of "a hundred-year pedigree," it usually operates as "a convention center."

​One troubled contestant shares her story

On Feb. 9, 2009, the same day The Girls of Hedsor Hall premiered, pop culture website Scallywag and Vagabond published an interview with contestant "Jen M" (the supposed "snobby b***h"). Asked why she wanted to be on the show, Jen Marden cryptically responded: "I was looking to see what I could see beyond myself." She claimed she was interested in "play[ing] the stereotype that I have perfected of myself on TV. ... A b***h. A snotty, vulgar b***h."

When pressed on whether or not the show was scripted, Marden played coy. "That's not for me to say. One, my contract precludes me from saying anything on this matter, but secondly I think it's all a personal experience. What's real for me may not be real for you."

But Marden evidently changed her tune once that contract expired. In a July 2012 blog post, she wrote, "The nightmares of what I had experienced still plague me." Claiming she could "no longer stay quiet," Marden allegedly shared her story with the New York Daily News shortly after production wrapped on Hedsor Hall

Marden claimed this NYDN feature was "ready to go," but then "MTV threatened [her] with a multi-million dollar lawsuit." But years later, in 2016, Marden finally got the press to start paying attention. In October, she tweeted Daily Beast scribe Gideon Resnick, writing: "u should look into the show that Trump & MTV produced. ... I almost died while on, it was a disaster."

​Allegations of malnourishment, sleep deprivation, and kidnapping

Remember that breakfast scene with the ox tongue? In 2016, Jen Marden accused producers of keeping contestants "malnourished," according to the Huffington Post. "They barely fed us," she subsequently told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. "I guess they thought it made better TV if we were hungry and cranky." Marden also claimed "they washed our uniforms maybe once the whole time I was there."

It gets worse. Marden told THR she met somebody who claimed "to be English royalty" during filming. The man, likely an actor, reportedly "grabbed [her] chest and wouldn't let go." When Marden insisted she wanted to "go home," producers allegedly told her, "Well, that's going to be hard. We have your passport." Another contestant alleged producers "kept our passports, our luggage, our cellphones." In 2016, HuffPo reporter Grant Stern even investigated whether that constituted a "violation of the UK's kidnapping" laws.

Marden told THR that she was dismissed from the show the day they "went on a pheasant hunt," because she passed out "from dehydration and malnutrition. ... That's when they realized I might be a liability." Although most of the former contestants who spoke to THR "wish they'd never auditioned," it sounds like Marden had the worst overall experience: "I just want to forget about the whole thing," she said. 

In September 2018, an RDF spokesperson told the Telegraph: "We will not comment further on the matter but are understandably taking the allegations seriously."