My first boss paid £29.3k of my wages into his own bank account –and kept it. Now, I’m speaking out
It’s taken over six months for me to feel ready to share this
Article Amendment: Due to an individual reporting this as violating privacy rules, I have edited out information naming them and introduced appropriate pseudonyms. I have kept a copy of the original text for legal reasons. All pseudonyms are in bold.
Author’s Note: All recollections and opinions in this piece are to my knowledge factually accurate and I can provide multiple witnesses and evidence for all statements made herein. Remarks taken from third parties may not reflect the full personal experiences of other victims who may wish to speak out after this piece or pursue personal damages against the individual referred to as ‘Stalin’ in this piece. The lack of inclusion of major incidences of cruelty towards other victims that may yet surface does not negate my knowledge or recollections on any such occurrence. This text has been corroborated and reviewed by witnesses for accuracy with permission as to the quotations used.
In December 2019, I stood on the platform of Hampstead train station, and watched the yellow numbers flicker down from three minutes to two on the announcement board.
In that moment, I felt completely trapped. I realised that the only way I could stop him from having power over me would be to jump in front of the incoming train. This man had given me such severe bulimia that my weight had plummeted by 49lb. He had bullied me out of friendships, destroyed my relationships with colleagues and harassed me to the point I’d start physically shaking when I saw his name come up on my phone.
This man wasn’t an abusive boyfriend. He was my first boss.
My managers during my time at Die Fuhrerbunker have since apologised to me, stunned in the same way that I was to have fallen so completely under his control. All of them expressed regret and guilt over witnessing his belittlement of me, the lies he had told about me, the powerplays and the emotional abuse. “I’m so sorry, Madelaine,” one woman messaged me out of the blue one day. “I wish I’d been braver and not allowed him to have such a strong hold on me. I should have had the courage to stand up to Stalin when he was putting you and me through hell and making me come down so hard on you.”
I was just 22 years old when it started, and I’m 24 now. In that time, he wrecked my physical, mental and financial health. He had me so terrified that I was frightened to even tell my parents. With endless reminders of his powerful friends at BAFTA, the WEF and even sharing stories of his work as a personal advisor to the likes of Anthony Scaramucci, (celebrity name redacted on personal request), Tony Blair and Calvin Harris, he let his glittering proximity to fame threaten those who dared to consider speak up. I need to prove to every one of his victims that he hasn’t silenced us.
This is my story about working for ‘Stalin.’
I was a cheerful, optimistic young graduate in September 2018. I’d just completed my BSc in Anthropology from UCL. I’d got a high 2.1, I’d got some great internships under my belt and I decided to hit the ground running. It was a hot summer, and I flitted around London with my friends, pleasantly surprised that a job in PR, at a company called Die Fuhrerbunker, seemed to turn up within a week of me graduating.
“Isn’t it a bit weird for a man to just DM you on Twitter for a job interview?” my friend asked over a coffee. I shrugged. At 22, I didn’t know any better. Anyone a little bit older could probably have let me know that was an immediate red flag. Little did I know that the decision to meet him there at the Ivy Club, Soho, would be the biggest mistake of my life.
“I’ve tried to block him out of my memory. We all tried to forget.”
No one, to my knowledge, has ever described working for Stalin as a positive experience. Having spoken to former employees going back for almost a decade, the reaction to a phone call is usually stunned shock. “God,” said one woman in amazement. “I’d tried really hard to block that part of my life out. We all tried to forget.” By then, I always knew what they were going to say before they said it.
Erratic, paranoid behaviour. Creepy, homophobic, ableist and sexist jokes. Racial and ideological slurs. Extremely abusive behaviour in the workplace. Unwanted sexual comments. Bankrupted his own wife. Impossible demands on workloads and results. Not paying invoices or wages on time. Refusing to pay former employees, owed money on leaving, even after court orders in their favour. Endless lawsuits and settlements from angry former clients. Antisemitism towards Jewish staff. I can’t say whether every recollection they may have shared is true, but I can honestly say this: they are all completely in line with my own experiences and understanding of Stalin. I know what you are thinking.
Why does anyone stay on under a monster? I needed the job.
As I stupidly told him at the time, and would later come to regret, I was dreaming of saving up for a deposit on my own little flat. I didn’t want to be tempted to spend any of it, so I wouldn’t even look or touch my earnings. Every month, when I was sent ‘wire confirmations’ from his accountant confirming payments had been made in my name, I accepted it as proof. Why wouldn’t I have trusted him to pay me? My bank details were correct. My name was on the wire receipt. “I’ll live very frugally,” I thought, “And at the end of the year, I’ll be out of here.” And I did. I rented a small room in Hendon, I bought cheap clothes from charity shops, never went on big days out, and avoided nights out and costly holidays. Dreaming of owning my own home kept me going through the most horrific treatment you could imagine.
As a 23-year-old-employee, I was netting the company around $25k a month, as a conservative estimate. I had three major clients who loved working with me, and I retained them for the whole period of my work there, which was extremely unusual. I think there were two other clients at the firm who stayed for over six months. I was, I think unquestionably in the light of that, good at my job, referenced I believe by how many of my clients continue to praise my work ethic and enthusiasm for their projects even today. You’d expect, then, that a young employee doing very well in her first job would be treated with a lot of patience, guidance and respect. That could not have been further from the truth.
I was threatened with being fired for leaving the office on time (“The optics are that you don’t go above and beyond”), shouted at over the weekend for missing apostrophes in client tweets (“What the fuck are you playing at?”), being ordered to take down a tweet where I thanked TFL staff for helping me when I passed out on the platform while quietly battling bulimia (“You come across as ill when you post all that drama. Clients are getting concerned.”).
The day after my grandmother’s funeral, for which I had been granted compassionate leave, I was forced into a disciplinary meeting for being ‘too emotional’ and told that ‘my colleagues were not my friends’. That night, I shut my front door, sank down alone, and cried. I cannot recall feeling so lonely in my entire life.
It didn’t matter if you got a client on Sky News or the BBC. It didn’t matter if you secured a speaking engagement, or negotiated an agreement with a peer to host an event at the House of Lords. You were pathetic. Useless. Negative. Costing him money. Bad for business. Drama.
I saw him call up employees and yell at them until they locked themselves in the bathrooms and cried. That was normal. I don’t even know how many times that happened. You knew someone was going to get fired when Stalin was out on the west coast. If he could sleep through the distress and pain of someone losing their livelihood, that would be preferable. On one occasion, he fired at least four people in one go via Slack, before saying he was tired and needed to go back to bed. I should say that those following such orders have since left have reached out and apologised to me, as angry with themselves as I was to have allowed themselves to be played into his mind games. Several compared it to a ‘cult’. All expressed regret and expressed the guilt they felt as they witnessed his belittlement of me, the lies he had told about me, the powerplays and the emotional abuse.
“I began to believe it, Madelaine,” another manager told me. “Stalin was constantly telling us not to get close to the lower decks, and demanding we looked for what you were doing wrong. Working for Stalin turned us all into backstabbing bitches though. it was kill or be killed. As long as you were pointing the finger at someone else, he wouldn’t be looking at you. You were encouraged to throw people under the bus. If you refused, he monologued you until you caved. (Name retracted) will tell you that. He’d bring up the same things again and again. He’d remind you of your mistakes again and again and again to keep you down, make you doubt yourself. One thing I realise in hindsight is that none of the lies he fed me about you are true.” It didn’t stop there.
Another wrote to me adding her story, poignantly adding: “I was ruled by fear of Stalin and I allowed his toxicity and destructive behaviour and the incredibly unhealthy environment and culture he created to determine my actions and ultimately, change my very nature.”
Which was true: fear was how he brainwashed you. He routinely sent screenshots of what my managers said about me in private to humiliate, frighten and upset me. When I complained about this, naturally this was ‘more drama’ and an example of me being ‘manipulative’. I totally, utterly forgive the women who worked in management during my time at Die Fuhrerbunker: it was a cult run by a man exploiting vulnerable, desperate and hopeful young women. Nothing that could come out as a screenshot or email about me from them could change my mind: I forgive them. Completely.
By spring 2019, I’d had enough. I had just been threatened with the sack (usual biweekly event) over missing a meeting (for the first time ever in all my time working there) so I told Stalin openly that the stress was causing me to struggle with my eating. Instead of being considerate to the fact that I was dealing with a work-related influence on my mental health, he was furious. “Don’t use that as an excuse to make more drama for your colleagues,” he said. “This is 90% your negativity. It’s maybe 10% your mental health.”
To be clear, this is not hyperbole. He said that in front of multiple other witnesses, who recall that incident very well, given how appalling it was. By summer, I became painfully thin, dropping down to 7st 8lb. I was exhausted, working from 4am to 11.30pm daily. I barely had the energy to get dressed, let alone eat. When he shouted at me, the adrenaline and sheer fear would send my heart racing so hard I was forcibly sick. He started asking me in front of clients at lunch meetings — loudly — if I was eating, and complaining to management that clients were asking him if I was okay. Not expressing concern, mind. No, Stalin was worried about the ‘optics’ of having a ‘mentally ill’ employee.
“Stalin isn’t the only one who owes you an apology,” a former colleague remarked on this today. “I need to make it up to you for how badly I treated you too. I truly am sorry. Saying “Oh but he made me do it” is a poor defence. I was already thinking of contacting you anyway, even when I was still working there. But as soon as I did, I realised there was nothing stopping me any more. I’m sorry I didn’t do it sooner.”
Throughout this time, I should say, I continued to pull in opportunities for my clients, earning him tens of thousands of pounds a month. My clients fondly recall working with me, many reaching out to praise my working ability, enthusiasm and dedication. I was opening Slack in a panic at 4am, starting work at 8am and finally closing it down at 11.30pm. I think it would have driven anyone to developing an eating disorder. Having spoken to other former colleagues, many resorted to drink, developed depression and had a pathological terror of even taking a day off in case it inspired his insane rages — one colleague even worked from her hospital bed. But I stayed on, angrily, out of a loyalty to my clients and knowing that at the end of it all, I would have money saved up to start again.
So why did I leave? What finally made it unbearable to stay?
“What are all your clients going to say?”
You have to leave, now,” my friend told me at Euston Station in late October. “You’re completely broken. Look at you.” She had travelled up from south London to see me, shocked by how pale and thin I was. I had cried in the middle of the station, finally breaking down the things he had done and called me. “He’s a fucking abuser, Maddie. He’s so fucking abusive.” I made up my mind there and then. I would live. I would get out. I’d get another job, any job. And I would survive.
So, in November 2019, after he’d done a particularly crazy U-turn and cancelled a client meeting in Washington DC the day before I was due to fly (I was supposed to be organising press attendance and managing the itinerary), I decided to quit. It wasn’t easy. The manager told me that he’d told her to fire me if I didn’t quit. He’s like that; impulsive, bad at thinking things through, driven by whatever struck him in the moment. “I’m really annoyed at him,” the manager told me at the time. “What are all your clients going to say? What on earth does he expect me to do?”
Needless to say, my long term clients were not thrilled to abruptly lose the woman running their PR with no warning. Several left. Why would they stay? No one else in the company knew what was going on in their accounts. No one else knew what they felt about major issues, or had my relationships with the right journalists or people. In reality, that, coupled with Stalin’s crumbling reputation — ironic for a reputation manager — was probably what ended it for him. A bad business move, but not something I should hold myself accountable for. I wanted to have the opportunity to work the rest of the month to hand over my accounts, but this was denied.
I went home, stunned. A short while later, I decided to check my bank account and see how much I had saved up.
To my astonishment, in the whole time I had been invoicing him, Stalin had never paid me a single cent.
“Madelaine has dobbed us in”
Looking at the balance, I felt sick. I was a few pounds away from being overdrawn, with rent due within the same day.
I emailed him straight away. There had been some mistake. I hadn’t been paid anything. But how could it be? I’d received wire receipts every month making me out to be the beneficiary. I scoured my invoices. No, my bank details were correct. Stalin feigned surprise. It was all very strange. He’d definitely look into it. And sort it. Rectify it.
Soon. Well, soon.
His accountant would be looking into it for me. All very weird.
After a long period with no explanation, I asked for an update. Out of the blue, he rudely demanded that I explain myself as to my personal correspondence with a former clients, and one in particular, if I wanted him to pay me. Baffled, I asked around, and discovered that several had left Stalin’s services already, and a former client had called with suspicions that Stalin had been swindling him, sending Stalin into a monstrous rage, apparently stating in Slack that “Madelaine has dobbed us in” before deleting it (probably wise). Stalin evidently thought I had something to do with this, because he kept demanding information and the ‘emails’ he thought I had sent this client, sounding more and more panicky. These got more and more unpleasant, before becoming simply cruel and malicious.
He accused me of stealing his clients, giving them information about his secret business dealings in order to get them to leave, of orchestrating some kind of weird vendetta. God knows I didn’t need to do anything underhand to get a client: I’d had other job offers already, and anyone could tell you he had a precarious reputation with his clientele. Even after many of my former clients explicitly told him in writing that I hadn’t solicited them or told them anything untoward about his behaviour, he still refused to pay me, even threatening to ‘bankrupt’ me for violating my (non-existent) self-employment contract if I didn’t tell him what I’d revealed to one specific client — who by this time I gather was now considering initiating legal proceedings against him. It bordered on hysterical. To this day, I can prove that I never asked any client of his, current or former, for any work. The idea that I lost him money is ludicrous. But that wasn’t good enough for him. As with any narcissist, the problem could never be his own making.
I dropped the issue, for months. It wasn’t worth it, and his abuse had already driven me to consider jumping in front of a fucking train. My parents were kind, understanding, putting me up so I wasn’t homeless, and loaning me money until I recovered from the trauma physically and financially. I broke down and cried when I realised how normal people treated each other in the real world. It was the first time since I had graduated I had encountered complete and total kindness and compassion. I was further stunned by the kindness of another former client, offering to support me through those difficult months. He didn’t have to. I was a near stranger: but he did. To all of you: I cannot thank you enough. You pulled me through the darkest days and the worst abuses of this man. I believe in good people, and I believe in kindness. Those people did a lot to restore my trust in people as I healed from his behaviour.
“I’ve got it. I know what he did.”
An accountant friend breezed over the wire receipts he had sent me each month, along with my invoices, furrowing his brow. “That’s weird,” he said. “The IBAN here is for Metrobank. You don’t bank with them. There’s no way anyone could think that this IBAN corroborated with the bank account details on your invoice, let alone an accountant.” Like a light blowing, he jumped up in excitement. “I’ve got it. I know what he did.”
When you send funds internationally, I’ve learnt, you don’t just send it to an account and sort-code number. You send it using an IBAN. You can find out your IBAN by looking it up on any IBAN calculator (as a 23-year-old employee, I didn’t know this.) The IBAN on every wire receipt receiving my money wasn’t some random code that I’d randomly invented or written down incorrectly. It was the exact number I’d dutifully copied down under the payer detail section of my invoice.
It was Stalin’s.
It was the same number that appears, unsurprisingly, on every invoice to clients internationally. He’d never told me it was his. He’d never ‘noticed’ $4,500 dollars made out to me coming into his account, month after month, accumulating to a massive USD $35,350.00 (GBP £29,324.67). His accountant had never ‘noticed’ that it was his own account. He’d never told me that he’d located the money in his own account. He’d never told me it had been in his possession, the whole time. He’d even written to a former colleague, boasting about how he’d got away with it:
“The issue with her transfers only came to light after nearly six months of her negligently failing to check her own bank account, and in an exquisite bit of timing that I take great pleasure in, she only noticed after her dishonesty and client theft had come to light. Talk about poor timing on her part! LOL.”
- ‘Stalin’, 2 May, 2020
I sat back, stunned, and looked at my friend.
“I have to speak out, don’t I?”
To this day, ‘Stalin’ has not paid me back one cent of the £29.3k ($35.3k) he promised to pay me for working for him. With the kind assistance of my former colleagues, I have developed an ongoing testament document and an evidence folder for public review on request. You can read his email correspondence with me here.
If you would like to find out more about my experiences working at Die Fuhrerbunker, or share your own experiences regarding his treatment or outstanding debts to you, email me at: