THE organiser of a women's award show has apologised after the scheme's glitzy ceremony was plunged into controversy.

More than 300 people watched as founder and host of the Venus Awards, Tara Howard, exposed her underwear during the show – aimed at celebrating the success of professional women.

Audience members also heard one women attending the event say she "liked a slap and tickle in the workplace".

But Ms Howard insists the comments shouldn't detract from an "amazing" evening, held at Southampton Solent University on Saturday.

She also defended her raunchy on-stage antics, describing them as "tongue in cheek".

Ms Howard said: "I had some lingerie from a sponsor and I was trying to show the audience.

"They wouldn't have even been able to see the colour - it was much as if I had a slit down my leg on my dress.

"I started these awards because I'm passionate about women and empowering women, but I was trying to make it fun because it doesn't have to be stuffy.

"You can still have fun and celebrate."

She added: "If I did offend anyone I am deeply deeply sorry."

The apology comes after audience members took to social media to criticise the awards night.

Twitter user, Chris Wood, said: "Shocked and sickened by tonight's awards.

"From the host feeling it appropriate to show her pants, call male guests "eye candy" and a female sponsor stating that she "likes a slap and tickle in the workplace".

"Promoting women in business? You have NO idea."

Southampton City Council cabinet member, Satvir Kaur, also attended the event.

The Labour councillor praised the "brilliant" scheme for recognising the work of women in Hampshire.

However she admitted that some of the comments made during the evening made her feel "uncomfortable".

She said: "I come from a profession which is dominated by men.

"I have had my bum slapped in my role as a councillor and it did not make me feel empowered at all.

"It's great that there is an event that is meant to celebrate and empower women and their achievements, particularly in the work place.

"But I don't think comments like that are appropriate."

Despite the controversy, audience members took to social media to praise the event.

One Twitter user described the award ceremony, attended by 350 people, as a "wonderful evening".

Fifteen gongs were given out on the night, dubbed the inaugural Hampshire Venus Awards after a reshuffle of the previous scheme.

Categories on the night ranged from Inspirational Woman to the much-coveted Company of the Year.

Alongside Ms Howard on stage was the evening's compare, television presenter and broadcaster, Michael Kurn, and co-host, Eastleigh MP, Mims Davies.

The evening included a three-course dinner and entertainment from singer, Nathan James, best known from his performance on The Voice.

Guests on the night raised more than £3,000 for the Countess Mountbatten Hospice – the event's main charity sponsor.