Blackhurst's diary: In which our diarist foresees a Sunday fight over money, tries to force a word in edgeways between the Hamiltons, and diagnoses the Hindujas' image problem

Blackhurst's diary: In which our diarist foresees a Sunday fight over money, tries to force a word in edgeways between the Hamiltons, and diagnoses the Hindujas' image problem - THE OTHER LANE FOX

by CHRIS BLACKHURST, deputy editor of The Express
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

THE OTHER LANE FOX

My award for most unlikely e-commerce millionaire goes to Robin Lane Fox, professor of theology at Oxford University. Lane Fox, a delightfully detached scholar, has just discovered the delights of cashpoint machines.

'Did you know, you just put a card in the wall and out comes money,' he told Martha, his daughter, recently. At least Lane Fox is unlikely ever to have his card refused. For, despite his rarefied academic manner, he is a substantial shareholder in Martha's soaring internet business, lastminute.com.

SCRAPPING OVER WHO'S GOT WHAT

Stand back for a battle royal as rival newspaper rich lists hit the streets.

The Mail on Sunday is sparing no expense in its bid to outflank the Sunday Times, which for years has claimed the ranking as its own. Word is the MoS is working on a revaluation of the assets of the Duke Of Westminster, which will make him Britain's richest man with an estimated fortune of over pounds 10 billion. If so, the Sunday Times is promising to dispute the figure, sticking to its own assessment of pounds 2 billion. Grow up, boys. As Paul Getty once said: 'If you can count your money, you're not really rich at all.'

COMMANDING KNOWLEDGE

Over dinner with John Bridgeman, director-general of the Office of Fair Trading, talk turns to cuts in the armed forces and the hardship faced by our men and women in Kosovo. Bridgeman, to my astonishment, has a deep knowledge of all things military. Mentioning in passing a discussion with the second sea lord, I challenge him to name him; he does. Prompted further, he names the first sea lord. I ask if knowing the identity of all our brass hats is a hobby. He replies that he is chairman of the National Employer Liaison Committee for the Reserve Forces (which persuades employers to let their staff spend time away as reservists) and honorary colonel of the Oxford Hussars. Put in my place, I wish I'd done my homework.

NEIL AND PRAY

Having a meal with Neil and Christine Hamilton is one of the more bizarre ways to spend an evening. They are perfectly pleasant company, if a little mad. They talk non-stop and behave like a well-rehearsed comedy act, finishing each other's sentences. Theirs is an isolated, unreal world. I try to lead them away from their legal fight with Mohamed Al Fayed - I learn, in the process, that Neil has taken up jogging to compensate for those calorie-burning House of Commons corridors. Like the experienced media hands they are, they bring the subject back to Neil's innocence and his fight to clear his name. Neil is edgy and nervous, his eyes flickering.

She, by contrast, is fearsome and possessed of a fixed stare. When they finally stop talking, at gone 1am, and disappear into the night to ready themselves for another round of chat shows, the consensus round the table is that Neil may be guilty - and if so, he has not dared tell her, hence her enormous confidence. Woe betide him if that is the case, when she finds out.

LEGAL ADVICE FROM A FTSE-100 PLAYER

Fed up of large bills from your lawyer? An in-house counsel at a FTSE-100 company passes on the following tips. Always instruct your outside lawyer never to fax a letter to you without checking with you first. 'Ever wondered why your lawyer faxes you a letter, then sends it round later by bike?' he asks. 'They charge you through the nose for faxing it, then charge you - through the nose again - for biking it.' If they work for my man they send everything in the post unless they think it is urgent, in which case they call him. He reckons to save thousands on this ruse.

Another is to tell them they cannot work more than 10 hours a day on his account, thus avoiding the cost of paying for interminable negotiations.

'You would be amazed how, if you set a limit, the need for all those long meetings seems suddenly to disappear,' he says. I'm astonished so many other companies let them get away with it.

TYCOONS WHO WALK HOME FOR LUNCH

Gopi and Sri Hinduja are asked by a colleague at lunch what businesses they are in. Trucks, engineering, oil, property, media - the list goes on and on. They are worth around pounds 1.6 billion. They are not like their wealthy peers. There is no nonsense with them. They live quietly, not seeking publicity. Most days they go to their Carlton House Terrace home (near their Haymarket HQ) for lunch. This meal is a relaxed, family affair, with old friends and relations joining the guests. They talk freely about their business empire and the Dome (they are underwriting the Faith Zone).

I come away thinking that with a bit of PR their image would improve.

As it is, they remain misunderstood, victims of behaving differently from the herd.

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