UK: Blackhurst's diary - In which our diarist discovers who William Hague is seeing for breakfast, how Basil ...

UK: Blackhurst's diary - In which our diarist discovers who William Hague is seeing for breakfast, how Basil ... - Blackhurst's diary - In which our diarist discovers who William Hague is seeing for breakfast, how Basil Newby makes Blackpool rock and why

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

Blackhurst's diary - In which our diarist discovers who William Hague is seeing for breakfast, how Basil Newby makes Blackpool rock and why there's a new twist on the Rubik cube.


If I tried to raise venture capital it would be an arduous and fraught process, doubling entailing a second mortgage. This would be on top of a first mortgage that, when I tell friends its sizes, elicits sympathethic looks. Such worries, though, do not concern the landed gentry. They may have failed to impress Tony Blair with their desire to remain in the House of Lords but our aristocrats are still dab hands at getting their way, even when they want some venture funding. The Duke of Devonshire applied to 3i for a pounds million loan to refurbish a hotel he owns near Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire. For the first time in the history of 3i, the firm's investment committee wrote three magic words on an applicant's file: 'No collateral required.' They took the view that the Duke, who owns a vast art collection including works by Leonardo, Raphael, Van Dyck and Rembrandt at Chatsworth, his 175-room Derbyshire seat, plus 70,000 acres in Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Sussex, and a large slice of Eastbourne's seafront, did not present a risk. In my native Cumbria, there is a saying that the world is divided into 'thems that have and thems that never will'. The Duke is clearly a have. Myself? I doubt I ever will.


My fax machine springs into life. It is a letter sent to me by mistake from the office of Henry Keswick, chairman of Matheson & Co, to the PA for Peter White, the erstwhile Alliance & Leicester chief, enclosing the guest list for a breakfast given by Keswick for William Hague at the Hyde Park Hotel in London. On the basis that I think you would like to know who attends such intimate gatherings, I print the list in full. Apart from Keswick, Hague and White, it is: Charles Hendry MP; Martin Broughton, chairman, BAT; Chris Collins, chairman, Hanson; Sir John Collins, chairman, National Power; Dan Colson, CEO, Telegraph Group; George Cox, director-general, IoD; Lord Stevenson, chairman, Pearson; and Lord Wolfson of GUS. Quite what the purpose of the occasion was it is hard to fathom. Any one of those present could meet Hague individually at the drop of a bat of they so wished. Still, it must be reassuring for the Tory leader that despite low ratings he can still attract such a distinguished group at the ungodly hour of 7.45am. Heaven knows what they or their companies got out of it. Sadly, my fax has not received any follow-up letter, so I am left in the dark.


What makes a successful entrepreneur? Part of the answer, surely, must be vision. In that case, true entrepreneurial genius belongs to Basil Newby, founder of the Funny Girls drag show bar in Blackpool and the brains behind a booming homosexual entertainment empire. Nobody would have thought Blackpool would tolerate a gay makeover. But it has. Newby has gone on to open other venues in the town, including Flying Handbags and Flamingo. They are nothing, though, compared to his next trick, Europe's biggest gay disco. He is a millionaire many times over and his services are much in demand elsewhere. Britain has its first pink tycoon.


As the Rubik cube is launched upon us again, it is worth paying tribute to the unsung genius behind the square puzzle's success - at least in the commercial, management sense. A Hungarian academic invented the eponymous cube, but it was a Devon businessman, Tom Kremer, who provided the real fillip. Kremer, who started out making primary teaching aids, discovered Rubik at the Nuremberg Toy Fair in 1979. The rest is history: 300 million sales worldwide, numerous spin-off puzzles, and now the relaunch. 'I did not invent it - that was my good friend Erno Rubik - but I contributed to making it a worldwide success and since then I have transformed this spectacular toy into a whole brand of games and puzzles, which is growing fast,' says Kremer. Ask yourself, who would you rather be: Rubik, who got all the attendant publicity and most of the money; or Kremer, who lives quietly in an Elizabethan manor house, and got just a share of the money?


What do you do when you're introduced to one of the richest men in the world and you cannot hear a word he says? I met Sri Hinduja, who along with his brother famously offered to underwrite the cost of the Millennium Dome's Faith Zone, at a party. We shook hands, the room was noisy and he said something. Should I have asked him to repeat it? Should I have asked him to speak up? I just nodded and grinned. For all I know he could have said the most outrageous thing. Judging by the fact he smiled when I smiled, my response was correct - bit I have not got a clue what he said.

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