Blackhurst's diary - In which our diarist ponders Marjorie Scardino's love of America, witnesses strange table manners in Soho and wonders why Richard Branson is so touchy.
ONCE A HACK ALWAYS A HACK
It used to be the size of redundancy cheques that occupied the minds of tired and emotional journalists in bars after work. These days it is the fortunes being amassed by hacks from setting up internet businesses that causes a collective shaking of heads. Top jealousy target is Tim Jackson, once of the Independent and now the brains behind QXL, the online auction service. When QXL floats soon, Jackson's stake will be worth £50 million. Success, though, has not got to Jackson. He still keeps his hand in, writing regularly on internet matters. In one recent outpouring, he warned investors about internet flotations in general and Freeserve in particular. What QXL's advisers make of his scepticism can only be guessed at.
SCARDINO'S HOMESICK BLUES?
Is Marjorie Scardino, Pearson's American chief executive, missing the States - so much so that she is prepared to either seek a new job back home or even relocate the media conglomerate's headquarters to the US?
Within Pearson's headquarters, the talk is rife, with every detail of Scardino's behaviour being held up as proof or otherwise of her intention to head back across the pond. This has now reached absurd levels. Even her choice of menus in the corporate dining room is being examined for American bias and evident homesickness.
THE POWER OF SPEECH
To breakfast with David Miliband, head of the prime minister's Policy Unit. In a breathtaking display, Miliband runs through the whole spectrum of government policy, speaking entirely without notes, in detail, and not omitting one department, for 25 minutes. It is a brain-bulging performance, one that makes me wonder if he is entirely human. His speech is littered with strange, alien phrases, such as 'core narrative' (and the need for ministers to stick to it). Only a Danish pastry makes him pause momentarily and for a second appear almost normal. Later, I relate my wonder to a Downing Street supporter. 'He always talks like that. He gives that spiel every day of his life.' At weekends too? I ask before realising: the likes of Miliband don't have weekends.
THE WINE OF SOUR GRAPES ... OR WORSE
Businessmen, even senior ones, are often hit by the most unexpected of problems. For instance, I am in the same restaurant as my ex-partner, with whom I have fallen out acrimoniously. I am minding my own business, quietly, at my table. He is with a noisy group of friends. From his table arrives, with his best wishes, a carafe of what is clearly the cheapest house wine. What should I do? This dilemma recently confronted Brian Basham, the PR guru, who was in the same Soho House club in London as his ex-business partner, Johnny Coyle. The way Brian tells me, he had no choice: he sent back a carafe of urine to Johnny's table. (To make matters worse, one of Johnny's party subsequently dropped Brian's gift on the floor.)
MAKING TOMORROW A BETTER PLACE
Asked to judge the Express/British Gas People of Tomorrow awards, I find myself arguing over whether Richard Emmanuel, the young Scottish mobile phones entrepreneur, is worthy of the overall award, having already won the business category. My feeling is that he does not deserve to win, not because he is not a good businessman - he clearly is, and deserves the business prize - but because he falls short of being 'the person of tomorrow'. We give the overall prize to the winner of the design category, a young man from the West Country who has shown great commercial promise and (and this is the crucial bit) took the trouble to create a vital piece of equipment for a friend suffering from cerebral palsy.
That, we decide, is the difference - and the thing which will define our views of our leaders in the next century. Not only must they be successful at what they do but they must also be seen to give something back.
Richard Branson phones to complain about an unfavourable article we have written about electronics retailers, including his own Virgin Megastore.
His anger is justified: it appears we made a mistake. But in the middle of what are good-natured but nevertheless serious discussions with him on the phone from Necker, his island paradise, he accuses us of singling him out for special mention - we did not, for instance, describe Dixons as 'Stanley Kalms' Dixons' but we did say 'Richard Branson's Virgin Megastore'.
Coming from Branson this is more than a tad rich. The next time we write a positive piece about the industry we shall omit his name and include Stanley's. Somehow, I expect Richard will be on the phone again!