CITY DIARY

Never too busy to rile the opposition, Richard Branson yesterday took time out from filling out an insurance claim for his luxury Carribean retreat, which has been pounded by Hurricane Luis, to launch another round in the battle between Fidelity Investments and Virgin Direct.

Mr Branson piled one of his favourite air hostesses, Freya Sones, straight off a flight from New York into his limo and headed for City-based Fidelity, intent on some boardroom disruption. She posed as a journalist to gate- crash a press lunch hosted by Fidelity's chairman, Barrie Batement, launching Fidelity's new corporate bond Pep. Once inside, she whipped off her outer garments to reveal her hostess origins - to the relief of one journalist, who feared the air hostess was a strip-o-gram for his birthday.

Ms Sones read out a challenge to Fidelity's bemused chairman that if Fidelity can keep customer prices low, Virgin will donate a week's holiday on Necker Island to a charity of Fidelity's choice.

Fidelity was too busy to comment - presumably trying to track the mole who leaked the lunch and let in Ms Sones. A small crumb of comfort for Fidelity? A holiday in the Caribbean is not an attractive prospect at the moment.

Steve Thompson, recruited by Credit Suisse First Boston UK to re-build its European sales team, is about to move across the water to join the sales team of CSFB in New York.

A salesman at heart, Mr Thompson found himself treading new water when he was moved to head the research department in 1994. He was made a managing director this year.

An announcement of Mr Thompson's replacement is imminent - and suitably heavyweight. Expect more new faces to follow shortly after.

The outrageous Donald Trump is at it again. The infamous tycoon now has the historic Seven Springs estate in the upmarket Westchester county suburb of New York in his sights. He has secured permission from the board of directors of Rockefeller University, the trustees of the property, to buy it, although his plans are raising some eyebrows.

Mr Trump wants to convert the 200-acre estate to an exclusive country club and golf course - so exclusive it has upset even the most wealthy of neighbours. Having secured the site for a bargain $7m - it has been on the market for three years at $9.75m - Mr Trump's proposed price for membership is a whacking $250,000 yearly.

Customers with pensions sold to them by the man from the Pru might like to take a look at how the Prudential is investing some of its own funds.

The Prudential has managed to collect around 240 pictures over the past 14 years. Its buying strategy? "To enhance the collection as a whole with the investment potential of individual works of art in mind", in the company's phraseology.

Most of this "investment" is hung in the main headquarters in High Holborn. But if it seems rather unfair that only the staff should enjoy the fruits of Prudential's investments, the company has decided to exhibit its foray into art at the City Antiques and Fine Art Fair at the end of September.

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