CITY DIARY: True love and bubbly at a special Virgin price

A Virgin long-haul crew quakes in its boots knowing that the bearded one will shortly have their guts for garters. There has been the most appalling mid-air blunder and Richard Branson is about to go ballistic.

What was surely a rare chance to impress turned into a public relations disaster when Nick Bernheim, a Los Angeles screenwriter, boarded Virgin's Dallas to London flight with his girlfriend, Elizabeth Utz. Doubtless impressed by the legroom ("if your feet touch the seat in front you're on the wrong plane'') Mr Bernheim was overcome with a strong desire to propose marriage.

Mrs Elizabeth Bernheim (screenwriters know how to woo) takes up the tale. "It was kinda nice,'' she says. "It is my first time to Europe and I was watching cartoons or something when Nicky suddenly proposed. I started crying, I guess, and the women next to us heard it all and told the steward.''

So far, so good. The captain duly relayed the engagement over the cabin radio and there followed a thunderous ovation throughout the fuselage. A Virgin steward was dispatched to the happy couple with half a bottle of champagne. The moment was complete. Well, that is until the steward reappeared with a bill for pounds 4.95 and presented it to the startled woman in the next seat. "We were just so embarrassed,'' explains Mrs Bernheim from her honeymoon suite in Paris. Neither would the romantic accept reimbursement.

A stiff letter is on its way to the master balloonist.

Still, the Virgin incident could pale into insignificance compared with the expected passenger revolt at KLM. Royal Dutch Airlines introduces a smoking ban on all its European flights on 29 October. According to Bureau Voorlichting Tabak, a not-entirely-unbiased tobacco lobby, this will result in a quarter of all Dutch passengers switching to another airline. KLM is unbowed, claiming that its non-smoking policy will attract more passengers than it loses. Probably from Virgin.

Tomorrow sees the launch of the keenly awaited Corporate Strategies of the Top 100 UK Companies of the Future. Published by McGraw Hill, the seminal work has been compiled by the Corporate Research Foundation, working in cahoots with a platoon of Financial Times hacks. It was due out in April.

The surprise among the predictable entries - Marks & Spencer, British Airways, Glaxo Wellcome and Rentokil - is Davies Arnold Cooper, the law firm best known for working with victims of the Piper Alpha disaster, the Hillsborough tragedy and the Bradford football stadium fire. Led by the never knowingly undersold David Mackintosh (he of the Oxford Union debates et al.) the firm now boasts annual fee income of pounds 30m.

The burning question is why the delay in publication? Some have suggested that it was to allow further research on Pearson. Unhappily the FT owner is still not included.

Seen in the window of the Nextep employment agency in London's Coopers Row:

"Russian-speaking PA to MDir of Russian Oil company, SW1 - pounds 16K. Free bottle of vodka to 1st applicant to walk thru the door.''

The casting of the film of the Barings disaster is proving to be trickier than at first thought. Our sources in the Frankfurt slammer report that Nick Leeson, architect of the pounds 1bn brouhaha, is not happy at the suggestion of Hugh Grant for the lead. For that matter he is not wild about Miranda Richardson in the supporting role of his beloved wife, claiming that she is too old.

The actor Mr Leeson thinks will best portray him is Nick Berry, the saturnine former Eastenders star. As for the role of Ms Leeson, we are happy to screen hopefuls for a fee.

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