Pembroke: A man who knows a smile costs nothing

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The Independent Online
It is so easy to misjudge people. In a series of 'exclusive portraits' of the people who run the UN, Unesco, Unicef and other acronymic bodies that fight world poverty and ignorance on our behalf and at our expense, the Sunday Express colour supplement alighted this weekend upon none other than Jacques Attali, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

What was Mr Attali most proud of, the magazine probed, presumably unaware of the impending PR nightmare about to engulf his organisation. The wall-to-wall Tuscan marble entrance hall at EBRD's London HQ, perhaps? Could it be the European bank's designer bar? Indeed not. 'My daughter's smile,' responded the Algerian-born intellectual.

A colleague recently telephoned the Northern Rock Building Society for what should have been run-of-the- mill information about one of its accounts. The woman on the switchboard revealed that everyone was at lunch. 'But surely,' pleaded the journalist, 'if I was a customer there would be someone available to answer my questions?' 'Oh yes,' came the reply, 'but only certain people can speak to you. You're quite important.' More important than the customers, who can be told any old thing? Surely not.

Last week we heard that Vauxhall had cut scenes from its Corsa advertisement starring supermodel Naomi Campbell, clad in black leather, after viewers in Germany protested at what they perceived were Nazi-esque overtones. And now we learn that Toyota has changed an advertising campaign in South Africa, after Moslems complained about ads comparing the surefooted traction of its pickup trucks to the slipperiness of pigs.

'Moslems consider pigs as dirty, unholy animals. They did not want to drive a pickup associated with such an animal,' said a spokesman for the Japanese car giant's resourceful South African advertising agency, which is replacing the pigs with new ads featuring . . . chickens.

So, the City marathon runners (pictured right) dressed as rhinos to raise money for Save the Rhino, managed to break the six-hour barrier despite their floor-length costumes weighing two stone apiece. Their most worrying moment came when a member of the Tuskforce team, running to raise money for elephants, came alongside and asked casually whether the rhinos were in season.

But this veiled threat was nothing compared with the dangers faced by the same rhinos during the New York marathon last November. There, the course wound through the worst no-go areas in the Bronx. The rhinos were lumbering along alone, five hours behind the rest of the pack, running where even the police dare not tread.

Marshals and wellwishers had long since disappeared - and the rhinos were hopefully proffering great buckets of cash at 'friendly' passers-by in case they wished to make a small donation. To their amazement, they got to the finish unscathed.

We're sure, absolutely sure, that Norwich Union's very recent decision to dispose of its private plane - executives, for the use of - has nothing to do with the kerfuffle over Jacques Attali's penchant for travel in private jets when on EBRD business. Still the Beechcraft King Air C90/1 (which, we gather, seats six senior insurance men and a couple of pilots) is for sale after Norwich Union decided senior managers would have to rely on services out of Norwich airport.