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NAIM ATTALLAH has chosen an equally cosmopolitan figure as chief executive of his private company Namara Group, which combines publishing interests such as Quartet Books, the Women's Press, the Literary Review and the Oldie with hand-made chocolates and fine art sales. Mr Attallah met American-born Madeleine Alatas socially back in the 1980s when she was married to a wealthy Saudi.

She herself has a hatful of qualifications, including an MBA from Pennsylvania University and degrees in international law and economics. She went on to work as a management consultant at McKinsey and a merchant banker at Lazards and ran a corporate finance boutique in the City advising wealthy individuals. Mr Atallah tells me he intends to take things easier and enjoy life more. He also hints that Mrs Alatas could eventually be his heir-apparent.

WIM DUISENBERG is not the only Dutch central banker on the move. I hear that Tom de Swaan, head of banking supervision at the central bank of the Netherlands, will be joining the board of ABN Amro, the owners of Hoare Govett, next January, after spending seven months familiarising himself with the bank's operations, and letting his knowledge of the hottest secrets of its commercial rivals cool.

He will also have to wait until the autumn, when the board meets to share out special responsibilities for the next few years. Mr de Swaan is a prominent supporter of the arts and is currently chairman of the Dutch National Opera company.

BARRIE WELLS, the cricket-loving managing director of Prospero Direct, the Lancaster-based direct writer of household and motor insurance now part the global Axa Group, took time off from reading the new edition of Wisden yesterday to tell me a curious tale from the undercover world of direct insurance.

His computer recently picked up seven applications over a two-week period for household insurance from seven different individuals, all male and all giving the same two-bedroomed house in Glasgow as their home address.

Concerned at this complex state of affairs, and discounting all the more imaginative possible explanations for what was going on, Prospero wrote back tongue in cheek to all seven applicants regretting that it was unable to quote an appropriate premium as its records showed that the property was a bad risk because it was grossly over-crowded.

Some time later a shamefaced Eagle Star executive admitted that all the enquiries had originated from his own mystery shopping department, a marketing tool which all insurers use these days to monitor the premiums competitors are charging.

THE BOARD of National Provident Institution, the Kent-based mutual insurer best known for the TV ad showing squirrels accumulating mounds of nuts, took time off from a two-day meeting on the future strategy of the business to confirm David Roberts, the current chairman of the remuneration committee, as its new deputy chairman. Mr Roberts is also chairman of the NAAFI, the legendary purveyor of tea and comfort to generations of servicemen and women, which is currently restructuring to meet the challenge of providing more facilities for fewer customers.

He succeeds Lord Camoys,the merchant banker, Oxfordshire landowner and holder of one of the oldest Catholic peerages in the country, who stepped down after 16 years on the NPI board, six of them as deputy chairman, to become Lord Chamberlain to the Queen.

DAVID NEWBIGGING, the chairman of Equitas the company which picked up responsibility for all those annoying debts at Lloyd's of London, is stepping up from deputy chairman to chairman of Friends Provident, in succession to Lord Jenkin of Roding, the former Tory minister. The new deputy chairman is Barbara Thomas a former commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, now executive chairman of Whitworths Group and an adviser to the London Symphony Orchestra

NEIL MORRISSEY, the love-struck Scouser from the TV show Men Behaving Badly has agreed to kick off in City World Cup 98, this year's annual Human Table Football competition in aid of Save the Children, and sponsored by HSBC Holdings. The third annual staging of the competition will be at Broadgate Arena in the City of London during the first week in June and features teams of 10 grown men and women strapped to poles which run across the inflatable pitch, allowing the players to kick the ball but not to chase it up and down.

Last year Athletico Imro beat the Soccer Generals (from Societe Generale of course) 5-3. Special prizes this year include tickets to the Romania v Tunisia game in Paris with free travel and hospitality. Teams wanting to take part are asked to put up an entry fee of pounds 250 and pledge a further minimum of pounds 200 in sponsorship. Call Helen Barnes on 0171 716 2324 for entry forms.

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