People & Business : Question the world is dyeing to ask Branson

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The Independent Online
Forget the Spice Girls, the hottest topic of conversation at the Brit Awards on Monday night was - does Richard Branson dye his hair? The grey strands seem to be disappearing from the Virgin boss's mane of sandy hair with the speed of one of his hot-air balloon descents.

Virgin's press office was completely stumped by the question yesterday. "I don't really know what to say," said a spokesperson.

So - does he or doesn't he?

Guardian Direct has invited a lucky colleague of mine to a health farm for the "relaxation treatment of your choice".

This intriguing inducement is being offered as part of Guardian's launch of a new private medical insurance product, to be sold over the phone, on 3 March.

The "relaxations" will take place at the Espree Club, Royal Mint Court next to the Tower of London. The fortunate journos will spend a day using the gym, sauna, jacuzzi and "entry to fitness classes".

"We can also arrange for you to have a relaxation treatment of your choice after the briefing." Lordy. I trust my colleague will keep his Y-fronts firmly on.

Everyone knows you're not supposed to beat your client at golf. Alex Snow, part of the broking team at BZW which deals with Nigel Wray's Trocadero, took no notice of this over the weekend, however, when he played rugby for Harlequins.

Quins handed out a thrashing to Saracens, the Enfield-based rugby club which was bought last year by none other than Mr Wray.

Unabashed, Mr Snow popped up at yesterday's Trocadero results meeting. Perhaps Mr Wray should sign him up. Then the tycoon could get broking advice and sporting glory in one package.

No doubt those high-powered corporate financiers at Hambro Magan feared they would be moved from their smart town house in Queen Anne's Gate into NatWest Markets' Lubyanka-like City head office in Bishopsgate after the recent takeover.

However, NatWest Markets' chief executive, Martin Owen, has found them a "miniature Kew Gardens" to work in, slap bang in the heart of the City.

Mr Owen decided that the new place should take him no longer than five minutes to walk to from his own office in Bishopsgate, and he came up with bijoux Crosby Court. Now he can drop in on George Magan and the chaps without breaking sweat.

Yesterday niche merchant bank Guinness Mahon celebrated both the past and the future. A raft of senior bank directors attended the opening of the Denis Mahon Collection of Italian Baroque paintings at the National Gallery.

Sir Denis, a scion of the banking family which originally hailed from Cork, formed his collection of 17th and 18th century paintings earlier in the century when the art establishment turned its nose up at the style. A good example of counter-cyclical investment, perhaps.

Also yesterday, Guinness Mahon formally launched its bid for an Arts Council of England film production franchise. The bank is part of Partners in Film, a consortium of four film finance and distribution companies. Partners in Film has formed a joint venture with Elton John's Rocket Pictures, EMI Music Publishing, HTV and Yorkshire-Tyne Tees TV, to bid for the franchise.

It certainly represents a step up from Guinness Mahon's financing of Sooty and Sweep.

Stand by for the UK's first offer of shares over Internet. Darryl Mattocks, 32, founded the Internet Bookshop five years ago and needs pounds 1m to expand the company which, as its name suggests, flogs books over the Net. The placing and public offering via brokers Shaw & Co will take the company's market cap to pounds 3.3m.

Mr Mattocks is refreshing proof that the US doesn't have a monopoly on computer nerds made good. He designed his first computer game at the age of 15 and then moved on to design systems for SG Warburg and National Westminster Bank.

Not that it's all spotty youths in baseball caps. Chairman Simon Preston has over 35 years' management experience and has already built and sold one private computer company.

The Internet Bookshop claims to be the UK's "clear market leader" in selling books via the Net, with 894,000 titles on offer. The holding company for the float is called plc. As a sweetener, investors get a 10 per cent discount on books they buy through the company.