Twenty British women and 7,000 Penguins head for the North Pole; People & Business

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The Independent Online
Lucy Roberts, former author of this esteemed diary column and part-time marathon runner, is about to walk to the North Pole.

Ms Roberts is part of a 20-strong group of British women who are taking part in the McVitie's Penguin Polar Relay. Five teams of four will take it in turn to walk set distances between northern Canada and the North Pole, and Ms Roberts is part of the group which will reach the final destination, Union Jack in hand.

The first team leaves for training in Resolute Bay, Canada, this weekend. The participants were selected from more than 60 applicants who had to undergo two weekends of gruelling "SAS-style training," including one on Dartmoor.

"It was a hideous experience," recalls Ms Roberts, currently employed by Lighting Design International, a domestic lighting company.

"After each squad has completed its allotted distance, it will be picked up by plane and the next lot starts. We're making history - we will be the first British women to get to the North Pole," says our intrepid explorer.

One American woman and one Japanese woman made it in mixed teams, but they had dogs to pull them.

"We will have skis and 150-pound sleds. The wind chill factor will take the temperature down to about minus 70, so it'll be pretty cold," she says.

The main sponsor is McVitie's, which has provided 7,000 Penguin bars for the women. This is despite the fact that there are no live penguins anywhere near the North Pole. "We all have to eat four bars a day," says Ms Roberts.

Another sponsor is Damart, which will supply vital thermal underwear for the party.

Isn't Ms Roberts worried about losing fingers and toes to frostbite? "Not at all. I'll do whatever it takes to get to the North Pole," she replies indomitably. When she gets there at the end of May, weather permitting, she's off to do a leg of the Tour de France. I'm off to the pub.

Richard Compton-Burnett has left NM Rothschild after nine years to join hi-tech corporate finance boutique NewMedia Investors. In fact corner shop might be a more accurate description - it's just him and the firm's founder, Tom Teichman.

Hungarian-born Mr Teichman launched the business when he resigned last May from Maid, the on-line information business he helped to found. Mr Teichman is also a founder shareholder of the Pelican restaurant chain.

Mr Compton-Burnett, 35, is a relative of the late Ivy Compton-Burnett, the famous author. "I've spent quite a lot of time recently promoting her work," he says.

He thinks her 20 books may include material suitable for a TV or film adaptation.

NewMedia, based just north of Oxford Street in London, will concentrate on small, fast-growing Internet, hi-tech and telecoms companies that need capital. Mr Compton-Burnett, a trained accountant, says they will look at venture capital deals as well as AIM and full listings.

The biggest hotel chain in the world has a new boss. Thomas R Oliver has been appointed chief executive officer of Holiday Inn Worldwide on the retirement of Bryan Langton.

The company, owned by Bass, has more than 2,200 hotels in 60 countries, so Mr Oliver, an American who lives in Holiday Inn's head office town of Atlanta, Georgia, will have a busy time of it.

Mr Langton, a Brit who has just turned 60, has already extended his stay at the top beyond retirement age in order to give time for a replacement to be found. Mr Langton joined Bass in 1971 and the brewing group's board in 1985. Four years after that Bass bought Holiday Inn.

The BBC has just appointed a new transport correspondent, Simon Montague. Mr Montague, the weatherbeaten heart-throb of BBC reporting, turns out to be an experienced sea dog.

Nuclear Electric snapped him up to join a round-the-world yacht race. In fact, he was on the Nuclear Electric yacht when interviews for the Beeb job were being held and was interviewed on the boat via a satellite link.

It's official: Tony Blair's New Labour Party is the party of business. On Wednesday Hugh Aldous, managing partner of accountants Robson Rhodes, presented Mr Blair with an award from Investors in People (IiP), a prize usually reserved for companies such as IBM and Mercury Asset Management. IiP is a national quality standard awarded "to organisations for the training and development of their people". Labour is the first political party to receive it.