Charmer lived like playboy of eastern world

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He came from a council estate in Watford, tasted the good life that went with a £200,000 salary, owned a yacht and was regarded by colleagues in Singapore as a "minor George Soros".

Soros made a killing out of the pound - Nick Leeson, 28, brought down the Queen's bank.

As the world's financial community struggled to cope with his legacy, a picture began to emerge of a young man who displayed the arrogance of one who lived on his nerves, took huge gambles and lived the life of a playboy of the eastern world.

Described by banking colleagues as having "a big ego", he was the classic ``Essex man''. "He was a gambler, womaniser, charmer and a star," said one who knew him in Singapore.

The fast and loose life in Singapore could not have been more different from his upbringing in a terraced council house in Leavesden Green, outside Watford.

Staff at his school, Parmiters in Watford, were stunned by the new found notoriety of the pupil they had always regarded as fundamentally steady and "very dependable".

Brian Coulshed, the headteacher, said that Nick Leeson, the son of a plasterer, left school after the sixth form to become a clerical assistant with Coutts, one of the Queen's banks, after failing A-level maths.

He had achieved an A in O-level maths and seven other O-level passes but had fallen away in the sixth form. He left school with two A-levels, a C in English and a D in history, and went to work for Coutts.

Parmiters, established in 1720 and sited in London until the late 1970s, has traditionally supplied recruits to the banking industry. One of its old boys is a former Governor of the Bank of Canada.

Mr Coulshed said there was nothing in Mr Leeson's school career to suggest an erratic personality or a propensity to gamble. "He was a thoroughly dependable member of the school. Out of perhaps 120 pupils in his year he was one of 30 prefects selected by staff. He was an asset to the school."

He excelled in sport, particularly football and captained the Old Parmiterian team for two years after leaving school. He also played football for Barings.

Mr Leeson stayed with Coutts for two years, doing backroom clerical work, before joining merchant bankers Morgan Stanley in 1987. He joined Barings five years ago.

His father William, known as Harry, had proved a supportive parent to Nick and three younger siblings when his wife Anne died in 1987. Nick's brother Richard, 26, and his sisters Vicky, 23, and Sarah, 18, all attended Parmiter. Harry Leeson works six or seven days a week travelling all over the country to do plastering work.

The picture painted by Nick Leeson's colleagues of an arrogant man, who, in displays of high spirits, had a tendency to drop his trousers in public was not one recognised by family and friends in Britain.

He appears to have undergone a personality and lifestyle change that came with the big salary and bonuses. He worked hard and became a central figure on the Singapore exchange. He would lead and others would trust his judgement and follow.

A futures trader at a Japanese finance house told Reuter yesterday: "He seemed to be able to move markets. Every day, we would monitor what he was doing."

On Saturday, two days after he disappeared, he celebrated his 28th birthday. Some of the biggest financial institutions in the world would very much like to know where.