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BUSINESS LUMINARIES TOAST THEIR SUCCESS

IT&rsquo;S one thing to see the chancellor of the exchequer give up an entire evening to sit through a business awards ceremony, but quite another when he manages to have the audience in stitches during his speech as well.<br /><br />That&rsquo;s right, folks: it seems that 18 months of surviving on a few hours sleep a night in the financial meltdown has not daunted Alistair Darling&rsquo;s spirits, if his performance at last night&rsquo;s National Business Awards at the Grosvenor House hotel was anything to go by.<br /><br />Stepping up to the stage in his sleek dinner jacket, Darling retorted of the Coutts award for large-cap business of the year : &ldquo;Well, I&rsquo;m very pleased that one of the awards tonight is being sponsored by one of my banks&hellip;&rdquo;<br /><br />Cue titters from the 1,000 gathered guests, who had no idea there was more where that came from. Moving on to the subject of rapidly-evolving technology, Darling began to speak of last April&rsquo;s Budget. <br /><br />&ldquo;The very day after the Budget, I was struck by how fast news can travel,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I had a text from my daughter, who was on her gap year at the time&hellip; and it simply said: &lsquo;Hey Dad, is it true you&rsquo;ve wrecked the economy?&rsquo;&rdquo;<br />&nbsp;<br /><strong>CONFIDENCE BOOST</strong><br />While we&rsquo;re on the subject of Darling and &ldquo;his&rdquo; banks, one of the luminaries picking up gongs last night was none other than Royal Bank of Scotland chairman Sir Philip Hampton, who won the award for a decade of excellence in business.<br /><br />He chatted to The Capitalist about the news that rocked the banking sector last week, when RBS announced revised terms for its participation in the government&rsquo;s asset protection scheme and the forced divestment of some of its prized assets.<br /><br />&ldquo;We did have a tough week last week,&rdquo; Hampton admitted. &ldquo;But the thing you&rsquo;ve got to remember is this: that banks are long-lived institutions. They do take knocks, and they do come back&hellip;&rdquo;<br /><br />Those few minor RBS shareholders still out there take heart: someone, at least, has still got an iota of confidence in the bank.<br /><br /><strong>HAIRY BUSINESS</strong><br />Over to the man providing the funding for the grand occasion (well, a sizeable chunk of it, at least): Tom Alexander, the chief executive of headline sponsor Orange.<br /><br />Quite apart from waxing lyrical about the first day of sales for Orange&rsquo;s iPhone, Alexander &ndash; who The Capitalist has previously reported is quite the heartthrob among the firm&rsquo;s female staffers &ndash; was also chatting about his famous beard.<br /><br />&ldquo;I shaved it all off when I joined Orange but it&rsquo;s now back,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;There was a poll in our internal magazine which voted for it to come back but the real reason is that I went for a break at my house in France and my wife and kids asked me to grow it again &ndash; that, along with pure laziness!&rdquo;<br /><br />At least the five extra minutes of work time every day mean the company&rsquo;s getting their money&rsquo;s worth. <br /><br /><strong>ALL WRAPPED UP</strong><br />Other business types collecting awards included ASOS chief executive Nick Robertson for mid-cap business of the year; Inmarsat boss Andrew Sukawaty for large-cap business of the year; Sarah Murray, top dog at personal tracking device firm Buddi, for entrepreneur of the year; and Co-op chief executive Peter Marks, who was presented with the Orange leader of the year award.<br /><br />The evening must have proved a nice break for Marks, mind, who&rsquo;s busy training for a charity run with a difference &ndash; later this month, he&rsquo;ll be pounding five miles around the Manchester City stadium with 800 colleagues, all dressed as Santa.<br /><br />&ldquo;Goodness knows how I&rsquo;ll be able to run,&rdquo; he laughed. <br /><br />&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve got the hat, the heavy boots, the full works&hellip;&rdquo; <br /><br />That&rsquo;ll be one for the family photo album, then...