SURELY it’s a sign of the times when even the guest speaker at a City awards bash isn’t quite certain why he’s been invited?<br /><br />Last night saw 300 business world luminaries pack the ballroom at the Hilton hotel on Park Lane for the 2009 M&A Awards, where sports television presenter Ray Stubbs, pictured below, had been roped in as the evening’s entertainer.<br /><br />“This is the M&A awards and my background is in sport, so I’d say I was a curious choice,” Stubbs deadpanned. “All I can say is, I can’t have been the first choice…”<br /><br />Either that, or the decision was a pretty savvy one: after all, what better way to cheer up a room full of testosterone than with a few choice gags about football?<br /><br />Among those which received the loudest chuckles was one about a video proving that Osama Bin Laden was still alive, where the Al-Qaeda terrorist proclaims “Newcastle United are s***”. (“That one fell flat on its face,” joked Stubbs, “since it could have been recorded any time in the past 25 years…)<br /><br />And the presenter’s final remarks, wishful as they were, were as uplifting to the audience as any financial expert’s predictions could have been.<br /><br />“I had a dream last night in which England won the next World Cup,” Stubbs said, his face a picture of earnestness, to a loud ripple of titters from various corners of the room. “If we are really talking about the green shoots of recovery in economic terms, is it so hard to believe that England could win?”<br /><br />Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is what you might call being delightfully British about things.<br /><br /><strong>ROLL OF HONOUR</strong><br />You know you’re in for a good time at an awards ceremony when the list of actual presentations is shorter than the length of your arm (and doesn’t include the likes of “best use of vol-au-vents at an AGM” and “biggest drink of water in the City”), so hats off to the organisers for keeping it short and sweet.<br /><br />Entrepreneur-focused advisory group Tenon won M&A accountancy firm of the year, while Osborne Clarke picked up a gong for the best law firm of the year and the award for the best corporate finance boutique of the year went to ICON Corporate Finance.<br /><br />Due diligence provider of the year went to Hazlewoods, personality of the year to Richard Morley, director of NBGI Private Equity, and interim manager of the year to David Moore, the chief financial officer of post-mastectomy lingerie firm Amoena.<br /><br />Even Lloyds Banking Group, which seems to have landed an extortionate amount of these distinctions recently despite its woes, won an award for financier of the year, which went to the Lloyds TSB Corporate Markets division.<br /><br />“Ah well,” whispered one guest, resignedly. “At least we’re all winners, now that the taxpayer owns a large chunk of it…”<br /><br /><strong>HORNED DEVIL</strong><br />Spotted lurking at the ceremony was none other than Edward Vandyk, the much-vilified founder of private equity firm Evolve Capital, which was responsible for taking over stockbroker Blue Oar in a viciously-fought battle at the end of last year.<br /><br />Despite registering for his place at the table through one of his other business ventures, Whim Gully Capital, Vandyk couldn’t escape his fierce legacy.<br /><br /> “I thought noone would recognise me tonight, since I forgot my usual pair of devil horns,” he told The Capitalist, grinning. No such luck.