DAN STEVENS may have commanded a handsome fee to play Matthew Crawley in the second series of Downton Abbey, but he is not above lending his skills to smaller acting projects for free.

Earlier this month, Stevens joined actresses Romola Garai and Imogen Stubbs to shoot a short film as a favour to its producer Lucan Toh, the chief executive of a Dubai-based corporate services group who is taking his first steps to become “the next Richard Curtis”.

The film, called Babysitting, is the second short film produced by Toh with his production partner Oliver Roskill of Wentworth Entertainment and his director Sam Hoare. Starring Garai as Maggie, it tells the story of a girl “struggling through life”, whose troubles take a turn for the worse when she babysits for her boss’s wife and the family dog dies on her watch.

Toh now plans to take the film to the Sundance, Venice, Cannes and Berlin film festivals to persuade investors to back his film venture Holland Park Pictures to the tune of the $1m needed to get his first feature film off the ground in 2012. “It remains to be seen what the critics will make of it but we’ll see,” Toh told The Capitalist. “We want to progress slowly but surely in this industry.”

HEADS of banks, hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs – they all seek the advice of Britain’s most glamorous astrologer Shelley von Strunckel for business advice.

“People would be surprised at the clients I have on my books,” said Strunckel, whose latest project is teaching hedge fund managers to meditate so they remain “at the top of their game all the time”. “I strongly suggest meditation is an essential business tool,” continued the Hollywood-born sage, who had hedge funders queueing up to speak to her after dispensing this advice at the Invest Hedge Fund Forum at the British Museum.

“As professionals realise the old systems aren’t working, they are prepared to explore things that used to be considered alternative,” Strunckel explained. “Look at the major banks: they had to have extremely rigid structures and they haven’t exactly done too well…”

FASHION designer Maria Grachvogel was the youngest-ever person to pass the City stockbroking exams at 17, and her finance past came full circle at this year’s London Fashion Week, when Butterfield Private Bank bankrolled her latest show.

Butterfield employees were thin on the ground, but Harold Tillman, the owner of Jaeger and Aquascutum, came along to cast an eye on the former James Capel employee’s latest collection, joined on the front row at The Savoy by models Jerry Hall, Georgia May Jagger and Yasmin Le Bon.

MEANWHILE, Karen Green, the UK chief of insurance group Aspen, joined director Stephen Poliakoff at The Almeida for the press night of his latest play My City (pictured bottom).

Aspen recently renewed its partnership with the theatre for a further three years, building on its relationship as production sponsor that aims to ensure “continued bold programming, artistic endeavour and risk taking”. With net income of $313m and total assets of $8.8bn in 2010, the insurance giant can afford to underwrite the £3.9m required to run the theatre each year at this “difficult time for the arts”, as Green put it.

TRADING is now underway for CNBC’s Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge and, to mark the occasion, CNBC anchors Stephen Sedgwick and Geoff Cutmore declared the markets open at the London Stock Exchange yesterday.

CNBC’s EMEA chief executive Mick Buckley and head of news and programming John Casey also came along get the trading contest rolling, while the competition’s second prize, a Maserati GranCabrio Sport, was on display in Paternoster Square, where CNBC’s Squawk Box presenters broadcast their daily show. So everything still to play for as the trading contest runs for the next ten weeks – see http://milliondollar.cnbc.com