TWO fingers to the downturn: despite the current economic woes, nearly 900 of the world’s wealthiest financiers and celebrities descended on Waterloo station last night for the premier charity event of the year, hedge fund king Arki Busson’s annual Ark gala dinner.<br /><br />Busson, the boss of Swiss fund of hedge funds EIM, and his fiancé, Hollywood actress Uma Thurman, welcomed guests to the old Eurostar terminal, which had been specially redesigned for the party.<br /><br />Among the hedge fund grandees who paid up to £100,000 for tables were former Man Group chairman Stanley Fink and his new right hand man at the ISAM hedge fund Rod Barker; TCI philanthropist Chris Hohn; GLG co-founder Pierre Lagrange and the firm’s former star trader Greg Coffey; and Paul Marshall, the chairman of hedge fund manager Marshall Wace.<br /><br />Property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz arrived in his Rolls Royce with wife Heather, looking quizzically at a somewhat comical crowd of anti-Ark protesters clutching a banner and trying to shout down the noise of the brass band playing as the guests drove up. He was closely followed by Scottish retail magnate Sir Tom Hunter and Topshop billionaire Sir Phillip Green with Lady Green.<br /><br /><strong>LOUD AND CLEAR</strong><br />Despite the impressive guest list, the dinner is expected to raise just £10m this year, far below the £25m raised last year in the more salubrious surroundings of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.<br /><br />And while the organisers insisted the night would be equally “memorable and dramatic”, they conceded it would be very different to last year’s über-glamorous affair, after the credit crunch wiped billions off the hedge fund industry’s worth.<br /><br />Twelve months ago, the menu for the evening was created by celebrity chef Tom Aikens and featured ray wing on a cushion of apple tapioca, black cod and Aberdeen Angus fillet steak. By comparison, this year saw the guests munching on good old-fashioned steak or fish and chips to soak up their champagne.<br /><br />The entertainment was provided by the English Chamber Orchestra, rather than the spectacular past performances by Prince, Elton John and Stevie Wonder. Funky graffiti art adorned the walls, courtesy of David Samuel, the proprietor of the Rare Kind gallery in Shoreditch.<br /><br />And even the tally of luxury lots at the charity auction was reduced by half, as a nod to the industry’s more sober mood. Five Fiat 500s decorated with butterflies by artist Damian Hirst were auctioned off, along with a trip to Venice and Paris on the Orient Express, a ticket to the paddock at the Monaco Grand Prix, and an engine part autographed by former Formula One champion Michael Schumacher.<br /><br />But despite the restrained nature of the whole affair, the underlying message was loud and clear. The hedge fund industry may be down, but it’s far from out.