“CELEBRATING” the Best of British was how Prime Minister David Cameron described the National Business Awards last night, speaking via a video link recorded before his trip to China this week. And a fine celebration the ceremony was too, honouring companies of all sectors and sizes across the UK economy, from niche tiddlers such as organic baby food group Ella’s Kitchen, to giants such as supermarket groups Waitrose and Tesco.

Martin McCourt scooped one of the two headline awards of the evening, the Orange Leader of the Year, for his role as chief executive of Dyson, the entrepreneurial maker of whizzy vacuum cleaners (don’t use the H-word, or you’ll be lynched, apparently).

The other went to retiring Tesco grandee Sir Terry Leahy, who is to leave the group next year after no less than 14 years at the helm. Not for our straight-talking Liverpudlian a future life of leisure, though.

“There’s no such thing as leaving – I’ll be with Tesco for life,” Leahy told The Capitalist. “It’s important to let the new management team get on with it, but I will always be a big shareholder and will always be involved…”

More directorships could also be on the cards, he admits, as well as ploughing more time into his care home charity foundation back in Liverpool. It’s a good job he doesn’t care much for golf.

Quite apart from the numerous award winners, high-profile City businessmen and women thronged the hall, from Sir John Banham, chair of Johnson Matthey, to Whitbread’s Alan Parker and Nick Robertson, boss of online retailer ASOS.

Robertson, chatting happily about a subject close to The Capitalist’s heart – fashion – is looking forward to pushing into new markets in Europe, much to the horror of the Brit fashion pack who pride themselves on their eclectic home-grown style.

“I thought you might say that,” Robertson laughed. “It’s been the biggest barrier to our growth so far – the fact that ladies don’t like to share the secret of where they bought their stuff!” Can anyone blame us, I ask?

Gag of the evening went not to newsreader Huw Edwards, presenting the awards, nor to guest speaker Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister, but to Tom Bewick, the little-known chief executive of Dragon Peter Jones’ charity the National Enterprise Academy.

“I feel like Pamela Anderson’s fifth husband,” Bewick began, addressing the audience between courses. “I know what I’ve got to do, it’s merely a question of making it interesting...”

Finally, a note on how to quickly gauge the level to which your company has risen or sunk in the eyes of the general public: get nominated for an award. Booze and leisure firms yesterday elicited the largest cheers, moving down the scale towards the Royal Bank of Scotland – half hisses, half cheers – and finally hitting rock bottom with HMRC, greeted with a barrage of pantomime booing.