GIVEN Stephen Whittaker’s history at New Star, where his formerly impeccable fund performance nosedived and eventually cost him his job under notoriously hard taskmaster John Duffield, you could hardly blame the man for giving up the spotlight for good.

Then again, Whittaker has never exactly been the shy, retiring type. Back at New Star, as chief investment officer, he fell foul of founder Duffield in a 2008 shake-up aimed at improving the firm’s fortunes, after the performance of his UK Equity Income fund was battered by heavy holdings of bank shares.

But now, a year and a half after he stepped out of his old office and crawled away to lick his wounds, the man is back with a new venture and a new lease of life.

Named “Querns Asset Managers” after Whittaker’s sprawling country home in Oxfordshire, the firm has been set up in conjunction with his former New Star colleague Phil Roantree, a bond fund manager, as well as Peter Gardner and John Tierney, who worked with Whittaker in his Perpetual days.

“I was originally managing my own money after I left, which gave me the idea to set up Querns,” he tells me. “It was all going rather well and I thought other people could also benefit from receiving a steady income by investing their pensions, ISAs and so on in corporate bonds and selected UK equities…”

For now, the firm is based out of a little cottage adjoining the aforementioned country home, though expansion plans will be set in motion if it ends up with some success.

Lovers and haters of Gordon Brown alike might want to get themselves on eBay at some point over the next few days, as there’s a lot up for auction that could well become the party piece of the summer.

Eager election-watchers will probably remember the giant inflatable hot air balloons used as a gimmick by online betting site Betfair in the run-up to last Thursday, crafted in the image of the three party leaders. Brown’s balloon, fresh from his resignation yesterday, is now up for sale, with the tongue-in-cheek description: “Was previously full of hot air, now completely deflated.”

Bidding started yesterday at 99p, though it was last night up at £18.50 after a few determined buyers went head to head.

In drops an email from investment manager Rensburg Sheppards, proclaiming excitedly that “cycling is the new golf” when it comes to networking with business clients.

Now just hold on a minute. Golf’s popularity with serial corporate entertainers is timeless, as ladies and gentlemen don their smart sporting attire and spend a couple of hours leisurely sauntering about the picturesque countryside followed by some more hours sipping pints and fine wine in the clubhouse.

Cycling may be an effective way to get yourself fit. But where’s the fun in puffing your way up the umpteenth steep hill, clad in unfetching skintight Lycra shorts and almost purple in the face with exertion trying to keep up with the exercise junkies in the pack? And how, may I ask, are participants expected to find the extra breath to talk shop?

It’ll never catch on.

Unusual for the top spinner in the banking world to deliver an address cloaked in secrecy worthy of coalition talks with the Lib Dems. Then again, times have changed for Goldman’s PR chief Lucas van Praag.

Van Praag – who’s come under a good deal of fire for his handling of the bank’s role in the financial crisis and the subsequent civil fraud action filed against it by the SEC – was speaking at a power breakfast at the Ivy Club yesterday morning, on the subject of “Communicating through the Financial Services Crisis”.

Invitations were restricted to the most senior of rival spinners, who were reminded “multiple, multiple times” that the event was under strict Chatham House rules.

“Van Praag did seem in high spirits though, given all the flak he’s been taking,” whispers one guest. “He was in fine fettle – animated and inspiring.”

Coming out fighting? He’s either bang on the Goldman message... or touting for a new job.

Finally, the legal profession are collectively limbering up for their annual London Legal sponsored walk next Monday evening, raising funds for legal advice charities in London and the South East.

Over 4,000 lawyers are due to take to the streets for the walk, which last year raised £390,000 – including teams from Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Slaughter and May, Freshfields, Linklaters, Hogan Lovells, Berwin Leighton Paisner, Norton Rose and many, many more. If any stragglers still want to join, please contact