TOP FOREX STAR TAKES TIME OUT FROM RBS

A BLOW for the Royal Bank of Scotland – and, by extension, to the rest of us – as one of the most celebrated foreign exchange traders in the City hops out of the bank’s revolving door.

Mark Barnes stepped up to the role of global head of forex trading at RBS last year, and has helped drive the bank’s team to the very top of the game. He’s now on a year’s sabbatical leave, though RBS insists he will be returning in a “new role” once he comes back to the City in 12 months’ time.

Yet his departure will be a hammer blow to the bank, which has struggled to keep its key staff amid increasingly vehement attacks on pay and a tide of public anger against it in the wake of its state bailout.

“Barnes really is one of the best in the business,” an FX chum tells me. “Every bank wants a piece of him and his departure, from a taxpayer’s point of view, is a nightmare.”

Crikey. Here’s hoping that his replacement – Tim Carrington, who moves over from Canada’s CIBC World Markets to take up the role – is ready to step up to the plate.

SINK OR SWIM

It’s always somewhat disconcerting to see the lords of finance taking part in run-of-the-mill social events like the rest of us, which explains the furore over Goldman Sachs boss Lloyd Blankfein’s latest outing at the weekend.

The New York Observer reports that Blankfein spent a gruelling hour in the swimming pool at the Southampton Bath and Tennis Club competing in a “charity swim-a-thon” – which he subsequently won, storming through an impressive 134 laps in 60 minutes. (The banking mogul “is said to have used an excellent flip-turn to his advantage”, apparently.)

If he’s trying to smooth over his image in the eyes of the public, this seems to be a pretty good way of going about it. Next stop: egg-and-spoon races at the local fete…

FAMILY TREE

How’s this for an unusual coincidence? Simon Parker Bowles – the former brother-in-law to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall – set up his second Green’s venture in the City just last year, in the old Lloyds banking hall on Cornhill.

But the restaurateur tells me that he was trawling through his family tree while on holiday recently when he discovered that he’s not the first Parker Bowles to occupy the premises.

Apparently, back in the 1720s, a distant ancestor – seven generations Simon’s senior – set up a printing shop in the Mercer’s Hall on Cheapside.

But in 1734, he moved to Black Horse House at 14 Cornhill – the very same building into which Lloyds bank later moved and took its black horse moniker from a mosaic laid into the floor, which is still there today. It’s certainly a small world.

RELATIONSHIP MAN

Universal Music’s co-chief executive Lucian Grainge may have relocated over to the US, but it’s clearly not hindered his ability to pull in superstars from the UK to the record label.

Ex-Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox – who signed with Universal this week and plans to release her new album, “A Christmas Cornucopia”, in November – has been friends with Grainge for almost three decades. Back then, at RCA Music, he signed the Eurythmics to a deal and secured his first US number one success as a published with “Sweet Dreams”.

Not that it comes as a surprise, mind – Grainge’s leaving do at the Mandarin Oriental in June drew guests from Amy Winehouse and The Killers to Sir Bob Geldof, WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell and Lord Mandelson.

NAME GAME

Another instalment in this column’s occasional series of weird and wonderful names from the City. A quick pootle about the internet yesterday brought The Capitalist across a website for MLROs.com, a forum for the anti-money laundering and financial crime practitioner community, of all things.

And the name of its creator, who founded the network after working in compliance at Abbey Life, Royal Bank of Scotland and NIBC Bank, among others? Ben Hur.

PING PONG CHALLENGE

Ping pong enthusiasts in the City should get themselves down to Corney & Barrow at Fleet Place next week, where pairs from the top firms in the Square Mile are going to be battling it out on the table tennis table.

The London Ping Pong Company – set up by former Clifford Chance lawyer Andrew Essa and his business partner Tim Oberg – has already secured team entries from the likes of the London Stock Exchange, Goldman, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Accenture and BT.

The prize for fighting your way to the top against 63 other competitors is a relatively measly £150 – but then again, these things are all about the kudos, as we all know.

Call 0207 265 2518 to get your names on the list.

MUSICAL CHAIRS

What better way to end than with the small-cap tittle-tattle of the week, courtesy – as usual – of troubled brokerage Astaire Securities.

Word is that Paul Compton, the former hedge fund manager who’s now at the helm of WH Ireland, is particularly interested in a team of Astaire staffers to help him in his new role putting the firm back on track. Which comes, naturally, after discussions over a tie-up between Astaire and WH Ireland collapsed just last year.

Watch this space.