Market Extra: Capital Confidential: whispers from U.K. business and politics

Welcome to Capital Confidential — a weekly diary column featuring the best tidbits from around the U.K.’s business and political landscape from sister publication Financial News.

This week: Trump’s love for the Village People’s song ‘Macho Man’; and an answer to the mystery of where the Lehman Brothers Canary Wharf sign went…

Trump’s so macho

While Hillary Clinton is fond of the saying “It takes a village”, it seems her political adversary Donald Trump takes the Village People. Capital hears from a U.S. embassy spy that when the U.S. president arrived in London for his chaotic visit in July last year, he requested that he enter Winfield House, the U.S. ambassador’s home in Regent’s Park where he was staying with first lady Melania Trump, to the sound of the Village People’s 1978 song “Macho Man”. It is understood the president’s wish was granted.

Even by the standards of President Trump’s reality TV-style of government, this seems outlandish. Yet Trump is a well-known fan of the song, which is also a celebrated gay anthem. Several of his pre-rally musical playlists, both before and after his election victory, featured “Macho Man”. The president has never publicly explained why he admires the tune (which was never released in the U.K. as a single). Perhaps he is drawn to the lyrics, which include: “Every man wants to be a macho macho man/ To have the kind of body, always in demand.” Maybe he has fond memories of dancing to the song during the 1970s, when he frequented New York nightclub Studio 54.

The source added that relations between the president and the U.S. embassy became so strained that some embassy staff refused on principle to assist in the coordination of his visit. The U.S. embassy press office is on hiatus because of the government showdown and didn’t get back to Capital with a comment. Prior to his visit, Trump attacked the U.S. embassy’s new building in Wandsworth, calling it “lousy” at a Michigan rally. It is unclear whether “Macho Man” got played at that particular rally.

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The Lehman Brothers sign that adorned the collapsed investment bank’s offices in Canary Wharf was sold to a mystery buyer in 2010, going for £42,050 in a sale at Christie’s auction house. Capital can now solve the mystery of who bought the iconic sign at the sale of the bank’s art and ephemera, which was ordered by PwC, the defunct firm’s administrator.

The sign was purchased by millionaire landowner Nicholas Johnston, who owns the 3,800-acre estate of Great Tew in Oxfordshire. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are living in a £2.5m cottage on the Great Tew estate while their home in the Frogmore estate, Windsor, is being renovated. Johnston’s Cotswolds neighbors include Victoria and David Beckham, and David and Samantha Cameron (Johnston is an Etonian contemporary of the former PM). Johnston — who is not thought to have a background in finance — proudly brandished the sign to a friend of this column when he visited his pad in Great Tew. As befits an aspiring Jay Gatsby, Johnston wouldn’t return calls regarding whether he would be showing off the sign to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex when they next come round for tea.

Brexit love

The airing of Channel 4 drama Brexit: The Uncivil War, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, was not exactly underreported. But Channel 4 discreetly hosted a screening party to coincide with its transmission last Monday at Attlee Suite in Portcullis House, Westminster. Attendees included the drama’s writer James Graham and Ian Katz, Channel 4’s director of programs, together with MPs John Redwood and Steve Baker. Vote Leave supremo Matthew Elliott and Lucy Thomas, deputy director of the Remain campaign, who both feature in the film also showed up (as did John Heffernan who played Elliott). In contrast to the Brexit debate, the atmosphere was convivial, and afterward politicians and creatives went for a drink in the Commons. Capital’s spy said the occasion was amicable to a fault. Leavers expressed their surprise that writer Graham had made Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s former director of communications, and Thomas the two main Remain characters in the drama, without revealing on-screen that they had formed a romantic relationship during the campaign which continues to this day. But the bemusement never reached Thomas, who was in close proximity.

Under De radar

Much fanfare surrounded the appointment of Mandy DeFilippo as chair of the International Capital Market Association last May. DeFilippo, a managing director and the head of risk management for the fixed income and commodities Europe division at Morgan Stanley, was the capital markets lobbyist’s first female chair, hot on the heels of a Vogue interview. Yet some ICMA watchers feel the American banker has been too low profile. “Mandy has done a few ICMA events since she became chair but she hasn’t made the waves I was expecting,” says one. “For instance, she’s very much left it to [ICMA chief executive] Martin Scheck to take the lead on Brexit’s impact on the European debt market.” An ICMA representative begs to differ: “Mandy has been active and will introduce our annual general meeting in Stockholm in May.”

“Calendarisation”

Marks & Spencer might not have been able to conjure up growing sales in last week’s festive update, but it continues to experiment. However its latest innovation, courtesy of Millwall-supporting chief executive Steve Rowe, is the worst since its hybrid vegetable, the cauliflower-related “biancoli”. Rowe created a new word when he credited the late surge in customers hitting M&S’s stores to the “calendarisation” of Christmas. Rowe must be hoping investors don’t calendarise the end of his tenure.

Room without a view

Which big property investment firm incurred the wrath of journalists after insisting its 2019 outlook media event be held under Chatham House rules, only for its chief investment officer to be weirdly secretive, even off the record? Hacks hoping for insight were left perplexed when he said he had identified five London areas where investments are likely to boom, only to then be unwilling to name any of them. Poor showing.

Hating U2

Chasing Bono, a new play on at fringe playhouse the Soho Theatre, is a surprise hit and tipped for the West End. Based on the 2004 memoir by Neil McCormick and adapted for the stage by veteran writing duo Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, Chasing Bono explores the complicated musical relationship between two teenagers in Dublin, one of whom is the U2 frontman. The source material was previously made into a 2011 film called Killing Bono, which was an epic flop, grossing less than £250,000 at the U.K. box office despite going on wide release. Killing Bono was also penned by Clement and La Frenais, but a key difference between play and film lies in the title. An ex-executive at Paramount Pictures, which released the film, recalls: “We knew it would flop as the only prerelease buzz the movie generated on social media came from horrible U2-hating trolls who took sadistic delight at the idea of killing Bono!”

This article also appears on Financial News.

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