It is not often one gets invited to Tuscany to stay in the grounds of a ruined castello once owned by the film director Luchino Visconti – nor indeed to visit it in the company of an international footballer and his Wag – but last week I was whisked off to the Castello di Casole, where a US company is refurbishing the ancient pile as an upmarket hotel and revamping the outlying buildings that lie scattered among the estate’s 4,200 acres.
These buildings, with fine barrel-vaulted lower floors which used to house the livestock and are now fine open plan sitting rooms, are being sold off to buyers for more money than I am likely to earn in a lifetime.
As we bumped across the Tuscan countryside in the glorious Italian sunshine to view the properties, I found myself sandwiched on the back seat of the 4×4 between the dashing Beirut-born striker Sharbel Touma, twice capped for Sweden and since last year in the Borussia Monchengladbach first team squad, and his gorgeous wife Sonia, who are seeking a country retreat where they can bring their two children.
I was still a little starstruck the following day when we took breakfast in the castello’s guest house in the company of Monaco-based mogul Sanjay Varma, who had just driven down to view an £7m restored casa di campagna complete with infinity pool overlooking the rolling hills.
Life back home after the weekend was looking distinctly dull until Wednesday when I found myself entertained morning, noon and night to make up for it. To be exact, I had breakfast of eggs benedict at the Dorchester with Jennifer Rose of confused.com and another Wagg – this time not a footballer’s wife but Polhill’s charming Karen Wagg. Lunch was gulai ayam at Georgetown in Borough with the jolly Webads boys Alan Walker and Jonas Jaanimagi, who are going to handle the advertising sales for CashQuestions.com and financial website entrepreneur Phil Thomas.
Supper was al fresco dining at the Rock Garden in Covent Garden courtesy of the HBOS Investment PR team. Talk turned to social networking site Facebook and I was a little alarmed to learn that the urbane Richard Janes, who looks after PR for Clerical Medical, only allows very close friends to access his Facebook entry because of the allegedly compromising photographs it contains. Absolute discretion assured to anyone who can let me have a peek.
The day-long grande bouffe ended with an exhilaratingly calorie-combusting evening watching Never Forget, the new Take That musical at the Savoy Theatre. Could it be magic? Well, something got my old bones dancing in the aisles.
Number of text messages received in the middle of the night while in Italy: four. How come they take so long to relay from England?)
Esther Shaw is a freelance financial journalist
First to One Lombard Street to meet Friends Provident’s Jim Murdoch for an early breakfast rendezvous ahead of a shift on the money desk at the Express – or at least that was the plan. But while I thought I was running a little late (which I put down to a slightly chaotic morning after a slightly later than planned night at the Sex And The City screening), poor Jim, it seems, was running even later. The two of us, it transpired, had been given different times for our meeting – I had 9am in my diary and he had 10am in his. God love PRs. Although poor Jim could not apologise enough for the mistake, I had spent a not wholly unpleasant hour chatting away to the waiting staff who, on my asking for the bill, said there would be no charge for my cappuccino.
That said, the aforementioned waiting staff were rather amused to see me back at One Lombard Street just a few hours later for a lunch meeting. But while I tried my hardest to explain that it was just my bad planning that had led to me having scheduled both breakfast and lunch at the same venue, they insisted on referring to Moneysupermarket’s Steve “occasional credit card geek” Willey as the one who had “stood me up” earlier that morning. Apologies, Steve.
Elsewhere this week, I headed to the Mandarin Oriental’s Foliage Restaurant to join New Star’s Boys Aloud Ben “naked-in-a-Turkish-bath” Robinson and Jamie “Leggy” Legge for a rather flash four-course lunch complete with hibiscus flowers. The dear duo, I’m told, are pretty much inseparable these days, choosing to spend not only their working lives sitting next to one another but also their cigarette breaks together.
Clearly, the pair do not want to miss a moment of the opportunity to talk about bonds and, er, the annual New Star surfing trip. While Ben spent our lunch talking me through the launch of New Star’s new India fund, young Jamie seemed rather preoccupied by the weather, which I recall him referring to on more occasions than can be counted on one hand during our few hours together.
As if this were not enough, he then followed this up with two emails the following day, one saying “What a shocking day – rain rain rain. I’m not happy”and the second containing a link to the five-day forecast, accompanied by the word “naughty”. Michael Fish beware.
Lunches arranged with the super-bubbly Sue Hannums, now safely settled into her new role at Abbey: one.
Portions of foie gras ice cream enjoyed by Jamie Legg: zero. much to his disappointment, I might add.
Any Out of Contexts or Diary stories? Send them to Diary editor Nicola York at firstname.lastname@example.org telephone: 020 7943 8042