Joanna Lumley. She’s so lovely

First up: the retail and consumer category. Mike Jatania fought off tough competition from the likes of JD Sports and TM Lewin to claim the prize for Lornamead. He dedicated the award to his father who passed away recently, stating: “He taught me all about integrity and fair play.” He also added: “It’s not always easy for family companies. I want to thank my brothers for backing me.”

Keith Neilson won the science and technology award. With a market cap of £50m, his financial software firm Craneware has more than $100m of contracts on its balance sheet. He beat turnaround expert Fiona Pearson who revitalised pathology firm CliniSys and the lovely Ben Goss of Distribution Technology.

John Bird and Ian MacArthur picked up the gong for social firm of the year. With a weekly circulation of £170,000, the Big Issue is currently helping some 3,000 homeless vendors to get off the streets. MacArthur, slightly stunned by a kiss from Lumley, was momentarily lost for words before saying, “When people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m in the publishing business and in the business of transformation.”

“I’m just a metal basher”, said John Hayward, CEO of Pressure Technologies, the winner of the business products category. His steel manufacturer exports 90 per cent of its products. A real triumph for British industry. Bob Keiller, who picked up the gong for business services with his oil and gas exploration firm, was similarly modest. “I’d like to thank my beautiful wife, who keeps me grounded at home. Not that I don’t wear the trousers in my house. When I tell her to move her feet when I’m hoovering, she moves them!”

Richard Harpin from Homeserve scooped the coveted “Master Entrepreneur” category. He flies off to Monte Carlo to represent the UK in the global Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards. His home emergency insurance cover and domestic repair service has an annual turnover of £555m and operating profits of £91m, up 29 per cent on 2007.

Lisa Buckingham, editor of the Financial Mail on Sunday presented the master category and made the brave move of stating, “I hope to one day see a woman in this line-up” which drew hisses from the crowd.

Our very own Rob Small won the Young Entrepreneur award. His online gaming site, Miniclip has been going from strength to strength since we profiled him on the cover of our August ’07 issue. He also picked up a clutch of awards at the last E&Y event, so he’s definitely the accountants’ favourite.

And to wrap up the proceedings, the delightful MC Joanna Lumley told the assembled entrepreurs that she was “honoured” to have spent the evening in their company. “I love you all,” she said. “Keep up the good work.

Then, in her best Patsy from Ab Fab impression, added, “The Rink bar is now open.”

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