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Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 24 April, 2014

Nick Leeson: Using puppets for Anglo musical is very apt indeed.

Former trader Nick Leeson can’t believe he wasn’t a shoo-in for Anglo: The Musical – but he’s pretty confident that puppets are the right choice to play inaminate objects who can’t take control of their own situation.

Nick Leeson

THERE ARE ANY number of phones in our house and no end of tapping and beeping as a host of emails, text messages and Facebook alerts transmit throughout the day.

Being the more traditional, non tech-savvy adult in the household, the landline at the house remains very firmly in my domain. It’s nowhere near as active as the other forms of communication but it does have its moments. Any developing financial scandal, any significant losses in the stock markets or stories of people going on the run and my phone starts hopping.

The first people calling are my friends, phoning to check where I am. After I prove to them that the latest scandal has nothing to do with me, straight after come the calls from various strands of the media looking for insight, reasons and comparisons with my own scandal many years ago.

I’ve been expecting a call for weeks now, waiting by the phone, but to date it just hasn’t come.

Anglo: The Musical starts next week. I can’t believe that I wasn’t top of the list for a walk-on part as one of the regulators of the time.

Famed for my incompetence when I was trading in Singapore, renowned for making the same mistake time after time after time, I had to be the ideal candidate. Somebody, somewhere, decided that a puppet would have the same impact; we’ll have to see.

“Puppets: having them represent the Celtic Tiger era is spot on”

Puppets: inanimate objects that cannot reason, take control of situations or make logical decisions. It may seem a little extreme to have them represent the Celtic Tiger era but I can’t help but think that it is spot on.

As I tour the world, talking about my experiences at various events, I often show a couple of television interviews from the time looking at how Barings bank collapsed. One in particular is of the interaction between two of the most senior officers at the bank, filmed post-collapse. It is the greatest example of two people not understanding the business, having no clue as to what was happening, contradicting each other  and trying to cover up their incompetence.

I often get asked if these gentlemen were actors. No; they were the real people who ran the bank. If anybody ever wonders why banks repeatedly get themselves in such a mess, this particular clip makes it very clear – they didn’t have a clue.

The use of puppets in the case of Anglo is therefore particularly apt – the bankers became the puppets controlled by the developers and politicians and clearly displayed equal processing ability to those same puppets that now represent them.

The show will go on next week without me. So too will it go on without a representation of former chairman and CEO Seán Fitzpatrick, after warning letters both from the Director of Public Prosecutions and solicitors for Fitzpatrick. I believe other characters may have had to be omitted, on legal advice, David Drumm and the co-defendents at Anglo. I am sure that they will be ample opportunity for them to appear in the sequel. There is so much ridiculous material and stories surrounding this era that it would be a shame to see it go to waste.

Some may not like the way that they are characterised but I am sure that it’ll be close to the way that they will be remembered. Economist David McWilliams has no problem with being sent up in the comedy. The McWilliams lookalike is employed by Anglo in the show and is supposed to represent Truth in the story. He is tolerated by Anglo as long as he stays on-message about the good times. The moment he forecasts clouds on the horizon, they presume he’s been drinking. When he continues, they throw him in a cupboard. It certainly sounds like the modern approach to risk management.

“A couple of modest means caught up in property speculation”

The musical is set on the island of Inis Dull, a metaphor for pre-boom Ireland and revolves around a couple of modest mean who get caught up in property speculation when a branch of Anglo sets up on their island.

The couple are persuaded to borrow €890 million, a similar sum to the amount that I lost in Singapore, with predictable consequences. Such a deal not only seems plausible given the kind of reckless lending that Anglo engaged in during the boom years, it could conceivably be based on a true story. Let’s not forget that Anglo landed the Irish public with a bill of €29 billion.

The politicians aren’t excused the scrutiny of puppetry. Bertie and a number of former finance ministers are sure to make an appearance; they presided over and cajoled along one unsightly mess, overriding all the controls along the way. I am reminded of my first couple of trips to Ireland, the first in 1994 was when I was waiting for the end at Barings, the second I was launching PaddyPower.com. The third was, with hindsight, the most memorable. I attended the PaddyPower Chase day at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day. The Taoiseach and the Finance Minister of the day were in attendance. I was amazed: does having a flutter, drinking and running the country go hand in hand?

I’m looking forward to seeing their puppets.

Read other columns by Nick Leeson>

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