The ubiquitous Urquhart Stewart

Tucked away in a small private dining room down a warren of corridors - in a building itself tucked away behind the old Royal Mint opposite the northern entrance to Tower Bridge - Justin Urquhart Stewart has all 10 fingers and thumbs up to his lips, in a caricature of nail-biting nervousness.

Across the table, I had begun the conversation telling him what the professional fund managers I had spoken to had said about him. What they most commonly say is that they can't turn on the television or radio without seeing or hearing him - but that he knows his stuff. It may sound a grudging tribute - but it makes Stewart immediately drop his hands and grin. "Well, that's very flattering to hear," he says, and you get the impression he means it.

He is the front man for Barclays Stockbrokers, commentator on markets, issues and stocks on every broadcast media from the newly-launched Money Channel to Radio 4 to Sky News. He is on Greater London Radio, LBC - where he hosts his own personal finance show - the BBC's Business Breakfast, Bloomberg Television, even a motoring show once. He gets up at 4am to prepare for his day and even has a high-speed phone line at home for interviews.

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"It was never meant to be like this," he says. "We never sat down and said: 'Right, I'll go on loads of telly programmes and talk about this or that'." But he does - and is usually entertaining and informative, dressed in his trademark braces. Today, he has Bengal stripes on his shirt, white polka dots on his red tie and red polka dots on his blue braces. He tucks his napkin into his collar. He is immensely affable and expansive, making quips which for the most part pass as funny. He laughs a lot at mine, which are less so. He is wearing thick make-up, which is less a case of vanity and more that most of us look awful on a camera unless it is applied. Forgetting to take it off is an occupational hazard for those who appear on TV a lot.

Anyone interested in investing, or the markets, can watch an operator like Stewart and wonder how much they actually do know. On his business card it says Corporate Development Director. I ask him if he spends much time corporate developing. "Yes, in so far as we sit about thinking up ideas and direction."

When asked about the other pundits who appear regularly on our screens, the first name he mentions is NatWest Stockbrokers' Jeremy Batstone. Batstone is almost as ubiquitous as Stewart (some mischievous souls, incidentally, refer to him as Justin Ubiquitous Stewart). Stewart concedes he is good, and also mentions Greig Middleton's Brian Tora. Both men are heads of research, and so have a more tangible and arguably 'front-line' job than Stewart.

He says the research team of 20 or so is now coming out of his shadow and doing more media commentaries, which he welcomes. It is, after all, profile-building for the broking department. But neither the research team nor Stewart go on TV and say things like "we at Barclays Stockbrokers think a". This, he says, is perhaps part of the reason he gets asked back -he is the TV producer's sure-fire option who will normally deliver.

He says he has learned to deal with curve balls on things he isn't full prepared about, but does own up to 'flatlining' - in the umpteenth interview of the day simply losing his strand of thought. "I was talking about CMG and just stopped and forgot everything. I couldn't have even spelled it." He is candid about what he's trying to do; which, in a nutshell, seems to be to get more people interested in the stock market. While that may not sound surprising for someone who works for a stockbroker, he does - both in person and on his broadcasts -deliver his views with verve and conviction.

"I'm trying to change the City. Look, the stockmarket hasn't been around for 200 years or whatever it says. It's been in its current form since 1966. Whatever it is, it ain't an institution. It's just a market, like a fruit and veg market with braces on."

He was part of a new start-up in the financial markets, a clearing system based in Glasgow that eventually grew broking and research arms and which was eventually bought by Barclays, which had funded it in the first place. That was pre-Big Bang, and he remembers the early de-mutualisations. "There was chaos. Trucks were heading off down the street with bags coming open and share certificates flying out."

Prior to that, he eschewed a university place for a stint riding his motorbike around Europe, eventually landing in the wine trade. "I decided you couldn't make a career in wine, but I fancied the law." So he took a place reading European law ("I wanted to be a wine lawyer - which seemed like a stupid idea but an attractive one; it might even work now") and went up to the bar, where he spent a while in pupilage before deciding a seven-year wait for riches was too long.

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He briefly worked at Southampton docks, and describes himself as a "wet socialist" who is probably the only union steward who is a stockbroker (by dint of what he considers a life membership of the United Construction, Allied and Technical Trades union). "I certainly paid a mountain of dues."

He decided banking was for him, and wrote to a few institutions, and Barclays Banking International, as it was then, took him on. "The place was amazing. I was called up to see some old semi-deity who thumbed through his book of assignments. All the plum ones seemed to be at the front of the book - the Bahamas, Bermuda and so on. I got Uganda. I said to him, 'There's a war on there' and he said, 'Yes, that's right, you get along there and look after things'."

He did, but hostilities on the ground were indeed fierce, and in a moment of deeper reflection than the usual run of banter, Stewart says simply: "Well, I got shot." He spent eight weeks in hospital in Harare and London, and after recuperating from the wounds to his leg got another posting; "to Singapore, which is a bit suburban, really, a bit like Croydon but warmer".

He did some corporate finance there, then resigned and returned home before coming up with the clearing idea with a few partners. He says he considered a change of career a few years back, mulling over the idea of a financial public relations role, but in the end decided against it. "I thought, 'No, that isn't what I do. I'm a stockbroker'." A stockbroker who is on television a lot, that is.