NAME: Nicholas Brady. AGE: 56. OCCUPATION: Chairman of Dillon Read & Co. ROLE IN BUSH CAMPAIGN: Candidate's Best Friend.

Shortly after the 1984 election, George Bush began telling his new staff, and all those interested in a Bush campaign for '88, that the one man anointed to speak publicly for him on this subject was his old Yale friend Nicholas Brady.

A New Jersey-born multimillionaire, former U.S. senator and chairman of Dillon Read, a prominent investment house, Brady is what you might call the Official Confidant of the Bush operation, a gray eminence in a sea of Young Turks.

Meeting Brady in his New York office, surrounded by photographs of Bush and a rather large American flag, a visitor is startled by the resemblance between the two men. There's the same close-cropped hair; the same high forehead and straight nose; the same small, intense eyes. Even their cadences -- Ivy League, patrician -- are similar.

Like his old friend, Brady is a product of money and privilege, which gives him some insight into what critics call George Bush's "cultural gap" with the American voter. The gap is often summed up in the single word "preppy" -- a description the vice president despises.

"He was in the military, fought his way up from nothing in his business," says Brady in response to a question about Bush's blue-blood image. "Are you talking about what it's like not to be fed or something like that, to be hungry?

"Or about the enormous disappointment of having a child die of leukemia? [The Bushes lost a daughter in 1953.] Or to be told after you've won the Pennsylvania primary that you're [not going to make it]?

Class background shouldn't matter, Brady says: "People either understand other people's problems or they don't."

Brady, like Jim Baker, has Bush's ear and his private phone number -- they talk anywhere from once every two weeks to once a day -- and can probably exert more influence than Atwater, Fuller and Teeter put together. And he's understandably reticent on the subject of his friend's liabilities as a candidate.

Is the vice president calm in pressure situations (as many said he wasn't, for example, during his debate with Geraldine Ferraro)? "He's very good under pressure," says Brady. "I've been with him [on his speedboat] in eight-foot seas where everyone was scared to death and George was driving. He was absolutely unaffected by it."

Why isn't the public Bush more likable? "It's totally mystifying to me, because if you ask me who I would most like to spend the weekend with . . . I'd say George Bush."

Bush and Brady have spent many weekends together over the years, pitching horseshoes and playing tennis, swimming at Kennebunkport or horseback riding on Brady's 1,800-acre estate in Far Hills, N.J. (all but 5 percent of the land is held by a family corporation). "His uncle was a business associate of my dad's . . . and I played tennis in college with his brother," says Brady. "Instead of going home to New Jersey on weekends I'd go to his home [in Connecticut] . . . It's just a friendship that has grown." The two were four years apart at Yale, so their friendship developed mainly after college.

Brady tried to hire Bush at Dillon Read in 1977, after Bush's stint as director of the CIA. Bush called on Brady to run his 1980 presidential campaign in New Jersey. And the vice president was largely responsible for Brady's appointment to the Senate in 1982 (as an eight-month caretaker in the seat vacated by Harrison Williams, who had been convicted in the Abscam scandal).

Sources close to the vice president say Brady's greatest value to Bush in '88 will be as a link to Wall Street. He has proven to be a good fundraiser and Bush operatives are hoping Brady will bring in the financiers in droves.

Brady is a fourth-generation Irish American whose great-grandfather immigrated to the United States during Ireland's great potato famine. Making modest investments in several small electrical companies, Anthony Nicholas Brady helped form what eventually became Consolidated Edison. His son, Nicholas Brady's grandfather, started the Maxwell Motor Co., an automobile manufacturer that eventually merged with Chrysler. Brady's father helped found Purolator Courier Corp.

This generation of Brady male seems equally committed to business, rather than full-time government service. While Nicholas Brady serves on various government boards and commissions, such as the Packard Commission on Defense Management, and travels to Washington regularly, he doesn't seem all that eager to give up Wall Street for the White House.

"Well, it depends on what the boss wants to me to do," he demurs. "I'll do what the boss wants me to do."