Fresh takeover speculation pushed shares in Friends Provident up over 4 percent on Friday, making Britain's smallest bluechip life insurer the top gainer in the FTSE 100.

French insurer AXA has been linked with a possible bid on several occasions and was the name being put forward by traders again on Friday, though the head of its UK unit said last month AXA could achieve planned growth without making any large purchases.

Friends Provident, worth almost 4 billion pounds ($8.2 billion) at current market prices, has said it feels under no pressure to do deals and is happy with its current growth momentum.

Friends Provident and AXA were not immediately available for comment.

At 0839 GMT, Friends Provident shares were up 3.8 percent at 185-1/2 pence, just off earlier highs of 186.3 pence and but outperforming a flat DJ Stoxx index of European insurance stocks

Every punter in the land wants a piece of this action, said one trader. It's a momentum trade.