LORD Sugar is feeling grumpier than usual, with just an hour’s sleep under his belt after a 22-hour flight from Sydney to Florida.
Which is perhaps why thoughts of eternal slumber were on his mind as he chatted to launch the 16th series of The Apprentice.
The billionaire has always said he’d like to film 20 series of the business contest.
He said: “This one is 16, so I've got four more to do to achieve that goal.
“I've already worked out the final task in one of the series is to arrange my funeral and to see how well they arrange it and what kind of coffin that they would get for me.
“That would be a good one wouldn't it.
“As long as they bury me with a mobile phone and put an antenna on the tombstone in case I’m still alive inside so I can still be on Twitter!
“I'm not going nowhere. And the programme's not going nowhere.
“But I can assure you, there's going to be a lot more, while I've got the health and strength in my body, I will carry on.”
It’s this kind of dedication Lord Alan, 74, looks for in the candidates on The Apprentice.
Since 2005, the tycoon has offered the show’s winner a job and then later, a £250k investment.
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As usual he will be joined by two business aides, Sun columnist Karren Brady, and the first Apprentice winner Tim Campbell who is standing in for Claude Littner as he recovers from an accident.
Now 16 new businessmen and women will vie for their approval with their entrepreneurial skills and business acumen.
Lord Alan said: “Your initial reaction to some of the candidates are, ‘Bloody hell. How useless is that one or how useless is this one’.
"But, and it goes without saying, every single year, the cream rises to the top and we are wrong.”
The candidates this year include a dessert shop owner, a pyjama retailer and a pharmacist – and three have a reality TV background.
Londoner Navid Sole, 27, has previously appeared on Channel 5 show Rich Kids Go Skint, ITV’s Judge Rinder and BBC Three series Eating With My Ex, while Kathryn Burn, 29, has been on Channel 4 show The Island With Bear Grylls in 2017.
Meanwhile American Amy Anzel, 48, starred on the first ever series of US dating show The Bachelor in 2002.
Ten years ago Lord Sugar said he had banned these kinds of fame-hunters from The Apprentice.
Asked if he stood by that bar today, Lord Alan said: “Yes, that is still the case.
Your initial reaction to some of the candidates are, ‘Bloody hell. How useless is that one or how useless is this one’
“And if anybody has appeared somewhere before on a television program, and it had been scrutinised in the auditioning process by the BBC, and if they've accepted it, it's most probably because their appearance on whatever they'd been on was incidental or not of significance.”
Later, he added: “The production people really are very careful in ensuring that the right calibre of candidate joins us, and that they know exactly how far they can go.”
The mogul said in 2011: “‘I think reality TV has instilled this kind of thing in some of the youngsters who want to aspire to be so-called TV celebrities.
"Like the singing and dancing and standing in restaurants in Essex for example.
“I’m not sure that that’s what our programme is trying to stand for really.”
But Lord Alan is keen to focus on the positives.
The Apprentice is back after Covid kept it off air for two year and the team have planned a grand return – with the BBC said to be spending “a lot” of money making it.
The first episode, which airs on Thursday night, sees the candidates aboard Richard Branson’s Virgin Voyage’s Scarlet Lady cruise ship where they are challenged to design a marketing campaign for a new cruise brand.
Lord Alan added: “The BBC spent a lot of money this time because they know we had to come back with a bang. And they've invested a tremendous amount of money.
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“Never ever have I found them wanting to skimp on anything to be honest with you.”
Following the success of the American version of the show – which starred Donald Trump – The Apprentice aired in the UK in February 2005.
Lord Alan wasn’t the BBC’s first choice as frontman, with initial offers declined by Sir Philip Green and Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary.
But the Amstrad mogul – who reportedly paid himself £390million last year – still comes out to bat for the Corporation and particularly its under-fire £159 licence fee.
Warming to his theme, he went on: “The thing is, 12 quid a month, which is all it is, right, is exceptional, exceptional value for money. It is.
“And I sympathise with the BBC that they don't have enough money in order to compete with the Netflixs, the Hulus, the Amazon Primes and all that type of stuff.
“I'd stick it up to £20 a month and give the BBC more money because they've got a very, very hard job.
“They're under extreme pressure to allocate the money that they have got from the licence fee to try to produce programs.
"Costs are escalating, and despite that, they're doing a good job.”
I'd stick it up to £20 a month and give the BBC more money because they've got a very, very hard job
When The Apprentice first began, the internet was not widely used and ‘smart phones’ with access to email had only just launched.
Now marketing has moved online to TikTok and meetings happen over Zoom.
But at 74, Lord Alan still keeps up.
Speaking over a video call from his study in Boca Raton, Florida, he said: “This [Zoom] is actually very useful now, particularly if I'm abroad, we can have meetings and see people face to face and all that stuff.
“I pride myself in, although I'm getting a bit of an old fellow now, I pride myself in keeping up with the times. Like now we're on a Zoom call.
“The internet didn't exist 16 years ago. Online delivery, delivery of food for home, purchasing stuff online. I've observed it and it's a completely different life.
“And I pride myself in being able to recognize that this is the norm these days, yeah.
“I've adapted through all the new modern ways of things, and accept them.
I pride myself in, although I'm getting a bit of an old fellow now, I pride myself in keeping up with the times. Like now we're on a zoom call
“I don't poo poo them or anything like that. Most of it is a very positive advance in the way work and business is done.”
This is straight-talking Lord Sugar at his ranty best – and it's very typical of his approach on Twitter, where he has 5.2million followers.
He went on: “Social media is an amazing tool, there's the positive side of it, and then of course there's the knock on effect of recognizing the negative side of it with electronic bullying as I call it.
“I think that the actual hosts of social media, the Twitters, the Facebooks, the Instagrams and all that, they are also now realising that the pressure is on them to make sure that this doesn't happen.”
One thing Lord Alan won’t embrace is the modern trend for working from home.
He went on: “It was a kind of a fashionable thing that started pre Covid, where you had all these hot desks and things like that.
“It's not really my cup of tea, to be honest with you. But then I'm an old fart.”
*The Apprentice starts this Thursday, 6th January at 9pm on BBC One, followed by You’re Fired on BBC Two.
- 28, digital marketing, London.
Says: “My friends call me AK47 because I’m a killer sales-person.” Also believes sleep is a “waste of time”.
- 28, online children’s store owner.
Says: “I’m an East London girl, and I’ve got that no nonsense sort of work ethic. I’ve got grit.”
- 38, flight operations instructor, Chorley, Lancs.
In RAF for 12 years. So hungry for success he “can’t let anyone stand in his way”.
Francesca Kennedy Wallbank
- 26, sustainability company owner, Surrey.
Says rest are toast, adding: “I’ve never lost anything, I always win.”
- 27, commercial cleaning company owner, Hereford.
Compares himself to a Ferrari – shiny on outside, lots of fire under bonnet.
- 48, owns a beauty brand, based in London, but from New York.
Was on The Bachelor. Says: “When I unfortunately have to be a bitch, I will.”
- 35, regional ops manager, West Mids.
Says he’s the “Asian Lord Sugar” who has “literally done everything I’ve put my mind to”.
- 29, strategy manager for a financial firm in London.
Says he is a people person who can “converse with everyone”.
Kathryn Louise Burn
- 29, online pyjama shop owner, Swindon.
Was on The Island With Bear Grylls. Says she would act like a “savage” if needed.
- 31, finance manager, from London.
Wants to break into the flavoured water market. Says: “I’m a bit of an animal in the boardroom.”
- 25, hotel front of house manager, Bristol.
Says: “My motto for life is always look on the bright side and be grateful for everything.”
- 41, owns kids’ day nursery, Bradford.
A mum of five, she says: “I want to be a living example for the Asian and South Asian women out there.”
- 27, pharmacist, London.
Has appeared on three mainstream TV shows. Says: “Nothing intimidates. I feel like I’m a strong character.”
- 28, sales executive based in London.
Originally from Ireland, the ex-pro rugby player counts pop star Niall Horan as a close friend.
- 30, owns dessert parlour, West Yorks.
Says: “I’m definitely not in business to make friends. I’m pretty sure Lord Sugar isn’t looking for a new mate.”
- 32, boutique cocktail bar owner, Gloucs.
Qualified from “witch school”. Says: “Failure is not an option, winning is part of my DNA.”
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