The Apprentice

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 by

[NB: Ben Stanberry was the first of this year's apprentices to be dispatched by Sir Alan Sugar.]

And so it is, another fairy tale ending …

Let’s start with some inside gossip.

When Sir Alan points that nasty index finger of his at you and delivers the death blow things really do happen just as they appear on your TV screen. With your tail between your legs, you skulk out of the boardroom, collect your case, walk out the door and into a waiting taxi.

Only slightly more uncomfortable and cringe-worthy than shaking your now ex-team members by the hand (instead of punching them in the face) is having a camera crew jump into the cab with you to record your last, tearful self-analysis. Once that’s in the can, they jump out again and I must admit that, by the time they did, I felt like hurling myself out the other side into the path of an oncoming bus.

If the candidate is lucky and lives in London, they’re taken home – where their spouse or partner will hopefully be pleased to see them (mine simply said, “Oh, back already?!”). If they’re unlucky and come from outside the capital, they’re taken to a rather smart, boutique hotel in Shepherd’s Bush that’s actually only a stone’s throw from the studio where the boardroom scenes are filmed. Once there, they will spend a miserable, lonely night consuming the entire contents of the mini-bar and reflecting on where it all went wrong.

Though I live in London myself, I did get to see the hotel on the night Jo (aka “The Bouncing Brummie”) was fired.

She must have just got out of the taxi when she telephoned me. I instinctively knew it was her because that distinctive, machine-gun laugh practically perforated my eardrum. “I’ve been fired … ha ha ha ha ha!” she rattled. “Get over here and I’ll tell you all about it.” I did as I was told.

This was the first contact I’d had with any of the fired ex-apprentices since my own departure. But as shocked as I was to hear from Jo which candidates had departed between me and her (“Karen … Gone?!” I whimpered in disbelief) I was even more shocked when she told me who she was convinced was going to win.

“Do you know who’s going to be the next apprentice?” she asked me, looking me straight in the eye. “Michelle”, she continued assuredly, “Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s Michelle.”
The more I thought about this, the more I couldn’t help but agree.

While Michelle’s triumph as the winner of series two of The Apprentice might not have been predicted by Joe Public as early as week six, when Jo left the show, it was probably already expected by many of the fired candidates who had got to know her during filming. Indeed, some of us realised later that, up against Michelle, we probably never stood a chance. If nothing else, The Apprentice is a modern fairy tale which has, of course, to have a fairy tale prince or princess and a fairy tale ending.

So just as he did at the end of series one (when Tim “The Quiet One” Campbell seemingly came out of nowhere to become his first protégé) Sir Alan has chosen the candidate whose humble origins, determination to better themselves and strong family values he feels most empathy with – and whose physical attractiveness and demurity best compensates for his self-perceived short-comings in those departments. The candidate who, ultimately, will be most receptive to his management and nurturing.

But was it the right result on the night? Let’s take a look …


Ruth and Michelle’s final task was – with assistance from the six most recently fired ex-apprentices – to organise a themed party for 80 people at what Sir Alan described as “London’s greatest venue: Tower Bridge”. Rather than pick who she thought would be most manageable or who would work together best, Michelle chose her team on the basis of the skills mix necessary to execute the task. Hence Sharon was selected for her event management expertise and Paul and Syed for their sales brilliance. However, had she thought about it for just a couple of seconds, Michelle would have remembered that Syed, Paul and Sharon all hate each other’s guts.

Ruth, on the other hand, chose more manageable people: Tuan, Ansell and an unusually quiet and co-operative Jo (who had obviously been drugged). These were people Ruth knew wouldn’t dare disobey her, regardless of whether they got on with each other or not. However, she struggled to settle on a coherent theme for her event. The end result looked like the restaurant car of the Venice-Simplon Orient Express had derailed and simultaneously crashed through the film sets of both Moulin Rouge and Dangerous Liaisons. Though for all we know, that’s exactly the look she had in mind.

Michelle’s James Bond-inspired party theme – “Double-O Heaven” – while not exactly original, was ultimately the classier and better executed one.

Scores: Michelle 8/10, Ruth 6/10

Team Performance

Michelle hoped – wrongly – that the brilliance they had demonstrated throughout the show would enable her to leave her “Sales Boys” – Paul and Syed – to get on with flogging their 80 tickets. But by the end of the day, all they’d done was fallen out and argued over how to spell Aston Martin. In the car on the way home, potty-mouthed Michelle confessed to Sharon she hadn’t seen this coming and gave Syed, in particular, a dressing down. “It’s me who gets it in the fucking arse if I fail.” Nice.

With only 11 tickets sold, a crisis meeting was held the next morning and things seemed to get back on track, albeit with Syed and Paul selling tickets in the street for a lot less than break-even price. Syed was rewarded with a kiss from Michelle. The only person who seemed able to get on with their job without being micro-managed was Sharon.

Meanwhile, over on Ruth’s team, everyone had been terrorised into doing exactly as they were told – selling their tickets to the business people they had met during their previous tasks – and they’d sold out. Failure was never an option.

Scores: Michelle 6/10, Ruth 8/10


Come the night itself, both parties looked full enough. There was a coherent theme running through Michelle’s “Double-O Heaven” night, with target shooting, sexy dancers, a high-rolling casino and a diamond auction taking place in an awkward space that was nonetheless thoughtfully dressed with well chosen props.

Ruth’s “Murder Mystery/French Tarts” combo, however, looked rather tawdry in comparison, even if it did give us Tuan and Ansell dressed as 18th century courtiers and the hilarious sight of Ruth’s enormous bosom being squashed into a bodice with the same ease and grace with which a killer whale would get into a Mini Cooper.

Scores: Michelle 9/10, Ruth 8/10


Come the final boardroom showdown, no one could have been surprised at the outcome. Though it was a greater commercial success (83 tickets were sold for a total profit of £3,592), Ruth’s party was considered less classy in its execution than Michelle’s, which only sold 73 tickets and made, when the proceeds of the diamond auction were added, £1,897.

Final Scores: Michelle 23/30, Ruth 22/30

And so, with Nick, Margaret and the ex-apprentices thanked and cordially dismissed, the moment of truth was upon us. Would Sir Alan choose “The Badger” – who, win or lose, seems destined for world domination in any event – or “The Blonde”?

Well, he chose The Blonde.

Some might say that, faced with a choice between two women, Sir Alan simply did what every self-respecting, unreconstructed barrow-boy-made-good would have done: he picked the fittest one.

But personally, I believe in fairy tales. And so I am, frankly, delighted that Michelle – shy, petite, potty-mouthed, clever, determined Michelle – now finds herself a million miles from the kind of life she might have had if she’d made the same choices as some of the other girls she worked the check-out tills at Asda with, a decade ago.

And I for one hope that she’ll live happily ever after. She’s earned it.


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