Margaret Mountford: ‘I’m turning into a grumpy old woman!’

Margaret Mountford hates litter. Lord Sugar’s former sidekick on The Apprentice is furious that each year Britons drop 30 million tonnes of rubbish and then spend one billion pounds clearing it up.

Now, in her new five-part BBC1 series, Don’t Mess With Me, Margaret talks to TV Times about huge problems caused by all this waste and examines what can be done about it.

Have you every dropped any litter?
“No, I haven’t. Not even a crisp packet? Although, I remember once a little polystyrene coffee mug that I put down blowing into a lake and I was horror struck! I’ve never intentionally dropped litter and there’s no reason why people can’t take their rubbish home or put it in a bin.”

Does it make you cross?
“It’s something that’s been infuriating me more and more – that’s probably because I’m turning into a grumpy old woman!”

The series begins cleaning a mountain of rubbish on Brighton Beach. Did it surprise you how much litter there was?
“I was horrified by what these poor people have to clean up.  All these drunk clubbers don’t know what they’re doing. Then along come the ‘nice’ families who use the beach during the day, who you’d imagine would be better, but they actually leave even more rubbish than the clubbers!”

Doesn’t chucking litter on a beach have severe consequences for marine wildlife?
“Yes, turtles are believed to mistake floating plastic bags for their natural food, jellyfish, and one study found a third of dead loggerhead sea turtles had plastic bags in their digestive system. But, what I also found out, was how plastic gets broken up into microscopic pieces in the sea which hang around for decades and get into the food chain.”

So, what can be done to stop people from littering?
“Big fines. If you were fined £75 for dropping a cigarette butt you’d think twice about dropping another one.”

Dutch scientists have come up with a cheap solution to stop passengers dropping less litter, by making a train smell like lemons.  How does that work?
“Lemon scent on trains is interesting, isn’t it? It seems to have a sub conscious effect on the brain. It makes a place feel clean and people are less likely to leave litter in a clean environment.”

You have a ‘Don’t Mess With Me’ message for people watching the show. What’s that?
“If everyone watching the show picked up one piece of litter after each of the five episodes and assuming we get an audience of around one million, that would be five million pieces of litter cleaned up.”

Will you be picking it up?
“I’ll be picking litter up with my marigolds on.”

Are you helping Lord Sugar again at the interview stages on Apprentice this year?
“They didn’t ask me. I suppose I was fired! No, obviously they weren’t going to want me to carry on doing interviews forever and nor was I wanting to go on doing interviews forever!”

Do you miss it?
“I’m pleased I did it. I went through a while of thinking I wasn’t pleased, but now I am and it’s opened doors for me.”

You did a BBC1 series on immigration with Nick Hewer earlier this year. Are there any plans for another project?
“We’re hopefully doing something about railways for the BBC. Nick and I do get on very well – we can be grumpy old people together!”

What would Nick think about all this rubbish?
“I haven’t talked to him about litter, but I think everyone finds it annoying. I got off the tube the other day and my shoe stayed on the carriage because it had got stuck on someone’s chewing gum!”

Don’t Mess With Me starts on Monday November 24 at 9.15am on BBC1.

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