Nick Hewer: ‘I’d have been a failure on The Apprentice’

As a new bunch of shy and retiring candidates battle it out in The Apprentice (BBC1, Tuesday) to win a £250,000 investment in their business, TV&Satellite Week asked trusted advisor Nick Hewer to reveal the secrets of Lord Sugar’s boardroom…

What’s new in The Apprentice this time round?
 “In terms of breaks from the past, this time Lord Sugar knows from the very start the essentials of each candidate’s business plan, rather than it coming as a surprise at the end. Therefore, he’s able to frame a candidate’s activities or examine their performance in the light of what they want to do.”

Are this year’s intake of a high calibre?
“They are pretty well-qualified people, and we have some larger than life characters. But they still make the same mistakes. Even after eight series, some of them don’t know what are Lord Sugar’s businesses.”

What happens in the first task?
“We take them down to Tilbury docks at midnight where a big container has been shipped in from China and is full of different types of things. It is like breaking into King Tut’s tomb. They’ve got until 4 o’clock the next day to sell the items, which include cat litter, toilet rolls and leather jackets, for as much money as possible. People rise to the challenge in different ways. There are some cracking rows and some horrible decisions.”

Do you and Karren Brady differ in your approaches to being Lord Sugar’s advisors?
“I don’t think so. I am very dispassionate for a number of reasons, mainly because it is none of my business to interfere. I am an observer. Karren may be softer, and she might get slightly closer to them.”

Do some of the candidates ever try to get you on their side?
“Some of them do try to suck up to you. They’ll say, ‘That’s a Nice tie, Nick.’ But we don’t have favourites or try to help them.”

Does The Apprentice offer any lessons for real life?
“All of the tasks are genuine and possible and they are all businesses that people with very little money could start up. Some people who may have been laid off and are in middle age, should perhaps be thinking of starting their own business. You don’t have to start an airline. You can start by catering, cleaning or tinkering with cars.”

Are you still passionate about the show?
“Yes, I am, but I find it harder now because I am 10 years older. Lord Sugar has mellowed a bit over the years. He is not as fierce as he used to be. He doesn’t want to be viewed always as an ogre. He has a very lively wit, a very warm personality – although business is business…”

Have any of the candidates ever complained about how they came across in the programme?
“Only one of them has said they were unfairly edited. They love the process and never complain. We are quite protective of the candidates and always have a drink with them after filming. I’m in touch with Tim, Syra, and a few others. They still call me for advice.”

Are you disappointed that Young Apprentice was axed?
“It was Lord Sugar’s baby and a great show. But I think it is fair to say that people in their Twenties and Thirties weren’t interested in watching the teenagers, and that is a big slice of the audience.”

How would the 25-year-old Nick Hewer have coped in The Apprentice house?
“Not at all. As a young man, I did not have that confidence. It is very hard. Being in the house is like being in a pressure cooker for all those weeks. No contact. No phone. No money. No freedom. It is a very tightly controlled thing. People who can hack it are very special people. I would have been an abysmal failure.”

Lord Sugar has signed up for another series. Will you?
“I am happy to continue if they want me. I will do it out of loyalty to Lord Sugar as much as anything else to be honest, because it is tough. There is magic in the format, but it’s all down to Sugar. I think he is exceptional. Others could do it, but not in the same way or as well. He is formidable.”

The show has opened a lot of doors for you…
“For someone with no training and no talent, I am incredibly blessed to be able to host Countdown and make my documentaries. I was in the right place at the right time, that’s all. People in the street are very nice to all of us on The Apprentice. To be acknowledged by complete strangers who say nice things to you, it’s not bad is it?”

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