Sir Alan Sugar chats about The Apprentice series 5

A new batch of candidates give 110 per cent as Sir Alan returns to the boardroom in his search for a new apprentice, starting on BBC One on March 25.

Cancel any plans for the next 12 weeks. The Apprentice fever is set to strike the nation once again as another group of over-confident budding tycoons jostle to impress Sir Alan Sugar in the fifth series of the addictive BBC reality show.

As ever, the job interview from hell sees this year’s 15 candidates undergo a series of highly-pressured tasks, beginning this week with them setting up a cleaning business.

While one lucky winner will land a six-figure salary and a post within Sugar’s business empire, most will hear the immortal words ‘You’re fired’ long before the end of the series.

We bravely entered the boardroom to give Sir Alan a grilling of our own…

What do you think about the quality of this year’s candidates?

“I think they are very good. As the series progresses, you will see some very bright, smart and streetwise people. It’s a whole new bunch of characters and I can promise you that they won’t let you down.”

Have you got an early favourite?

“I always do when I first meet them, but it changes as the weeks go by. It never fails to amaze me that after you initially think someone is quite bright, two weeks later you wonder why you thought that.”

Do you have a favourite task this time?

“I always like the advertising task, and the cleaning task in the first programme is good, too. It’s about taking them out of their comfort zone. The tasks are really all the same, though. It’s buying, selling and presenting. Make no bones about it, that’s what business is all about.”

Is the show more relevant than ever in the current economic climate?

“Yes, it is. You will see me point out that, in these tough times, people are only recruiting the best staff, so there is no margin of error. In the past, jobs have been given to people where they can get lost in a big organisation and just drift around in the back, but that’s not going to happen now.”

Do the tasks reflect the credit crunch, too?

“Yes, they do. One task concerns the fact that holidaying in the UK is going to become more popular, so we send the apprentices to a rundown seaside town to elevate its perception as a place to go to.”

The show is now in its fifth series. Do you ever feel the need for a refresh?

“Personally, I think if it’s not broken, you don’t fix it. Tinkering with the format would be a disaster; in the American version, silly ideas turned it into a bit of a farce. If I felt in the mood I could fire three people at once, but that is the extent to which we would tinker with the format.”

Have you ever regretted firing anyone?

“I have got a couple of firings wrong, or they have been fired in the wrong sequence, like last year with Raef and Michael. Had Raef stayed on, he might have made the final four. I’m not saying he would have won, but he would have been there longer.”

How do you feel about candidates who show emotion?

“Showing passion is something that impresses me, but someone in the first show starts to cry, which is a shame because then I lay off them a bit. I don’t know why they were crying – maybe out of frustration. They weren’t crying out of fear because they’re a tough cookie.”

Have any of the new candidates reminded you of previous ones?

“We’ve been good at resisting that in the recruitment process. It would be tempting to choose people who remind us of Syed Ahmed or Ruth Badger, but that would be totally wrong. That is why every year we get new people.”

Do some of them see the prize as becoming famous rather than working for you?

“Yes, but Nick, Margaret and I can smell them out now. It’s the ones whose attitude and tone of voice changes when they see a lens, so we get the vibes straight away. A few do slip through the net, but they don’t get very far. They get their gills caught and get chucked out.”

Are the candidates more clued-up about what you are looking for?

“You would think so, wouldn’t you? But in the first programme, the candidates become too engrossed in themselves and defocus. They don’t think about profit and if you’ve been watching the show for the last five years, you’ll know that is one of the things you don’t do.”

If you had gone on the show when you were younger, how would you have done?

“I would win, no question about it. I’m from a different breed of people that thinks about profit. I have always thought about profit. This year, the penny gradually starts to drop with some of the candidates, too.”

What is the secret of the show’s success?

“It is real people in real time. If anybody ever asks me to say something that is pre-planned, it goes down like a lead balloon. It’s spontaneous. What you see is what happens.”

How different are you off-screen?

“Well, my family don’t like me doing The Apprentice – they say I get portrayed as an animal. But I do the show because I am into stimulating enterprise, so I don’t need to justify myself. I don’t care what other people say about me.”

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