The Apprentice: Season 8 preview

It’s that time of year again. For the next 12 weeks, millions of viewers will be glued to their TVs watching 16 people in business suits acting like petulant children and making frequently ludicrous decisions as they compete for the right to receive a £250,000 investment to fund their own business. Yes, The Apprentice is back!

This year’s 16 candidates were unveiled at the series’ press launch earlier today, complete with the obligatory bios and mean-and-moody profile photos. I’ve worked tirelessly (or maybe that should be tiredly?) to bring you the low-down on the names and faces we will come to know and love – or, equally likely, hate – over the coming weeks. Here they are in all their glory.

l-r, back row: Jade Nash, Duane Bryan, Maria O’Connor, Tom Gearing, Ricky Martin, Bilyana Apostolova, Stephen Brady, Adam Corbally. l-r, front row: Azhar Siddique, Jane McEvoy, Laura Hogg, Jenna Whittingham, Gabrielle Omar, Michael Copp, Katie Wright, Nick Holzherr

So, what motley crew has been assembled for us this season? Well, in addition to being the best and the brightest entrepreneurs Britain has to offer (cough, splutter), we have a professional wrestler, a show-jumper and a shark-diver. (No, they’re not all the same person.)  Each will be competing not just for the ultimate prize, but for the attentions and affections of the viewing public, who have been brought up with characters such as Saira KhanRuth BadgerKatie HopkinsStuart ‘The Brand’ Baggs and ‘Jedi’ Jim Eastwood. Losing will be bad enough for the 15 candidates who fail to follow in the footsteps of last year’s winner Tom Pellereau, but losing and being unmemorable is the ultimate nightmare for all of them.

Of course, presiding over the entire affair we have the withering put-downs and God-awful wisecracks of Alan Sugar, Baron of Clapton, who we will see greeting the candidates with his usual delicacy:

This is not about a job any more and I’m not looking for a friend. If I wanted a friend I’d get a dog. I’m looking for a partner, the ‘Marks’ to my ‘Spencer’, the ‘Lennon’ to my ‘McCartney’ [the Laurel to his Hardy? – Ed]. This is about me investing £250,000 into a business with one of you and I’m expecting you, as the so-called entrepreneurs, to make the money for me.

Some of you may come here with preconceived plans of how this is going to play out. Let me give you a warning, don’t try and hide. We’re not playing ‘Where’s Wally?’ here [although we may be playing ‘Where’s the wally?’ – Ed]. I’m not looking for Lord Lucan, I’m looking for somebody who is going to put themselves forward and show me that they have got the aggression and business acumen to be my partner.

As usual, Sugar’s eyes and ears on the ground will be his trusted advisors Nick Hewer and Karren Brady. Nick will provide his usual array of eye-rolls and looks of utter disbelief and exasperation for our entertainment, while Karren will furiously scribble notes and make passing comments about the female candidates setting the cause of women in business back several decades.

With tongue firmly in cheek and the focus – at least to begin with – firmly on sarcasm rather than snark-asm, here’s my initial view of our 16 fresh-faced candidates. We’ll save the serious character assassinations for once we have seen the teams in action next week.

The girls

Bilyana Apostolova

Who is she?: A 25-year old risk analyst from London.

Background: Bulgaria-born Bilyana started collecting snails from her grandparents’ farm to sell to pharmaceutical companies aged six, and is now training to be a wealth manager. She rollerblades to work, and loves dancing, baking and travelling. Bilyana describes herself as positive and adaptable but feels her greatest weakness is dealing with confrontation.

She says:

I got myself from a Communist block of flats in Bulgaria to the top of a skyscraper in the heart of the City of London.

What she really means:

I like capitalism. Show me the money!

Lord Sugar will say:

You’re supposed to be a risk analyst. So analyse this: how big a risk do you think you’re in of being fired?

Gabrielle Omar

Who is she?: A 29-year old architect from London.

Background: Gabrielle’s first job was helping at her parents’ fish and chip shop aged 14. She loves running, photography, drawing and painting watercolours. Gabrielle has the travelling bug, once travelling to 13 different countries in a year. She says persistence is her strength but her trusting nature is her biggest weakness.

She says:

When it comes to business I can be like an animal and I will roar my way to the top.

What she really means:

I can be like an animal. I can scratch like a cat, desert a sinking ship like a rat, and if all else fails I’ll be a total bitch.

Lord Sugar will say:

You’re an architect, right? Well, it’s back to the drawing board for you.

Jade Nash

Who is she?: A 29-year old business development manager from Bedfordshire.

Background: Former 18-30 rep Jade grew up helping at her parents’ caravan park. She says she is resilient and doesn’t have any annoying habits. [Yeah, right – Ed.] Jade enjoys going to the gym and hosting dinner parties, and loves cars, often attending drag racing events. Her father owns a holiday park and her mother is a funeral celebrant.

She says:

What I want is to be able to retire when I’m 45, but I’m such a workaholic that I’ll probably carry on until I’m 80.

What she really means:

I’ll be the one insisting the team keeps working at 3am when everyone else just want to go to sleep.

Lord Sugar will say:

If I want a hard worker, I’ll get a hamster.

Jane McEvoy

Who is she?: A 28-year old co-founder of a food manufacturing company from Kilkenny.

Background: A mother of one, Jane is opinionated, a workaholic, determined and honest. If she never had to worry about money she would open an animal shelter for cats and dogs. Jane used to play hockey for her province and camogie [one of those stick-and-ball sports, apparently – Ed] for her county.

She says:

Anything is achievable if you have drive, determination, and a seriously good work ethic.

What she really means:

I’m going to drive my teammates mad with a combination of Protestant work ethic and Catholic guilt.

Lord Sugar will say:

Yes, you have lots of drive. Enough to drive me up the blahhdy wall.

Jenna Whittingham

Who is she?: A 25-year old beauty salon owner from Lancashire.

Background: Jenna has never been away from home for longer than a week and can’t cook or clean. She spends her spare time horse-riding and competed at the 1998 Horse of the Year show at Wembley. Jenna describes herself as a ‘people person’ but also admits to being a bad loser. [O-kaaay – Ed.] Both her and her father are dyslexic – he set up his own business building horse boxes. Her ambition is to earn a million pounds before she turns 30. [How very, very unimaginative – Ed.]

She says:

My personality and character is ‘once seen never forgotten’.

What she really means:

Everyone is going to hate me, even after I’ve been fired.

Lord Sugar will say:

Once seen, never forgotten? Well, it will take me a long time to forget a performance that bad.

Katie Wright

Who is she?: A 26-year old editorial and research director from London.

Background: A big football fan who regularly watches Fulham, Katie got married last year and admits to talking too much, but feels she can get on with anyone. Her first job was as a pot-washer in a French restaurant when she was 13. Katie wishes she was the brains behind Heinz Baked Beans and admires Barack Obama for his charisma.

She says:

I would call myself ‘The Blonde Assassin’. I let people underestimate me just so I can blow them out of the water.

What she really means:

Blow them out of the water, stab them in the back – it makes no difference to me. Out of my way, losers!

Lord Sugar will say:

You call yourself the ‘Blonde Assassin’ but I’m the one holding the gun here, so let me tell you: you’re fired!

Laura Hogg

Who is she?: A 28-year old bridal shop owner from Glasgow.

Background: Another mother of one, Laura loves skiing and is a former ice skater who once skated with Torvil and Dean. She will go out of her way for others but admits to sometimes being stubborn. She is inspired by Michelle Mone [the founder of lingerie brand Ultimo – Ed], as a powerful working mother from Scotland who created a business empire.

She says:

I am going to be one of Scotland’s next big exports.

What she really means:

They’re going to deport me.

Lord Sugar will say:

Export you? I’ll pay the blahhdy shipping fee myself: one-way.

Maria O’Connor

Who is she?: A 20-year old restauranteur from Kent.

Background: Maria opened her own Greek restaurant at the age of 19 and is inspired by Gordon Ramsay. She is headstrong and cunning, and says that her persuasive charm helps her always get what she wants. [Is she related to ‘Jedi’ Jim Eastwood, by any chance? – Ed.] Maria says she is an adrenaline junkie, and wishes she was the brains behind cotton buds as they are cheap to make but are used in every household.

She says:

If you chuck me in the deep end I’ll swim, I won’t sink.

What she really means:

I’m so lightweight that I’ll easily float.

Lord Sugar will say:

They used to chuck women into water. The ones who didn’t sink were burned at the stake as witches. Pass me the matches, would you, Nick?

The boys

Adam Corbally

Who is he?: A 32-year old market trader from Derbyshire.

Background: Father of two Adam loves swimming, football and cycling. His first job was stacking bread at his local Co-op, and he now runs a wholesale and retail fruit and veg business and manages his own property portfolio. He wishes he was the brains behind Virgin Galactic because he feels it is innovative and offers people the chance to have their dreams come true.

He says:

I get too excited, but that shows my passion, it shows my drive and it shows my ability.

What he really means:

I behave like a hyperactive five-year old in a sugar factory.

Lord Sugar will say:

You’re a fan of Virgin Galactic? Well, I’d certainly like to kick you into orbit.

Azhar Siddique

Who is he?: A 33-year old founder and managing director of a catering and refrigeration company from Manchester.

Background: Thrill-seeker Azhar enjoys shark-diving and has two pet sharks. His biggest strengths are his professionalism and integrity, but he also gets restless quickly. Azhar enjoys strength training and Muay Thai and loves scuba diving. Azhar is inspired by IKEA and its founder, Invgar Kamprad.

He says:

It’s not who shouts the loudest; it’s who has the ability to control the conversation.

What he really means:

No one is going to listen to me.

Lord Sugar will say:

I shout the loudest and I’m in control. Now why don’t you hazard a guess what I’m going to say next?

Duane Bryan

Who is he?: A 29-year old founder and director of a drinks distribution company from Manchester.

Background: Have-a-go hero Duane once chased and caught a hit-and-run driver. He says his biggest strength is his creativity but that he lacks attention to detail. Duane is inspired by the Jaegermeister brand. He once met Tony Blair as part of a voluntary group.

He says:

I am a winner and I am a fighter, in order to be the best you’ve got to beat the best.

What he really means:

I’m not the best, but I’ll beat up anyone who gets in my way.

Lord Sugar will say:

You make it sound like you’re Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. Guess what? He lost too.

Michael Copp

Who is he?: A 31-year old MD of a kitchen and bedroom furniture retailer from London.

Background: Michael says he is positive but impatient. He enjoys fishing, walking and boxing. Another dyslexic, he regrets leaving school at 15 and not finishing his education. He would have liked to have been the brains behind Apple. [Wouldn’t we all? – Ed.]

He says:

I’m better than unique. I’m naturally gifted in business.

What he really means:

I have no idea what ‘unique’ actually means. And when I say I’m ‘gifted’, what I mean is that people keep trying to give me away for free.

Lord Sugar will say:

You’re certainly unique, son. Uniquely bad.

Nick Holzherr

Who is he?: A 25-year old technology entrepreneur from Birmingham.

Background: Nick lived in Switzerland as a child and was named ‘Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year’ by Insider Magazine in 2010. When he was nine he earned money by selling lost golf balls back to golfers. Nick says intelligence is one of his strengths but knows his impatience can sometimes come across as arrogance. He would like to build and sell his own businesses before becoming an investor in start-up companies.

He says:

I’ve got lots of ideas, I know how to whittle them down into ideas that will work and I’ve got what it takes to make them actually happen.

What he really means:

Pick me! Pick me! I’m full of ideas! I am the next Tom Pellereau!

Lord Sugar will say:

All I hear about is all these business ideas you have. But are any of them any blahhdy good?

Ricky Martin

Who is he?: A 26-year old recruitment team leader from Hampshire.

Background: By day Ricky is a recruitment manager, and in his spare time he is a professional wrestler and an amateur body builder. He recently got engaged, and says his greatest strength is his people skills, while his weakness is that he is a perfectionist. Ricky wishes he was the brains behind Facebook and once played tennis against Tim Henman at Wimbledon.

He says:

I truly am the reflection of perfection.

What he really means:

Look how modest I am. I’m the most modest person who has ever lived, me. And if you disagree I’ll put you in a half-nelson.

Lord Sugar will say:

I met the other Ricky Martin once. Let me tell you, he was much better at shaking his bob-bon than you.

Stephen Brady

Who is he?: A 33-year old national sales manager from Vienna.

Background: Ireland-born Stephen loves learning new languages, reading and writing stories. He is inspired by Muhammad Ali and feels it is important to make every day count and to live life to the absolute limit. [When in doubt, live the cliche, eh? – Ed.] Stephen has a passion for sport and once played in the FA cup as a semi-professional footballer.

He says:

Enthusiasm is a huge asset of mine and I believe it’s caught and not taught.

What he really means:

I’m hoping my enthusiasm will disguise the fact I’m actually a bit rubbish.

Lord Sugar will say:

You believe people can catch enthusiasm? Well, people can catch flu as well and I don’t blahhdy want that either!

Tom Gearing

Who is he?: A 23-year old director of a fine wine investment company from London.

Background: Tom is self-assured, but by his own admission he can sometimes be over-confident. He enjoys going to music events and watching West Ham, and also plays golf, tennis and football. Tom’s passions are fine dining and wine and he also loves travelling around the world. He is inspired by Candy & Candy and wishes he was the brains behind ASOS.

He says:

I’m confident, charismatic and some people say I’m quite good-looking, so that adds to the bill.

What he really means:

I’m almost as modest as Ricky Martin.

Lord Sugar will say:

You reckon you make up quite a pricey bill, don’t you? Well, your confidence is writing cheques your talent can’t cash, and I’m not going to stump up for you.

The first task

As is traditional, it’s boys versus girls in the opening task. The teams literally start with a blank canvas as they are set the challenge of starting their own print businesses. They must buy £500 worth of bare materials, create designs to print on them and then sell their products to the public. The team who makes the bigger profit wins.

Who will emerge as the early front-runners? And whose time on the show will be abruptly curtailed after a visit to the Cafe of Broken Dreams™ and a grilling in the boardroom, becoming the first recipient of Lord Sugar’s Digit of Doom™? Just as importantly, who is going to provide us with the killer soundbites and the comedy pratfalls which will have us all talking about the episode the morning after?

16 potential business partners. 12 tough weeks. One life changing opportunity. Lord Sugar’s search for his new business partner is about to begin.

I’ll be here with weekly recaps the day after every episode to review all the best bits and analyse where the losing team went wrong. There will also be ‘how to win’ previews in the days leading up to each new task. Care to join me?

The Apprentice starts on Wednesday 21st March at 9pm on BBC1. Companion programme The Apprentice: You’re Fired! will air on BBC2 at 10pm.

(All images are courtesy of the official BBC Apprentice website, with candidate biographies provided by Taylor Herring PR.)

Link: BBC official website

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