The Apprentice is about to get tougher – and Lord Sugar's aide Claude Littner is glad he's not the one in the firing line…
The Apprentice returns next Thursday, and 18 candidates will battle it out for the chance to become Lord Sugar's business partner. Here, his loyal advisor, Claude Littner, talks tasks, tensions and almost reveals his softer side...
You joined The Apprentice as Lord Sugar’s right-hand man last year, having previously featured in the infamous 'interviews' round. How have you found the process second time around? "Last year, I had underestimated how stressful and physically demanding it would be. For starters, I'd have to be up the same time as the candidates and nothing prepares you for waking up at 4am! I think I understood my role better this time. It's my job to make the candidates feel uncomfortable – they soon realised I wasn't someone who was going to be their friend."
This time round, 18 candidates will battle it out in the 12-week process. Has that made them more competitive? "As always, there's a real mixture of characters; those who look implausible but actually turn out to be quite good and those that look pretty good but turn out to be hopeless. The ones who make it to the end are always honest, hardworking and inclusive; those who are selfish always get found out!"
Which of these 18 candidates will become Lord Sugar's business partner?
The first task tests the candidates' selling and negotiating skills as they must sort 'treasure from trash'. What can you tell us? "Each team has a lock-up full of antiques and collectables and the candidates must work out what’s valuable and not valuable – but none of them know anything about antiques! Once again they’re faced with the dilemma of wanting to sell as much as they can as quickly as they can or being cautious to try and make more money. So, inevitably, they make mistakes…"
Viewers love it when there's chaos – do you get frustrated that you're not allowed to intervene when things start going wrong? "It’s so frustrating when there's a simple solution to a task, but the candidates take a different route – it's so difficult to keep my mouth shut and not say: 'Are you mad?!' I have managed to keep quiet, but inside I’m screaming!"
On the losing team, someone will get fired. Can we expect lots of fireworks in the boardroom? "The boardroom is genuinely very tense – viewers get to see about 20 minutes of tension, but it could be two hours for the candidates! Neither Karren or myself have ever disagreed with Lord Sugar's decision – it's usually obvious to all of us which of the candidates should go."
Karren Brady and Claude will be helping Lord Sugar sort out the winners from the losers
You have years of experience in business. How do you think you'd fare as a candidate on The Apprentice? "It always impresses me just how well the candidates handle the process, which really is tough. When I took part in the interview round last year, having got to know them, I was definitely more sensitive to what they'd all gone through. I would not relish the thought of being a candidate!"
What's the one best piece of advice you personally have been given in business? “Probably to listen more than I talk. Particularly if you're in the early stage of your career, I think it's quite important to not necessarily learn from others, but to listen to what others have got to say and engage your brain to see whether it's going work for you. I'm sure I've failed at doing that at times in the past."
Yourself, Karren Brady and Lord Sugar are very serious on the show - do you have any fun behind the scenes? “Well, Alan Sugar really is not a fun person. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but I mean we don’t break out into laughter and dance around; he’s a very serious individual. We’re all quite serious and we take this show very seriously.
"Having said that, we do have moments of fun together, yes. I’m particularly friendly with Karren and you’ll see this series, when we’re together, we do have a laugh, we can’t help it. In fact, I’d say the best thing about doing The Apprentice this second time, is actually the relationship I’ve had with Karren, which really has just been great fun."
So, behind the tough exterior, you're actually a nice guy? "Well, I don’t want to be exposed as the fun-loving person I am, but I do enjoy life, I’ve got a wonderful family, children, grand-children, my wife, good friends and so, generally, my life is very, very enjoyable and The Apprentice is just one of the joys of my life. I'm just a happy bloke really - but obviously I’m not happy to show that on The Apprentice."
Claude has nothing but high praise for Lord Sugar
Tell us something about Lord Sugar that he wouldn’t want anyone to know? “Oooh, my life wouldn’t be worth living. The truth is, Alan is what you see, except he’s much cleverer than that. I chair his companies, so we have board meetings together, and he's very clever; I don’t mean clever in a complicated sense, but he's very commercially minded.
"It’s a thrill being involved both in the board meetings and outside where you’ve got a mind that works in such a clever, commercial way. He’s very switched on.”
Finally, we know that, as well as your role on The Apprentice, you’ve also written an autobiography, Single-Minded. What can people expect from it? "I've tried to make the book very honest. When people see me on The Apprentice, they might think I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth and that my life has been just one happy event one after the other. But both in business and in my personal life there have been quite a few situations that have not gone so smoothly and I’ve made many, many mistakes.
“I'm hoping that if anyone reads the book they'll realise that, in business, things don’t always work out in a straight line; sometimes you have setbacks. What distinguishes you from others is if you can learn from your setbacks and then go forward and try again; you mustn’t be put off by things that have gone wrong.
"From reading the book, young people looking to be in business will hopefully get an impression of somebody who isn’t so clever, hasn’t got all the answers but, somehow or other, by hard work and some good fortune has made their way through.”
The Apprentice starts on Thursday October 6 at 9pm on BBC1.
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