That Strange Moment
A significant time in my life was in November 2016. I was sitting at my desk working as a Project Engineer subcontracted at an aerospace company in Bristol. “There must be more to life than this” I thought. Almost instantly a notification popped up on my phone that The Challenge – Koh Phangan, Thailand (an obstacle course I had visited with friends the year before while travelling) were looking for an assistant manager. I immediately applied. In all honesty, I don’t think I ever wanted the job but it seemed like fate. To my surprise, after a couple of Skype interviews I got the job – $350 per month to basically be the guy to giving drunk backpackers the nod to go and jump over some big inflatable red balls before inevitably falling off and giving themselves whiplash. For those who haven’t been I think Koh Phangan is beautiful and enjoyable all year round, so being paid to live in paradise is a pretty good prospect.
I went on Skyscanner and saw flights, checked my savings and was about to book it. But just before I pressed the final booking confirmation button, the weirdest feeling came over me, that something better was about to happen. It was like an out of body experience.
The Challenge, Koh Phangan
The Real Challenge
The following month my long term girlfriend and I called it a day and I went in to a spiral of nights out and the pursuit of happiness we all do after a breakup. (This clearly wasn’t what the better thing was). One day, while I was scrolling through the internet – a miserable attempt to take my mind off my heart and my hangover – a post popped up. The Apprentice Facebook page posted “Looking for applications for our up and coming series”. I always thought myself as a bit of a business minded guy who could sell washing powder to nudists. So I applied. Apart from being long winded, the application form was pretty easy.
Once I’d pressed send I kind of forgot about it as it’s like entering competitions, you never actually think you’ll ever get that call but in the end someone has to. Until the day I received an email from The Apprentice to say my application had been successful and the production team would like to see me on Saturday 18th February at 10:30 at the Radisson Blu, Manchester. Well you can imagine the shock and the excitement. The day of the audition came. Suited and booted, passport and CV in hand (just like they’d asked). I headed over to Manchester from Chester with my fresh hair cut and a belly full of butterflies.
I chain smoked several cigarettes outside to calm my nerves before going upstairs and handing over my documents. They told me to wait to be called in a large conference room. Then within 2 minutes of me sitting down a young lad came out of a side door and called my name along with 9 others. All men. We followed him through the doors and were told to stand behind a number. I was number 4. I’d love to say something poignant about the number 4 as if it has some significance to me. But it doesn’t. Maybe the fact there were 4 ladies sat staring at us on the panel. I’ll take it.
“When we call your number please step forward and tell us something about yourself for no more than 30 seconds. It doesn’t have to be business related. Just something you think we will like.” They started calling numbers at random. Each person who stepped forward started talking about business. “I sold this many clogs to Dutch people…” “I knew I liked business when I sold sweets to obese kids for extortionate prices in school…” something along those lines.
“Number 4” I stepped forward still no idea what I was about to say. “I like to talk” It started. Internally I’m thinking – where the f*ck are you going with this Andrew. I continued “I will talk to anyone. I would often get on the bus to work and talk to everyone. Men, woman and even the older ladies” (I winked at one of the ladies sat on the panel – who would turn out to be the main executive producer of The Apprentice) “just kidding…” I said with a cheeky grin on my face to try and reduce any offence I may have caused. To my surprise the ladies on the panel all laughed. I was in the flow now I’d had a reassuring laugh. “I’d know everything about these people within the 30 minutes it would take me to get to work and they’d know everything about me and we’d go our separate ways and more times than not we’d see each other again in the not to distant and give each other a smile” I stepped back. My time was up. WHAT THE F*CK DID I JUST SAY. There were a few others to go and I zoned out and just thought I’d completely screwed up my only chance of going through.
“Thank you everyone for your answers. If we call your number please step forward and go through the door to your left. If we don’t then thank you but you will not go any future in the process this year.” To my surprise number 4 was called. I either said something they must have liked or they were really scrapping the barrel. I like to think it was the former but seeing who got on the show from my year I’m now not so sure.
The next two stages that day weren’t that significant. A one to one chat with a lovely lady from production for 10 minutes and a 5 minute meeting with a business person and two more senior production members. One of which was the lady I winked at. Yikes.
At each stage the people before and after me were dropping like flies and fewer and fewer people went to the next stage. The final stage was in a room where one of the camera men, a production director and a sound guy (not like Liam Gallagher sound more like a person who records what you say) from the show were all stood. They put a mic on me and shoved me in front of a camera. There were spot lights on me and in addition to nerves I was sweating like a young boy in the Neverland Ranch.
The director started asking me questions about random subjects. It seemed to last forever. I just started talking about speaking to old ladies on the bus again. In my head I’m contemplating whether I had a secret thing for old ladies. Sometime in the future this would actually transpire to be true. But that’s for another day. Verbal diarrhoea about old women just kept coming out of my mouth. I felt like I was answering question for an eternity. My light grey suit was now a mix of light and dark grey patches from the sweat. Unbeknown to me, this was going to be edited and used as my candidate introduction on the show. Fantastic (sarcasm).
The transcript of the interview goes as follows:
“Karen wouldn’t be the only Brady errrm because it’s not a very common name but it’s a good Irish name with good Irish morals.
I’ve got the ability to get on a local bus and make friends with 70 year old women by the time I get to my stop. That’s what I like to do I guess. Some people call it creepy. I think it works.
Looks wise I’d a liken my self to Clark Kent, some people say God Won. Errrr it’s not the best but I’ll take it. I’m a really honest person, I probably shouldn’t go on tv”
Well I don’t even know where to begin with this one. The ‘comedian’ in me wants to say a bunch of stupid things and try to make you laugh. But having not watched that since October 2017 when it was aired on tv I feel a mixed bag of emotions (I will go in to more detail about in another blog). But in summary I am disappointed in my self and in the producers for so many reasons.
That was the final audition for the day. Not many survived. I went home with mixed emotions. I was happy I’d got through the day but a little worried about my new found love for silver vixens. A few weeks passed. I received another email. “Thanks for taking part at the Manchester auditions for The Apprentice Series 13. We would like to inform you that you’ve been successful and we’d like to see you in London on for the next round of auditions.
Once again the day arrived. I elected to drive down to London from Chester. I remember the journey well because I have never experienced rain like I did on the M6 toll that day which annoyed me because it’s the best road in the UK to drive on as there no average speed checks and there’s usually no one on it.
Anyway, I digress. I arrived at the Fremantle offices on Tottenham Court Road and waited in the lobby for another gentleman. I met a lovely ginger lady with ridiculous glasses who turned out to be Michaela from the series I was on. She’d mentioned that the year before she had been selected as a first reserve and didn’t get on. I liked her from the moment she opened her mouth, she’s honest and more Bolton than Phoenix nights and as a northerner we tend to mix with our kind. There were 16 of us at the audition and we were taken in to a large empty conference room where the same production director and cameraman were from Manchester but another cameraman and director were also there. They lined us up.
“Please rearrange yourselves in silence based on how much you earn. People who earn the most stand on the far right and people who earn the least stand on the far left” (how very political). We lined up. I put myself near the back because I wanted to slip under the radar in case they asked me how much I earned (which as a graduate aerospace engineer wasn’t a great deal) This continued for other Most intelligent, best looking etc. Each time they’d shove a camera in a few peoples faces and ask them to justify why they are standing where they are. I think they were just trying to gauge the level of arrogance in the room because some answers were as insane as the people spouting the one liners themselves.
All I recall from this was for best looking I put myself at the top (not because I thought I was best looking but I felt I had to take a stand and be a bit pushy at least once.) I stood there like on of the Queens Guards I even had my eyes fixed on a spot on the wall in front of me – not moving a muscle and not budging for anyone. This good looking girl who was about 21 and a student came up to me. Took one look at me and said “I should be there.” I hesitated but stood my ground and took my eyes off the wall, placed them on her looked her up and down and just said “no you shouldn’t” eyes returned straight back to the wall. It seemed like no one had ever done it her in her place before as she scowled at me. I thought she was going to slap me but she stood down and stood next to me. Victory. And it tasted sweet.
“For the next task we will split you up in two teams. Boys and girls. You’ll each get 30 minutes to build a piece of flat pack IKEA furniture and you need to elect a project manager” I shot up and said the following. “I make IKEA furniture for fun and I am a project manager.” The rest of the boys took no convincing. In front of us was a big IKEA box, a tiny cobblers hammer and a Philips head screw driver.
“Your time starts now”.
We ripped the box open faster than children on Christmas morning. It was a desk. With shelves one side and draws on the other. There is no chance you’d have been able to put it up in the time allotted but we didn’t let that get us down. A lad who I had met in Manchester auditions called Alex grabbed the instructions before anyone else could “this is how we should do this…” he then ripped up the instructions in to 8 pieces and through them on the floor. Clearly trying his best to get noticed. Instead every guy on the team just instantly hated him. I felt as though regardless of the end result he had a target on his back. I didn’t let it get to me too much though as it wasn’t going to change the outcome so what’s the point.
I assigned a job to everyone. But with one screw driver and one hammer (there were no nails so why we were given a hammer is beyond me) time was ticking and the desk was taking shape. We erected it upside down as you do. There were still so many screw to assemble when the director said we had 5 minutes left. I took it upon myself to hit the screws in with a hammer (had a use after all) and to my surprise was rather effective. “10 seconds” we grabbed the wonky desk and threw it 180 degrees around and it tilted to one side but looked something like the picture on the front of the box if you squinted and tilted your head slightly.
We looked over at the girls – who were still arguing after for 30 minutes – they’d only assembled half a draw. We sat back down and Alex got blamed for everything. I was out of the firing line. Happy days.
Lord Sugar and BBCs The Apprentice Series 13 Candidates
The next two parts were a negotiation task for a bank loan which I don’t recall even muttering a word in and a 30 minute written statement in silence of our political views. I recall writing something along the lines of – “Politicians are all idiots, we need more investment in to the NHS and education”. I mean what’s the point in me going in to detail about frivolous public spending in almost every government department at the end of the fiscal year or how the unfair distribution of wealth and services in the UK will one day cause such a separation of the classes that revolution will be inevitable and we turn in to a post apocalyptic Mad Max type society where we’ll all fight until everyone is dead. Not to mention how scary our dependence on fossil fuels is and how seeming little we actually care for our beautiful planet which we are causing irreversible damage to which will inevitably lead to millions of people world wide left with nowhere to live. I opted to go with my first answer. I sat in silence for the other 27 minutes.
“Thank you for your contributions today. We hope you enjoyed yourselves. We will be in touch.” We were all sent home separately so we wouldn’t talk outside about anything but Michaela and I met up outside and had a chat. I liked her.
A few weeks went by and I received another email. I was invited to the final stage of The Apprentice Series 13 Audition Process. I was getting really excited now. There couldn’t have been many who got that email. Once again I drove down to London and waited in the lobby. One meeting was with a lady about what to expect on the show. Then I met with a psychiatrist. We talked for about 40 minutes about my expectations for the show, it didn’t feel like she was probing or asking anything out of the ordinary. She was nice and claimed to be a reality tv specialist and said she’d worked for many other shows including The Great British Bake Off and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. We had a good chat. However, I’m now under the illusion that they don’t actually have your best interests at heart at this stage. I also know that neither did I. We’d been to audition after audition, we were invested in this. We all wanted it no matter what the cost. We blind sided our selves. They didn’t really care about us. Now that was clear. Back then we had blinkers on and the producers did too. A person who will remain nameless from my series turned out to be diagnosed bipolar. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this. But know one thing. This whole process is very stressful and very strenuous. I will go in to more detail about stress during and after the making of the show in more detail another time. But take it from me. I know several people from my series alone who’s heads fell off after it was over. I also know our series wasn’t an exception. So you’d think they would be a bit more picky about the people they expose to such an intense process and I hope they have now become a lot more transparent with their candidates.
The final meeting was with the two executive producers. The decision makers. The big wigs. The top brass. The mutts nuts. The puppeteers. Lord Alan Sugar’s Bosses. The meeting with them should have only lasted for half an hour. But being a self proclaimed talker and a man of my word I managed to spend over 2 hours in there chewing their ears off about everything and anything. We went through it all. What my expectations were, what they expected from me, if I was a fan of the show and my business idea etc.
My initial business idea was a website for professionals who were working on short contracts away from home to help them find accommodation easier. If you’ve been a contractor working for a governmental organisation away from home you’ll probably agree with me when I say this but good short term accommodation is hard to come by at short notice. According to the producers I didn’t have enough experience to impress Lord Sugar that he should handover quarterly a million pounds to me and invest in something that I apparently knew little about. Maybe they were correct. “We think you should change your business idea” one of them said with a wink. “Do you have any other ideas?” I did. I had loads.
I’d once been asked by a friend of a friend to do a butler in the buff bar tending cocktail masterclass (I was certainly not buff) for 2 hours at her house for her hen party whilst I was at university for £100 cash (even writing that now makes me cringe like hell but I was young and broke). I knew there was money to be made in mobile bars and with 7 years experience in the industry I knew I had the knowledge and experience it would take. Just with less nakedness.
“I have an idea about mobile bars. Taking a bar and staff to people’s houses for money and hosting a party for them.” We all know how annoying it is to host a party at your own house. Showing people where the drinks are, toilets, keeping it tidy, music, entertainment. The list goes on. “Great” they said and made a few notes. This was the first time I felt like the process wasn’t about me and my idea but more about me and myself. I sold myself short but I wasn’t to know right then. I was too excited at the prospect of trying go win investment and go on The Apprentice and to go on tv.
Side note: everyone who goes on TV is excited to go on TV. Some would call it fame hungry, others just doing something none of your friends or family had done before. If you read the tabloids you’d be mistaken to think it was defined as ‘fame hungry’ which is odd because these articles are written by people who splash their name over ever article and love people knowing who they are. Especially on Twitter. Screw the tabloids. I prefer the term local pioneer. I didn’t really know anyone on TV then. Pretty cool to be the first person you know who’s been on it eh?
“Thank you for coming and you’ll hear from us soon.” Back to Chester it was. I knew I was in with a good shot. I could feel it. I was still hitting the booze pretty hard at the time and going out way more than I should. I put it down to being sociable. I now know it was grief from my relationship coming to an end.
A few weeks passed, I received a phone call on the day I was told to expect one. Good or bad they would call. I answered it and a solemn voice came on the line. “Andrew…” they paused. And the tone quickly changed to excitement. “You’ll be seeing a lot more of us because we want you on the show” I was over the moon. I must have thanked them 30 times and they reminded me to keep everything strictly confidential. I agreed and went back to work. I say work. I don’t think I typed a single word that day. I hurried home and rang my parents. They didn’t really react to it as they lead a very sheltered life when it comes to reality TV – they don’t watch it. I started my business plan that evening and looked at the suits I’d buy. I don’t think I slept for a week.
I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone apart from my parents and my friend Emma. I wrote my business plan but realised that the business idea I’d had back in 2012 was a very saturated market. I should have known at this point I wouldn’t win but I continued anyway. The next 3 weeks went by very fast. I bought all my suits and wrote a 55 page business plan. I had to tell my work that I was going away for a bit and I left for london on the train the day before.
Duke Island Studio, Acton
Once I arrived at the ‘Boardroom’ – Duke Island Studios near Park Royal Tube, London. Just behind the screw fix – sorry to burst your bubble. We began filming. You walk in to the boardroom waiting room one by one and hand your business plan to the female actor pretending to fill in schedules for Lord Sugar. The same lady who says “Lord Sugar will see you now” and I walked in between Anisa and Geoff. James was after Geoff and just kept eyeballing me for the entire 2 hours it took to get everyone in as if he wanted to kiss me or hit me – thankfully neither happened but we became friends during the process – I waited patiently, changing position every now and again to avoid getting cramp in my arse and legs. The phone rang…”Lord Sugar will see you now”.
We all stood up, walked in to the boardroom and sat down in our predetermined seats. Karen, Claude and Lord Sugar sat staring us all up and down as if we had just stopped them in the street and asked them if they’d like to buy the Big Issue.
The one thing you should know about the boardroom (studio that’s not in a sky scraper in Canary Wharf) is that it’s hot and dusty. The table could do with a clean but the cameras don’t pick it up because the table is back lit. In the room there are 2 producer directors and a sound guy in direct communication with the executives in the gallery and 8 camera men in front of us. There is also a cameraman behind us and a cameraman to the side. A lot of eyes all just staring at the fresh bunch of candidates who will inevitably give them all the gold they need to edit together a world class bit of television for the people at home to watch and mock each person for their inevitable f*ck ups oh and somewhere down the line there’s £250k to invest in one of them.
The room was silent.
Lord Sugar looked up. “Welcome candidates to The Apprentice process…”
Wearing my sweat infused grey suit on the first day of filming.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please feel free to share it with your friends and colleagues. Stay tuned for my next blog will be about the actual Apprentice filming process. Much love AB x