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Alan Sugar gets firey

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    Posted: 10 May 2011 at 13:49

Alan Sugar gets firey with TV Biz

Sugar is not so sweet ... Lord Alan, left, with TV Biz's Colin Robertson


Published: Today

ALAN Sugar is a difficult bugger to interview.

Every question or suggestion he doesn't like, he views as a dig.

Pursue it for too long and The Apprentice mogul starts getting personal.

So perhaps it's no surprise that of the six eager young business brains who have won a job with him since the show started in 2005, only two are still with him.

And those - Stella English and Yasmina Siadatan - are the two most recently hired.

It's no surprise either, that by raising this fact, I have clearly irritated him. He launches into a tirade about how I obviously haven't got the right stuff to go into business.

He barks: "This attitude of yours - always looking for criticism, the negative angle... you'd never become a successful entrepreneur thinking like that."

Ouch! At least I get my own back by accidentally calling him Sir Alan - his old title before he was ennobled by Gordon Brown in 2009. Lord Sugar, 64 is sick of whingers and moaners.

And that is why his BBC1 show returns tonight with a new format.

Instead of landing a job, the winner will get £250,000 to set up their own firm, with Lord Sugar as a 50/50 silent(ish) partner.

He says: "There's so much moaning and groaning - 'I can't do this, can't do that. The banks won't lend to me, blah blah.' It's nothing to do with banks. It's to do with an expectancy culture. £250,000 is nothing in this day and age. Everyone wants millions. They want to start near the top, not at the bottom.

"They don't want to go through the muck and bullets level, the disappointment, the things that go wrong.

"Banks won't lend money to losers - and losers are the biggest moaners going.

"The bank manager says 'No' and they say, 'Oh, he's nasty because he gets a bonus and look at poor old me'.

"But actually what he said - that you don't want to listen to - is that he's looked at your books and they're pants. They're rubbish. They're nonsense.

"The difference between when I set up my business in 1967 and now, is the difference between night and day.

"There was no expectancy. You went to a bank and they laughed at you until you had something. It's got nothing to do with banks - it's to do with you - whether you have any expertise in a subject, be it running a shop, hairdressing, being a plumber.

"Every episode of this new series will show how to start something from scratch."

Even though the show should not really be called The Apprentice at all.

The 64-year-old peer sighs: "It's called The Apprentice because the format owners want to call it that. I would have called it The Partner." Lord Sugar is adamant that the change in format has nothing to do with the fact that his past apprentices just don't seem to have hung around.

The Amstrad magnate says: "The programme is just like any other product. You have to keep enhancing them in a manner that makes them more attractive.

In the firing line ... eight contestants appear before Lord Sugar prior to being split into teams

"It excites me and gives me a sense of achievement. It's not the money."

He admits he could be to blame for Tim Campbell, Lee McQueen and Simon Ambrose quitting. And there was certainly friction with Michelle Dewberry.

But he maintains it was their desire to go it alone - just like he did when he sold boiled beetroot aged 16 - that led them to leave his employ. He says: "These people have got aspirations. What's wrong with that? I don't want to stand in their way. Good luck to them. It's brilliant."

Labour's former enterprise tsar is an advocate of "buy British" and has strong views on how the Government could save cash - such as by cutting the civil service in half.

Taking the pith ... Gavin, left, and Edward clash even before the orange challenge
But he reckons he won't get a job offer from the Coalition.

He says: "There's more chance of the chief Rabbi having a bacon sandwich than that happening.

"They wouldn't dare come and talk to me, even if there was a neutral position. They'd get criticised.

Feeling a little squeezy ... Edward is under pressure as team juices oranges

"I think they should use people no matter what their political beliefs are. I know what I'm talking about when it comes to small and medium-sized business, which are the backbone of the economy. The Government haven't got a clue."

Lord Sugar does have a lighter side. A resident of Chigwell, he admits to being a big fan of The Only Way Is Essex.

Cracking a rare smile, he tells me: "It is hilarious. There's no question about it. You literally can't make it up."

Despite approaching the official retirement age, Lord Sugar plans to keep making The Apprentice, whatever his wife of more than 40 years, Ann, might prefer.

He says: "My wife keeps saying, 'Why do you keep doing this?' and I say, 'I enjoy it and when I stop enjoying it I'll stop'." He deadpans: "My new boardroom for the next series has a Zimmer frame on the chair and an incontinence pad - it's a commode and Zimmer combined."

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