Book Review – The Soundtrack to My Life by Dermot O’ Leary

Dermot O’Leary, for those who don’t know, is the presenter of The X-Factor in the UK. He also hosts a radio show on BBC Radio 2 and appears almost ubiquitously on TV as a presenter, talking head or just as the face or voice of various adverts. In short, you could be forgiven for getting a little irritated by him!

As the presenter of The X-Factor he is quite a divisive character. Not in the same way as say, Simon Cowell, but divisive all the same. There are probably thousands of people who just don’t like him because of his association with the behemoth that is that particular franchise. Whether that’s fair, I don’t know and I daresay, Dermot O’Leary doesn’t particularly care.

For the record, I like Dermot. But then again, we go way back. I remember Dermot as the fresh-faced presenter of a programme called T4 years ago, which for many of us represented perfect hangover TV. As such, I feel like I’ve followed his career a little bit ever since. Personally, I find him funny and quite an engaging presenter and while I might not like watching The X-Factor, I would gladly watch him on other shows or tune in to his radio show simply because he seems like the kind of bloke I’d be friends with (You know, if massive TV fame hadn’t got in the way!).

And this is sort of where the book comes in. It’s part autobiography and part discussion of music. Dermot whisks us through his forty odd years on the planet via the medium of music, linking various anecdotes to many of his favourite songs and artists. So it’s an autobiography with a ‘twist’, which Dermot himself explains in the book. And it’s an understandable twist given his experiences within the world of music, from being a regular gig-goer in his teens and onwards to presenting shows such as T4 and The X-Factor and then his long standing time as host of various radio shows from XFM to BBC Radio 2.

If you’re a music fan, ‘The Soundtrack to My Life’ will most likely prove to be an interesting read. Dermot knows his stuff and certainly has a wide range of tastes and influences. He links infleuential artists, bands and songs alongside key moments and anecdotes from his life to pretty good effect. And if you’re insisting on attaching that X-Factor stigma to him and expecting that his list will simply be chock-full of One Direction and Little Mix, then you may well get a number of pleasant surprises. Sadly though, there’s no mention of Same Difference or Jedward…

Amongst the choices you’ll find some of music’s big hitters – from Springsteen and The Rolling Stones to Amy Winehouse and Beyonce as you’d reasonably expect from a man who’s spent quite a while mixing with some of music’s big hitters. But it’s not at all predictable. In among the star names are other less well know acts like Brendan Shine (a nod to O’Leary’s Irish heritage), Terry Wogan and Beth Orton. Add in tracks by Guns n’ Roses, Wham, Ian Brown and The Killers and we’re being served up a varied musical banquet here.

The soundtrack got all the more special for me when reading about tracks from the bands Elbow and Athlete. For starters O’Leary picks a very early Elbow track – ‘Newborn’ – which just so happens to be one of my favourite ever songs. It’s the band at their most melancholy and vulnerable and in a funny way, it was a nice surprise to find it nestling alongside The Macarena in a book by the bloke who presents one of the most popular shows on British television. It was nice to read mention of Athlete as not only are they a band that I like but one of their tracks – not the one chosen in the book – is a song that I’ll forever associate with the birth of my daughter and the frequent trips to hospital that I would take in those early days of her life.

Overall, the book works. O’Leary’s life story is, to a point, a familiar one. The suburban upbringing, the ordinary school days and the hard work that follows in order to make something of yourself. It just so happens that this ordinary boy went on to become probably one of the most recognisable faces on British television. The inclusion of the songs not only gives us a break from the usual ‘star’ autobiography format of a very dry, unremarkable account of someone’s life, with maybe a few quoteworthy opinions thrown in to grab the odd headline and sell a few more books, but it serves to give us a little more insight into the life of someone who many of us can say we’ve kind of grown up with. Others might find it interesting in terms of how it might change their their X-Factor based opinions.

It’d be easy to criticise people like O’Leary just because of The X-Factor, but as he points out himself, if you’re offered a huge gig in the field that you work in, you’d be silly to turn it down. O’Leary dreamed of working in TV from leaving school, so when the biggest show on the box comes calling, you’d be a mug to turn it down. And while this might reject things like principles, I daresay that showbusiness doesn’t always have time for such things. So while we may frown at The X-Factor, it’d be strange to not accept the fact that a presenter might want to present it.

One small criticism of the book comes with the style of O’Leary’s writing, which did get a little irritating at times. He almost abuses parentheses and at times it was a little troublesome just to follow the narrative. And as a lover of parentheses and the odd tangent myself, I can see the irony in not enjoying reading through so much of it! But sometimes the tales take a few too many turns and it did become a little grating.

Overall though, ‘The Soundtrack of My Life’ is an enjoyable read. It’s an idea that’s been played with before, most notably in Nick Hornby’s ’31 Songs’, but O’Leary’s light hearted tone makes sure that it’s not particularly derivative. This isn’t a taxing read. You’re not going to experience any emotional trauma or find yourself fighting back the tears at the author’s pain. But if what you’re looking for is an autobiography with a bit of ‘quirk’ then this might well be for you. As a fan of music and radio, I enjoyed it and I think you would too.

I give Dermot O’Leary’s ‘Soundtrack To My Life’…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Proof that family and football don’t mix.

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On Friday 12th April Newcastle United secured yet another ‘against all odds’ style victory. The 1-0 win away at Leicester City was, in a way, quite remarkable. We’d lost the previous two and were in danger of being dragged back into the relegation fight. Leicester, on the other hand, had won their previous four and were keen to let us know about their confidence via any available media outlet. We’d lost Florian Lejeune to another knee injury while they had Jamie Vardy in the form of his life. And so on and so forth.

As ever our lads put in an amazing shift, covering the ground, sticking doggedly to Rafa’s instructions and throwing themselves headlong time and again into tackles and blocks. Meanwhile, off the pitch, our travelling support were simply magnificent, turning out in vast numbers, out singing the home support throughout and then staying in the ground afterwards to show their appreciation for Rafa and his boys as well as just having a bit of an impromptu party.

That night tributes were payed to the team and the support – and rightly so. Sky pundits congratulated everyone concerned and social media was awash with videos of 3,000 Geordies asking ‘Who’s that team we call United?’ as loudly as their throats would allow, given their performance over the previous couple of hours. Rafa and some of the players joined in and Salomon Rondon even asked if we’d been playing at home. Magnificent.

However, as great as it all was, I was left wondering – in the very back of my mind – if anyone had spared a thought for me. In fact, I wondered if anyone would spare a thought for the thousands who would have had to go through the kind of trials I had gone through just to watch the game.

Now before we get started let me explain that this article isn’t quite what it seems. I’m playing the fool a little bit and laying on the sarcasm in quite a heavy dose. I’m not in any way making a parallel between myself and the people who took time off work or travelled through the night and stood in the cold and who do so every time we play. In terms of away trips I’ve been there and done that many times; I know the hardships but I’ve also shared in the joy. And I know that plenty of people will regularly have to go through a lot more just to watch us play on the telly. I’m simply talking about what should be the simple act of watching the match at home on my own telly on Sky. Let me explain…

On Friday I finished work after what was an extremely long, arduous term. I’m a teacher. I came home quite fancying a pre-match nap, but found that my family were indulging their passion for X-Box, or as I call it, shouting at each other with headsets on. So the nap was going to be impossible. Instead, as a little treat and a way of trying to take my mind off the match, I left them in the front room and disappeared into the kitchen to do some dishes. La vida loca, I know. Later, at the peak of excitement, I cooked the kids their tea. Beat that.

I don’t enjoy the build up to games and I never have. If I’m at work I have plenty to take my mind of it, but if I’m at home it’s always there nagging away at me and making me think ridiculous thoughts about whether my choice of pants, shirt or even mug will affect our performance. Stupid, I know and as Stevie Wonder once said, Superstition ain’t the way. It’s a habit that I can’t break though.

So on Friday night it was a case – as usual – of just doing anything and everything both to stay awake and to take my mind away from the game. The importance couldn’t have been lost on any of us and if, like me, you often take a pessimistic view, then you could have been excused for worrying that we could easily get beat and be pulled back towards Cardiff.

After a while though the build up to the game was on the telly. My family however were still hogging the living room like travellers on the local fields. Minus the alleged petty theft and casual violence though. Although my wife is quite handy at times.

Undeterred, I turned the telly on and was dismayed at the amount of coverage Leicester were getting. Vardy this, Rogers that, Maguire the other. So the usual type of Sky coverage then. Guessing that this was set for the long haul I ducked out and grabbed the ironing board, because when I said I’d do anything to take my mind of things, I really meant anything.

And so I set off ironing while watching images on a screen with the sound muted. Images of Carragher and Neville bigging up Jamie Vardy. This is Extreme NUFC watching, after all.

As a bit of time passed I started to feel a form of mild outrage though. Why were my family insisting on staying in the living room? Could they not naff off out for a walk or move their (metaphorical) caravans into the kitchen? Mild outrage turned to mild temper and, wait for it…I turned the sound on. Luckily just in time to hear Kelly Cates announce that they’d be back after the break to focus on Newcastle. Time to stop ironing, take the chair in front of the telly and focus on the Toon.

By this point my family are knee deep in the middle of a game of Monopoly. No, really, they are. And with Monopoly comes competition. And with competition in our house – surely in any house – comes shouting. Actually, in our house shouting seems to be the default setting. Whatever had prompted it, it was just more to get in the way of my enjoyment of the match.

Now at this point some people would be forgiven for wondering why my family don’t seem to care. Why, for instance at the risk of blatant sexism and gender stereotyping, my son hasn’t joined me. Well, this is because the rest of the family are all Leeds United fans. I moved here in my mid-twenties, married a Leodensian (that’s someone from Leeds, not a posh word for a lesbian or a lion tamer) and settled here. I’ve now lived in Leeds for twenty years or so. And at the risk of outraging many Geordies, I simply let my kids decide who they wanted to support, when the time came. Both plumped for Leeds, their local club. In essence they’ve swapped one misery for another, really. But more of that another time, eh?

The game is now creeping ever closer. We’re mere minutes from kick-off and I am well and truly settled in front of Sky Sports. I know our team and at the very back of my mind there’s a lingering sense of optimism. It is however, competing with an ever present planet sized chunk of pessimism that comes with being a Newcastle fan. So while I sense we can get something, I fear it’ll be a hiding.

Alongside the optimism/pessimism conundrum I’m now starting to get slightly irritated by the others in the room. As mild-mannered as I am, I’ve had to turn the volume up. Apparently the issue of going to jail and not collecting £200 is way more important than what’s going on in Leicester. I can’t really hear what’s being discussed on screen anymore, but I suspect it’d only make me more nervous anyway. But it’s OK, I think, because both kids will have to have showers soon, in preparation for bed and my wife will be off cooking the tea. It’s almost 8 o’clock for pity’s sake and I’m starving.

Needless to say at kick-off nothing has changed. No one is off showering, no one is cooking and none of the squatters has left the room. I attempt the odd subtle ‘Howay the lads’ in order to drop a hint, but to no avail. My son has bought Mayfair and now can’t afford much else – classic mistake. He’s blaming everyone else and asking for the rules to be bent. The Monopoly volume has actually raised while I’m subtly displaying the quietest outrage ever witnessed.

As the clock on the game ticks past 10 minutes though, I’m beginning to get more than a bit irritated. There is literally no sign of Monopoly finishing. No sign of children starting to get ready for bed. No sign of my tea. And no chance I can concentrate on what’s unfolding before me in Leicester. We’re holding our own though. I can’t relax however, as in my suspicious mind the moment you think a positive thought Toon-wise is the moment Manquillo misses a tackle or humps an over-hit backpass towards our goal. And of course off to my right three of the loudest people I’ve ever met are attempting to have a conversation about a bloody board game while all talking at the same time.

I repeatedly turn up the volume which piques the interest of my son who starts to ask questions. Bloody questions! I’m trying to concentrate on the game! He knows the players, the score is on screen, he can see who we’re playing! Aaaaagh! This truly is extreme NUFC watching!

The half is now ticking by quite nicely and we’ve got a foothold in the game. In fact, we’re the better side. Things are settling down a bit. My wife has departed for the kitchen and strangely, my son is now quite placid. And then my daughter starts dancing. The Monopoly board is still on the floor so she’s improvising somewhat, twirling ever closer to me in the armchair. After probably not even a minute it’s too much.

“Will you bloody sit down?!”

“Alriiiiiiight!”

Her outrage is palpable. She’s 12 and has mastered the art of answering back. And after all, what’s a living room for if it’s not for dancing around all the garbage on the floor while swinging dangerously close to an enormous Smart TV?

The tension has become too much for me. We’ve now reached the stage of the game where you can almost reach out and touch half time, but when there’s actually still quite a while to go. The half hour mark, as it’s known, when sometimes, just sometimes, even Newcastle fans can relax. But this game is so important. And as with every occasion I watch Newcastle on the telly I have to get up. I can’t sit still any longer so I’ll stand. Maybe if I wander around for a little bit time will miraculously pass. Whatever it is, the dancing has snapped something in me and I’m up.

My son decides that he’ll have a little wander too and between him, a now sulking pre-teen, a Monopoly board and three piles of fake money, it’s quite the job to actually find somewhere safe to place your feet. I turn my back for a second and my son chooses this time to engage me in conversation – probably asking who we’re playing again. I’ve momentarily left the game behind.

Luckily the volume has had to be turned up to a silly level so I just here the commentator’s voice go up in tone significantly. Something’s happening and it involves Matt Ritchie, a man in possession of a magic hat and a wand of a left foot.

Instinctively I spin round. Miguel Almiron has just lost the ball, but it’s heading back to Ritchie. My son is practically standing on my toes for some reason and it’s tempting just to push him over. Instead, I place my hands on his shoulders and hold him still. All this to watch a game of football. But this is extreme NUFC watching.

On screen, Ritchie feints, drops his shoulder and pushes the ball past a Leicester defender before delivering a great ball into the box. I can see Ayoze Perez moving towards it, but two small hands are also grabbing at my midriff. I scream at the telly.

“Get across him!” as Ayoze does just that. As he meets the ball with a powerful glancing header I simultaneously pick my son up and deposit him onto the armchair in front of the telly, while my feet leave the ground. Kasper Schmeichel’s dive is futile and in a flash the ball is in the net. I’m a foot off the ground punching the air and screaming again. I land on a pile of Monopoly money and skid, somehow keeping my balance, but scattering my son’s savings and property portfolio all over the living room. Who cares!This is no time for Monopoly!

My son – we’re his second team – leaps up into my arms as I celebrate. I attempt the trademarked Ayoze fingers-in-ears celebration with a child hanging off me, only to look utterly stupid as for once Ayoze doesn’t bother with it. It doesn’t matter. We’re deservedly 1-0 up.

The rest is now history. We won. Thirty eight points makes us look safe. However, that wasn’t the end of my headache. Oh no. As the second half got underway my daughter finally decided to have a shower which created more problems. Even with the volume pumped up high I still found myself competing – and frankly losing – with her shrieking the latest R&B dirge like a tortured animal channeling Beyonce. And no, I’m not exaggerating. Maybe I’m a little bit odd or maybe I’m just a grumpy old man, but I feel like I need to be concentrating fully on the game, almost as if I might spot a runner and be able to warn someone on the pitch – ridiculous, I know – and my daughter’s singing meant that I just couldn’t focus on matters on the pitch.

And then, just after half-time, my wife decided that tea was ready! Nine o’clock at night and I’m faced with a plate full to the brim of Mexican food. Chicken, salsa, rice, soured cream, all waiting for me to clumsily knock it off the plate as I watched the match with it on my lap. Would a half time tea have been too much to ask? I now have an X Factor audition upstairs and Speedy Gonzales’ tea in my lap when all I want to do is watch my team on the telly!

I try in vain to eat without throwing rice on the floor and also manage to drop soured cream on my jeans and all the while I struggle to really watch what’s unfolding in front of me. However, by the hour mark I’ve finished and despite the mess that I’ve made, we’re still 1-0 up.

Thankfully, we’re into added time before my next problem arises. But extreme NUFC watching has one last twist for me. Just before the fourth official holds up the board to announce our now traditional 5 minutes of added time my daughter arrives back on the scene. I’ve managed to see off my son who thought it best he watched the second half while perched on the arm of the chair, leaning on me and asking a series of inane questions. He’s now gone to bed. But then my daughter returns from her shower and decides that, despite her dad’s obvious tension, she has a few questions of her own. The main one of which will almost see me completely blow my stack.

With three points on the line and her dad watching his team, the team he’s spent forty odd years watching and frankly, obsessing over here is what she asks me.

“Is Alan Pardew still the manager?”

My family and football really don’t mix..

The Apprentice – bikinis or nut milk?

As the dust settles on this year’s Apprentice we can reflect on what should have been a vintage week for television. But has Sugar been sweet enough or have we been left with a slightly bitter taste in our mouths?

Following the interviews we were left with two choices. Nut milk or bikinis? What a choice! And as it is, Lord Sugar seems to have gone for the more unusual of the two. But did it all add up to a good week’s viewing?

We started, in the time-honoured fashion with the interviews. For the uninitiated here’s what happens. The last remaining candidates are put through four interviews with some of Lord Sugar’s most ‘trusted business associates’. Only it’s not quite that simple. These are not the kind of interviews that you or I – because we don’t profess to be business typhoons or sales sharks or any other ridiculous things – would have to go through. This isn’t ‘Why do you want to work here?’ or ‘What would you bring to the role?’. This is generally more like ritual humiliation and brutal interrogation that ultimately ends with all candidates looking stupid. Or stupider. And every year it follows the brilliant Apprentice formula of allowing halfwits to say a little too much before allowing the audience to watch them unravel before our very eyes.

At the start of this year’s interview episode we were presented with The Final Five, as if their presence in our lives was pretty much the only thing worth living for. It wasn’t. But watching them squirm for an hour or so was undoubtedly quite a lot of fun.

‘I’m not some kind of pervert who enjoys watching women cry.’

My ears pricked up as the candidates prepared for their day from Hell in the Leadenhall Building and not one, but two of them announced that they weren’t going to cry. While what was to come became a little predictable at this point, I couldn’t deny that I wasn’t half looking forward to it! And this isn’t a regular thing for me. I’m not some kind of pervert who enjoys watching women cry, which is a good thing given where I work. But given that one of the two here was Khadija…well this was going to be funny and it really made me sit up and take notice.

What unfolded before us then was actually not as brutal as previous years, but I certainly wouldn’t call it boring and I was never tempted to switch off. At every turn and with almost every question I was left squirming at the sheer ineptitude of the candidates. I mean, what was Daniel thinking when telling everyone who visits the Amazon page of his product that there were ‘One million already sold’? I scraped a grade C at GCSE Maths, but still I’d find it hard to not notice the difference between what he’d actually sold – 70,000 units – and what he was claiming on one of the biggest shopping websites on the planet! And still he tried to worm his way out of it, telling Mike Soutar things like, ‘That wasn’t me’, then ‘I could have had something to do with it’ before finally, after what felt like an hour of toing and froing, ‘OK, it was me’!

‘Is Australia in Asia?’

But just when you thought his suffering was over, the interviewer proceeded to give him a Geography lesson after Daniel had claimed to be selling on several continents. To cut a long story short, it wasn’t quite true – quelle surprise – and Daniel was left asking, ‘Is Australia in Asia?’ I’m not a twisted man, but I do love seeing an ego cut down to size and having watched Daniel standing in the lift telling himself ‘You got this!’ it more than raised a smile in our house when it turned out that he hadn’t got this at all. What he had got though was an ever decreasing chance of £250,000 heading his way.

Further eye openers then came in the form of Linda Plant’s shoes and Sabrina’s slightly bizarre suit and neck tie. Linda’s shoes were certainly eye-catching, looking as they did like they had bows on them that had been made out of hundreds of ladybird wings. Mind you, if you can’t parade your ladybird unfriendly shoes on telly, where can you parade them? And was Sabrina trying to nullify the ditzy blonde image by dressing like a card shark in the Wild West? Perhaps she should have skipped the interviews, got on her horse and headed down the saloon for a root beer then.

Other highlights were numerous. Camilla being told, ‘You’ve got 3 months experience. What expertise have you got?’ was particularly poetic. And Claude just repeating ‘no’ at Khadija as she desperately tried to convince him that she was right about something…anything – well that made me laugh. If you’ve ever seen the film Sexy Beast, it was a bit like certain scenes from that, but without the budgie smugglers. And then, near the end, perhaps feeling euphoric at the end of an exhausting day, Camilla almost danced out of the lift before greeting a clearly ambivelant Claude with a ‘Yoo-hoo’! Predictably (except maybe to Camilla) his face was a picture!

‘…Daniel was ‘bloody untrustworthy…’

And there were more cringeworthy episodes with Daniel too. Again though, the best of them had to be attributed to Claude who firstly declared that Daniel was ‘bloody untrustworthy’ before smiling sweetly and announcing ‘anyway…onwards and upwards’. For that few seconds worth of telly the BAFTA surely awaits. And if not, Claude can definitely expect a thank you card from me! Either way, if Daniel still thought he was in with a chance of progressing he was clearly barking up the wrong tree.

Before we knew it we were back in the boardroom and Camilla and Sian – who’d earlier been criticised for her marketing ideas, being told ‘You’ll want to piss the money up the wall on some woman from Love Island’ (wrong on any number of levels) – were being declared this year’s finalists.

So Sunday brought us an unlikely final. Camilla v Sian. Nut milk v swimwear. Carry on Eco-Friendly Milkmaid vs posh pool parties. All of it quite the conundrum for a 71-year-old Lord to wrestle with. All of it quite the conundrum for a 46 year-old English teacher to wrestle with, come to think of it. As we said in our house, who goes to pool parties? And as I said in my head, I don’t understand what nut milk is.

In the time honoured tradition many of this series’ candidates were brought back to help out. And other former cadidates were left out, begging the question, were they told they weren’t needed (fired again?) or did their ego, fuelled by a fleeting appearance on telly, refuse to allow them to appear?

‘…imagine the shame of being picked after Kurran…’

The teams were picked in much the same manner as a school PE lesson where the captains chose which people they wanted on their teams. You had to feel sorry for Sabrina, who having made the final five, was ignored by both of the finalists until the last pick. I mean, imagine the shame of being picked after Kurran, who while still sporting ridiculous hair had at least got rid of his sling. The poor girl must’ve been mortified, yet she still simply carried on giggling, seemingly unaware of the shame of having been picked for a team post-Kurran.

The cult of Kurran continued as Sian picked him as her sub-team manager, much to the surprise of the other team members who at this point were clearly doubting her sanity. They say that the most successful people are mavericks (well I say this, for the purpose of this part of the paragraph, anyway), but surely with a £250,000 investment in your business idea at stake, this was just a maverick step (or several leaps) too far? Thankfully, the reactions of her team said it all and Sian quickly changed her mind, putting Jasmine in charge instead. Kurran or no Kurran though, her team let her down and Sian was left in the embarrassing position of trying to be complimentary about the social media ad created when really – as she did later on – all she wanted to do was say how terrible she thought it was.

On Team Camilla it seemed like Daniel had missed the bit where he got fired and instead decided he was in charge. Off he went, making every decision going while somewhere in the background Camilla sat and agreed with him while trying to make it sound like it was what she was going to say anyway. He then sat shouting out puerile slogans that they could use to promote the brand because, you know, nut milk. Get it? Nut milk, you know milk from…yes we understand. Yet still it felt like somewhere, at the back of her mind, the sex obsessed Camilla actually agreed with him. Not an enormous surprise when you remember the imagery she was trying to use to promote her nut milk during the interview episode, but alarming when you sit watching, secure in the knowledge that she had been warned to avoid such tactics.

‘Cue the entrance of Tom, Jackie and Kayode…’

Thankfully common sense won the day and Daniel’s juvenile suggestions were confined to the file marked ‘Stop being a tw*t’. The packaging and the general idea behind the brand seemed to be working and at that point you’d have been forgiven for backing Camilla for the win. Cue the entrance of Tom, Jackie and Kayode, who managed not only to make a shockingly bad advert, but also one that ran more than a minute over their allotted time. Frantic editing ensued which only served to make a bad advert even worse. It was starting to look like the best result would be if both of them could lose.

Adverts filmed, GIFs made and prototype products designed it was down to the business of the pitch and the burning question which we all must have at this point every year. Why do they make them have such a long and awkward walk on? It must take the finalists a good 40 seconds to get into position as they strive to negotiate those steps while retaining some sense of confidence and diginity. The applause gets ever more strained while the finalists struggle with what appear to be the worst designed steps in history. As for the ptiches themselves, Sian was cool, calm and collected, while Camilla fell apart when faced with reading her own Powerpoint slide about figures.

Having viewed some brief feedback and another bit of a challenge for the contestants in the form of a ‘can they all walk in a businessy formation?’, we were into the boardroom, where a grilling or to was, as ever, expected. This also gave Lord Sugar the opportunity to conduct some gentle mocking, mostly at the expense of Kurran and Daniel, which as a viewer, was obviously more than welcome. On Planet Kurran, however, he seemed to genuinely see a time when he’d be sending Lord Sugar a ticket to his premier in Leicester Square, and the mocking of his qualities as a director drifted gently over his bouffant with Kurran leaving the boardroom for the final time no doubt dreaming of his future as the next Spielberg.

As Lord Sugar asked questions of Karren and Claude I couldn’t help but feel like he’d hire Camilla. Not because of her business acumen, but just because given the choices of area for investment nut milk seemed like the one he’d go for. I could see him drinking a MLK It, but couldn’t imagine him having an interest in pool parties, let alone wearing a bikini.

And then the finalists were invited back into the boardroom and the rest as they say is history. Or business. Sian’s ‘unbelievable talent’ for drawing patterns won the day over Camilla’s ability to sexualise cartons of milk. Vintage telly? Not particularly. Boring? Definitely not. Let’s settle on the fact that The Apprentice has given us another series full of memorable moments that have once again left the majority lost for words, while giving hope for halfwits everywhere.

 

Watching television through my fingers: The Apprentice

It’s that time of year again. The weather is getting colder and soon we’ll have our first frost. The leaves are falling from the trees and our Autumnal hues are disappearing. It’s dark at about 5pm. Oh, and Alan Sugar has once again assembled a cavalcade of halfwits for our entertainment. The Apprentice is well and truly back!

I have a love hate relationship with The Apprentice. I’ve watched it for a while now and would happily describe myself as an avid viewer. A fan, even. It can be genuinely entertaining television, and for that, I love it. However, I can also say that I genuinely hate it too! Even though I’m well versed in its nuances and know perfectly well what to expect, this year’s ‘introductions’ brought the same resigned sigh from me as every year.

With the annual splash of tabloid press coverage and the first couple of episodes generally devoted to introducing us to this year’s candidates, you find that you can’t avoid these people and if you hear or read anything of them you probably can’t avoid coming to the conclusion that this year’s halfwits are not a great deal different from any of the previous year’s. So just what is it that makes The Apprentice both compelling and cringeworthy in equal measure?

The most obvious port of call in seeking an answer would be to look at the people involved. And the least obvious way of looking at them would be to start by tackling the experts: Lord Sugar, Karen Brady and Claude Littner.

“what makes Claude so very watchable…is his wide array of facial expressions.”

Claude Littner is a fascinating character and who undoubtedly makes for compulsive viewing. Even the smallest bit of reading via Wikepedia gives you an amazing insight into his life. He was born in New York to Jewish parents who had fled the Nazis in the 1930s. He was the Chief Executive of Spurs, is a multi millionaire and at one point was diagnosed with Non Hodgkin Lymphoma and given 6 months to live. However, what makes Claude so very watchable on The Apprentice is his wide array of facial expressions. Despite the possession of a fantastic poker face, Claude’s feelings are frequently given away by the kind of facial expressions that suggest he’s either desperately hoping that the Immodium will kick in or is about to break into an almost certainly faultless impersonation of Kenneth Williams. Ooh, matron indeed. One minute we’re watching yet another hopeless pitch or a poorly thought-through idea and the next the camera will cut away to a clearly squirming Claude looking like he’s just ingested a bag full of Tangfastics in one go. Brilliant editing and definitely a dark horse in the race for the answer as to why we watch the show. And if you’re not hooked on Claude in the early weeks, then just wait until you watch him in the interviews!

Then there’s Karren. Baroness Brady, the vice-chairperson at West Ham United. Not a personal favourite of mine, but still the possessor of a fine selection of disgusted facial expressions as well as a woman who instinctively knows the value of a perfectly timed put down. She comes across as a bit of a ‘teacher’s pet’, always ready to tell tales to Lord Sugar when yet another hapless contestant is backtracking on their involvement in the latest monumental failure. If it was all about Karren, then the viewing figures wouldn’t be anywhere near what they are. However, she’s a vital cog in the whole Apprentice machine.

“You’re fired. You should be if you’re writing those gags.”

Lord Sugar himself is a fabulous reason to watch The Apprentice. But again, the reason for this, in my opinion, is not altogether obvious. In fact, when Lord Sugar is on screen, I’m often left cursing my eyes and ears. The reason for this is his seemingly inexhaustible range of puns and put downs. You’re fired? You should be if you’re writing those gags. Year after year they seem to get worse. And year after year, I continue to watch…and wince. I mean, look at this for a selection.

“I know the words to Candle in the Wind – it don’t make me Elton John… You think you can second guess or play me? Well let me tell you, I’m as hard to play as a Stradivarius and you lot, I can assure you, are as easy to play as bongo drums.” 

Figure that out then. I mean, the first bit…well being Elton John makes you Elton John pal. And you’re very definitely not him. In fact, you’re unmistakenly Lord Sugar off The Apprentice. But imagine the week he turns up in the boardroom doing Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting. TV Gold, right there.

And then there’s, “How do you send people to a brewery that don’t drink? In Zee’s case particularly, he is as dry as a cream cracker in the bleeding Sahara Desert!” Now, I’m no expert, but does a cream cracker get drier because it’s in the desert? You could call it dry wit, I guess, but then again it’s not actually funny.

But it seems that being funny isn’t a really requirement in the world of Lord Sugar’s put downs. This next one is straight out of the playground and in fact, in telly terms, was last heard in a slightly different guise being uttered repeatedly by Jim Bowen back in the 80s on Bullseye. One contestant was genuinely told, “Fair? The only fair you’re gonna get is your bloody train fare home.” Face it, if that’s the way you’ve been fired then you’d probably be willing to pay him the £250k just to get out of there. And he could keep his train fare. How long though, before the £250k is withdrawn in favour of a caravan on a revolving stage with Lord Sugar telling the person fired, “Hey, look at what you could’ve won!”

And then finally, who could forget, “Call yourself an ice-cream man? Well I’ve got you licked, mate!” Having trouble remembering? No wonder. I just made that one up, but you have to admit that you could hear him saying it and it certainly doesn’t look out of place. The put downs continue to be terrible and yet, we still continue to watch.

Undoubtedly though, the reason for our avid viewing will always come back to the talent vacuum that is the candidates. In the interests of staying current, let’s have a gander at this year’s line up.

First out this year was Sarah Byrne, 29 apparently, although let’s just say that there’s more than a hint of a showbiz age. Sarah seemed to have imagined that being loud and Northern was exactly what Lord Sugar would be looking for in a business partner. Unfortunately though, she’d seriously underplayed the necessity for any business acumen and/or personality and as such just came across as an annoying gobby Northerner – and I say this as what some might call an annoying gobby Northerner. As far as I could tell she was one of those people who live their lives believing that they’d make good viewing for others. In fact, even an hour’s air time was too much. There are an endless amount of different reasons as to why Sarah was first out, but the less said about Sarah, the better.

“Sadly for David it turned out to be a case of going, going, gone.”

Next to face the firing finger was David Alden, a tax advisor from Yorkshire. A cross between Elmer Fudd and, well, a tax advisor from Yorkshire, he said that his friends called him the Duracell Bunny due to his boundless energy and tendency to ‘just keep going’. Sadly for David it turned out to be a case of going, going, gone. He has also said he had the ability to talk to anyone about anything. A shame then that ‘anything’ didn’t seem to stretch to ‘anything to do with business’.

Third to be fired was Frank Brooks who had claimed to be ‘brutal in the boardroom’. Strange then that when confronted with the boardroom he magically transformed into human jelly. He’d told the press that he was ‘two steps in front’. And he was right. He was two steps in front of the first two losers to be sacked. Just a shame that there were so many people still left in the competition, who as it turned out were at least a week in front of Frank.

After Frank, we lost Alex Finn, a 21 year old IT analyst from the Wirral who claimed to have the gift of the gab, but then insisted on asking the inventor of some fitness equipment whether it was insured in case it got lost in the post as part of his bid to be able to sell the product. The bloke decided against Alex as an option, as did Lord Sugar not long later.

A few weeks in and we were saying goodbye to Rick Monk, who’s name has to be rhyming slang for something, although I couldn’t possibly think what. Rick was the classic Apprentice candidate who doesn’t really seem to do anything, other than occasionally talk rubbish. Ultimately these candidates always get found out, either by being forced to become the Project Manager or being forced to answer a really simple question that they really simply can’t answer. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Rick who at least seemed to have the good grace to accept that when it came to business he made a very good halfwit.

So who else has me watching the telly through almost closed eyes? Well if you watched week 1 the name Khadija would surely spring to mind. Khadija managed to be pushed into being Project Manager in the comic book task, leading her team to produce the comic featuring an MC who rapped their way around the world learning different languages. They opted for French for their first comic. The snag was that neither Khadija nor her team knew more than ten words of French. So, smart move then.

“In terms of leading, this was much more dictatorship than democracy.”

Khadija, who considers people skills to be her most valuable business asset then proceeded to bark orders at her team, talked over them and basically made them feel like their ideas weren’t welcome and that they should just do exactly what she herself suggested. In terms of leading, this was much more dictatorship than democracy. And of course this inevitably led to her being compared to Kim Jong Un. Harsh? Not in Khadija’s eyes when she told us that if everybody was talking about this Kim Jong Un fella, then he must be doing something good! And of course, she’s correct. I mean that’s why we’re all talking about Donald Trump. And Hitler, Piers Morgan, Negan and Satan, right guys? Guys? Maybe not, eh Khadija?

Another ego seemingly functioning sans brain seems to be Daniel Elahi who describes him as the owner of a lifestyle brand. Now this always happens with The Apprentice. The tendency to talk bulls**t about what it is they do. Firstly, I don’t want my lifestyle branded – it would be called ‘Incredibly Dull’ if it was branded, but secondly I don’t have the foggiest idea what he’s talking about. Luckily though, he gets infinitely clearer when he talks about himself, describing himself as being like Daniel Belfort from The Wolf of Wall Street. Good call, Daniel. Inspirational.  A bit like saying, ‘In terms of being a bloke, I’m a bit like the Yorkshire Ripper’ when actually what you should have said is, ‘I’ve got a beard’. In truth, the only Wolf you can compare to is Wolf from Gladiators, mate.

Brilliantly though, Daniel didn’t seem to think that his ‘Wolf’ comment went far enough and went on to describe himself as having  ‘beauty and brains…I was blessed with both in abundance.’ Daniel there, a man in love with mirrors, but unable to clearly see his own reflection. See you this time next year, on Celebrity Petrol Station pal.

Having watched for a few weeks now there are still a number of candidates who I still don’t really know. You know the ones. You watch them for weeks but can’t remember which one they are. Two such characters this year are Camilla and Sarah Ann.

Now, I think Sarah Ann has been a project manager, but I genuinely can’t remember on what task. I’ve been too busy trying to figure out other things about her. The first thing was whether or not she was a mackem (that’s someone from Sunderland, for the ill-informed or those just lucky enough to have never heard of Sunderland). Turns out she’s from Teeside, which is better, but in reality, it’s just a bit like being from Sunderland. Next I found myself captivated by her eye. Not eyes. Eye. In terms of, ‘what’s that thing near her eye?’ It seems she has some bizarre piercing, like a bolt near the corner of her eye. Now I’m no fashion expert, but I never thought I’d see the dawning of Frankenstein chic. Sarah Ann obviously had different ideas though, which in a way is a good thing, because I can’t think of any other reason why viewers would notice her on The Apprentice.

Camilla has blonde hair. That’s all I’ve garnered from watching her for the last few weeks. A bit of reading tells me that she considers herself to be a ‘serious adrenaline junkie’, the kind of label that always sends a shiver down my spine. It’s the kind of thing that people seem to say in order to make themselves sound more interesting. But why should I feel interested in the fact that you enjoy feeling scared? Tell you what, next time I see you heading my way I’ll hide and jump out as you pass screaming ‘BOO!’. Deal? Good. Now could you just get off my telly, please?

“…he seems like a decent enough bloke.”

While there are always characters that you barely register are there, there is always at least one dark horse when watching The Apprentice. For me – and I’ll regret this when he stumbles his way through the next pitch, insults a major retailer and spectacularly loses his team the task – Tom is my dark horse. Now Tom is a tree surgeon which doesn’t immediately strike me as the type of profession that we associate with an Apprentice winner. However, when it comes to his credentials as a bona fide knobhead he’s severely lacking. And this can only be a plus point when you look around at the numerous knobheads he’s working with. It seems to me that Tom is active in all tasks, talking common sense, but staying just about low profile enough to survive. And he seems like a decent enough bloke. Now, I’m no business expert. In fact I really don’t know the first thing about business. But I sense, in Tom, someone who might just have the credentials to win it this year. Unless of course his big business plan is revealed as investing £250,000 in just chopping down more trees. I’ll be watching with interest.

From the sanity of Tom to possibly one of the most absurd idiots ever to appear on the show. Kurran Pooni. Kurran is a 22 year old law graduate who, before appearing on the show told the media that, ‘I’ll be honest, I don’t eat, sleep, breathe business, but I do eat, sleep and breathe success.’ Now, I’d struggle to believe that even without the ‘success’ bit at the end. It strikes me, having watched him for the last few weeks it’d be far more accurate of Kurran to say something like, ‘I’m dead lucky that I’ve got a rich mam and dad’. He seems to have spent almost all of the last few weeks simply strolling around the place. While others get on with the task at hand, Kurran seems to just go for a wander. He might have a little look at himself in the mirror, or the window of a shop. He might ruffle his hair a bit, play a bit of pocket billiards, but the nearest he gets to the actual task will be to mutter some kind of comment either disagreeing with the idea or giving some spurious reason as to why he’s doing nothing.

“You’re not exactly Stormzy are you?”

His performance in the shoe task beggared belief as he disagreed with the design concept and went for a wander. But the best was yet to come. The concept of the shoe was ‘urban heel’ and it seemed to be working (although the team would later lose). Not good enough for Kurran though who simply wandered about claiming to understand ‘the street’ and everything ‘urban’. Really though Kurran? Your dad founded an airline mate. Hardly the beginnings of some kind of urban legend. You’re not exactly Stormzy are you? And I’m not sure a double breasted suit is a style choice made by those on the street. Unless it was a homeless bloke who found one in a bin.

Kurran survived by a whisker in the boardroom and mainly because Lord Sugar made the extraordinary decision of dragging the whole team back in order to fire the person he wanted, rather than anyone that Jackie had brought back. However, forced into the position of Project Manager this week, he finally bit the dust. His failure – and, to be fair, that of his team – was spectacular and he was forced to walk, ill fitting clothes, sling, bouffant and all. On exiting the boardroom he simply sat down, smiling inanely and no doubt thinking that Lord Sugar didn’t know what he was doing, that he’d live to regret his decision and that the hilariously named ‘Jet Pop’s’ promotional video was in fact a work of genius. Whatever he thought, I feel that in the great tradition of these type of shows this was very definitely the last we’ll see of Kurran.

Speaking of Jackie brings up a lot of questions. She seems to be the candidate that you can’t work out. Do we like her or hate her? Is she rude and arrogant or just a bit forward and someone who actually knows what she’s talking about? And where is she from? Is she American, Canadian, a little bit Irish? What is that accent and when will it settle down? So far she seems to have performed fairly well, making thousands of pounds worth of sales as the Project Manager on the last task, albeit in losing the task and generally working hard at everything she’s been faced with. Her performance in the shoe pitch, as some kind of representative of ‘the street’ was totally cringeworthy, but let’s just thank the lord that she didn’t do anything as stupid as try to rap. Let’s face it, it’s the kind of thing that’s been done before and left you wanting to disappear down a hole on their behalf. She followed this up with another terrible performance in the airline pitch, which you imagine is marking her down in Lord Sugar’s estimation.

The final word on Jackie has to go to focus on one of her pre-show publicity quotes. “I’m not intimidated by anybody, or anything.” Seriously though? I think we have a candidate for next year’s ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ Bring on the fish eyes, crocodiles bollocks and kangaroo wangers! Let’s see you front up to those bad boys!

“Wow. Where to start?”

Perhaps the polar opposite to Jackie would be 22 year old, Sabrina Stocker, the owner of a tennis events company. Now hang on. Tennis events? Does that just mean playing tennis. Does she own a company that organises tennis games? Sabrina seems to be a bright, bubbly blonde. She describes herself as ‘a mix of Willy Wonka drinking an espresso martini…classy and sophisticated on the outside; inside, a little bit crazy and wacky but full of brilliant ideas.’ Wow. Where to start? Sabrina sounds like just my type of person. Indeed, there’s nothing I like better than someone who describes themselves as wacky and has to point out how much fun they are. It’s good that she’s reaching out to the common people though with a reference to an espresso martini, a drink that I’d never actually heard of. And there’s something not quite right about a 22 year old who describes themselves as classy. When I was 22, it would have been a fairly kind to describe myself as ‘a bit of an arsehole’ or ‘still acting and dressing a bit like I’m 14’. I was fresh out of university, with out of control hair and attempting to corner the market on the look that could only be labelled ‘Primark Stone Roses’. In short, I was probably a bit of a mess. What I definitely wasn’t was classy. And at 22 year, neither is Sabrina. Classier than me, definitely, but essentially just posh.

Sabrina was, however, the winning Project Manager in the latest task. It’s safe to say though that this was very much a team effort, with the likes of Jasmine, Tom and Kayode holding things together. In fact, Sabrina’s insistence on including ACDC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ as the soundtrack for an airline launch very nearly cost them the task and showed her up as naïve, rather than classy. That decision, in fact, was classic Apprentice. A shining example of a candidate with so much self confidence and arrogance and such a desperation to be responsible for a decision, any decision, that they simply ignore the blindingly obvious fact that they couldn’t be more wrong, because they couldn’t be more convinced that they couldn’t be more right.

Another young candidate is Kayode, who in my opinion has missed a trick in not labelling himself a business Jedi and temporarily re-naming himself Kayoda. I mean, this is The Apprentice after all, where previous candidates have made claims such as, ‘as a salesperson, I would rate myself as probably the best in Europe’, ‘Everything I touch turns to sold’ and ‘I am the champion thoroughbred that this process requires’. So being a business Jedi named Kayoda isn’t even that outlandish. Like I say, the lad’s missed a trick.

“…another attention starved candidate begging for attention.”

Kayode has actually proven his worth at times during this series. He’s sold well, pitched well and never hidden from a challenge. Certainly, he wouldn’t be a surprise as a winner. In the grand tradition of the show though he’s proved that he has a natural ability to act like a d*ck. His insistence on including what was a tedious and misplaced joke in the airline video was nothing short of stupid. Again though, it was classic Apprentice – another attention starved candidate begging for attention. Any attention. And hang the consequences.

Finally this year, we have Jasmine and Sian. Both are proving themselves to be strong candidates, but once again both are proving themselves to be more than capable of coming across as clueless and completely lacking in any sense of self awareness. The perfect recipe for making you watch television through your fingers. Sian – the owner of a swimwear brand that no one’s ever heard of, or surely she wouldn’t be on the show – has already declared herself to have beauty and brains, which of course are two of the toppermost ingredients that Lord Sugar looks for in a business partner. Meanwhile Jasmine, who has the job title of Learning and Development Manager – me neither – has told us that ‘All is fair in love and war…and business is war’, which when you actually think about it, doesn’t make an awful lot of sense.

As it stands we’re down to the final ten candidates. Incredibly, again, one of these people will benefit to the tune of £250,000 in terms of an investment in their business idea. All of these people will, at some point or several points over the run of the show, be shown up as the kind of person you probably wouldn’t fully trust to boil your kettle. And yet, year after year, one of them will invariably shine through and prove themselves as a worthy winner. Now given the profile of some of the field of competition, there’s not always an awful lot of shining needed, but still, it’s some achievement. And it’s the kind of achievement that has millions watching year in year out. Even if it is through their fingers and very often – especially in my case – while machine gun shouting expletives at the telly.