Arts & Culture People

“There have been a lot of selfies!”: Behind the scenes of The Apprentice with Altrincham’s Rebecca Jeffery

By David Prior at

Altrincham businesswoman Rebecca Jeffery last week became the sixth candidate to be fired by Lord Sugar from this year’s The Apprentice.

Rebecca, who lives in Altrincham with her husband Ben, son Ollie and dog Bongo, runs a marketing and design consultancy with her sister Fi called Fi & Becs.

Her departure was certainly a memorable one – and today we caught up with her at Altrincham Market to get the lowdown on her experience on one of the BBC’s most popular shows.

How hard was it to keep a secret that you were going to be on The Apprentice?

It was so difficult. I knew if I saw some of my friends and drank wine with them, it would be about an hour before I would say ‘I’m on the Apprentice!’ You have such strict contracts with the BBC, you literally can’t tell a soul, so it was really hard and it was really nice when I could tell everyone.

When did you decide to apply to be on the show?

It was a conversation with my brother-in-law on New Year’s Eve. We were drinking wine and talking about the last series of the Apprentice. He’s a brain surgeon and I said ‘Sam, you should apply’. But then he said ‘maybe you should apply because you run your own business’. I thought, maybe that’s a good idea. So I filled in an application the day before it closed, which I found really easy because I do a lot of copywriting in my day job.

Lord Sugar with all this year's Apprentice candidates

Lord Sugar with all this year’s Apprentice candidates

What happened then – how do they whittle down the numbers?

There are about 40,000 applications in total, and about 5,000 get invited to an audition in Manchester, London or Birmingham, and I was invited to the one in Manchester, which was unbelievable in itself. That day is amazing, because you go through stage after stage after stage, and they cut people out after the end of each stage. In the first stage, when you have to sell yourself in 30 seconds, they cut a lot of people literally at that moment, so you could only last 10 minutes on the day. I just kept on getting through, which I was surprised about, because I wasn’t saying the standard Apprentice stuff like ‘I would walk over my brother to win’. I was just saying that I believe you get ahead in business by being nice. When I got through to the end of that day I rang my husband to tell him, and he said ‘oh… this could actually happen’.

And it did!

Yes – you have two more stages when 70 get invited to London and you have to do actual tasks like building flat-pack furniture, and after that you’re down to 30. You then have a psychological interview to check you can cope, and you have a chat with the production team when they tell you the truth about it all – things like what it might feel like being recognised in Tesco, and that because they need to show a story, they won’t always show the best of everyone. You’ve also got to put together a full business plan about the business I would be pitching to Lord Sugar. Then I finally got a call at the end of March.

Tell us about that call.

It was a Wednesday afternoon and I’d just picked my son up from school, and they just called and said they’d like to offer me a place on the programme. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe it – I was so excited but also absolutely flabbergasted because I think I’m pretty dull! I think I’m not like some of the candidates in there like Karthik or Jessica, these massive exuberant characters, I’m just a normal mum running a business. I was a bit like ‘really? OK! Oh my God!’ Then you have to start sorting out your business while you go ‘missing’.

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Rebecca outside Altrincham Market today

So for the filming, do you really live in that house?

Yes – you live there the whole time. You speak to your family once a week. For a hands-on mum, it’s unreal. I really missed Ollie, so when I got fired, I smiled a lot, so they had to record me leaving a few times. They were like, ‘Becca, can we do that again’. But I was like, ‘I get to see my kid!’ I was sad because I was wanting to see what other adventures there might be, but I was also, well at least I get to go home and see my kid.

What kind of relationship do the contestants have with Lord Sugar during the filming?

Very distant. They keep you quite separate – you don’t have a cup of tea and a chat with him. You know how we all look petrified in the first boardroom? It’s because you suddenly feel like you’ve just been thrown into something that you watch on the television. You don’t get to meet Lord Sugar apart from when he’s briefing you on tasks and in the boardroom, which is a studio out near Wembley.

The boardroom scenes take a lot longer to film than you see – you’re in there for about five hours because Lord Sugar is actually really fair, he wants to pick apart what’s happened and get to the bottom of it. It’s not brushed over, he really talks about everything in depth, he really cares. He does a lot of those silly jokes, but I think those are to put us at ease. But you do have moments where you all laugh at something funny that is said.

How scripted are the boardroom scenes?

It’s not scripted at all. Every single thing that happens is real. You couldn’t script any of the candidates – everyone is just answering what they really mean. Lord Sugar has been doing it for years, so he knows what the production team needs to be able to get the cut. So there isn’t really an ‘and cut’. We had to learn this pretty early on in the process – in the second episode when we all washed the jeans, Mukai (the guy with the bow tie), was pitching and he fluffed his lines. At that moment I think he thought he’d be able to start again because he’d messed up what he was saying, but he couldn’t. They don’t cut and start again, they just keep filming because those are the moments of amazing TV. Sometimes we would talk over each other and the production team would go ‘that’s great, but say it one at a time’, because they needed to get individual cuts of it.

What about Karren and Claude? (Brady and Littner, Lord Sugar’s assistants)

Again it’s kept quite separate, because you’re all together doing your task. They want to maintain a level of distance between you because they don’t want it in any way to seem unfair, or like anyone’s becoming pally.

Were you happy with the way you were represented in the final edited cuts?

There were times when what had happened wasn’t quite what was shown, but I also understand why they have to edit it that way. They have to make sense of things to the viewer. I felt I was edited quite well because they managed to get across that I’m not a bitch, and they didn’t create anything where it looked like I was. I’m also nerdy, and they managed to get that across. The thing is, my real self is probably not who I was in The Apprentice, but after six weeks of being in that world, you stop remembering a little bit about who you are. I’m not used to being around conflict or arguments – I don’t have to deal with it a lot, so having to deal with relentless conflict and turn on your team-mates all the time, was starting to drain me.

Rebecca in her home town of Altrincham today

Rebecca in her home town of Altrincham today

Did the conflict carry on off-camera?

For some candidates yes. Aleksandra (who quit in week four), who I shared a room with and got on really well with, struggled to let things go a little bit. A lot of the candidates knew that what happened in the boardroom, you had to leave in the boardroom because it’s all fair game in there. You’ll say anything to stay. If you carried that back into the house, you’d only be damaging yourself. You have to drop it. We’re not actually meant to be in touch with each other until the end of the show, but we’re liking each others’ posts on Twitter and sharing, because there’s goodwill towards each other. You go through a shared experience and no-one really understands what you’re on about.

Do you know who’s won this series?

I know who gets to the final, but obviously can’t say! But no-one knows who wins because Lord Sugar decides right at the end.

How does the production team ensure that the candidates don’t spill the beans?

Big legal contracts! It’s a bit like signing an NDA (non disclosure agreement) with clients. But not only do you have to sign them, you have to get the people you tell about The Apprentice to sign them. So my husband, my sister, my dad and even my childminder had to sign one! I had to tell my childminder Rebecca that I was going on The Apprentice because I had to change all my little boy’s childcare. It’s so hard to keep it quiet though – while we were out on tasks, people would be filming us on their mobile phones. We were a group of business people talking into our phones, with cameras and Claude Littner – it was obvious what we were doing!

Let’s talk about your exit – what an exit that was…

My good Lord… I cannot believe they showed that on the BBC! I said it as an off-the-cuff last remark. I left the boardroom and was in the car and saying I was sad to leave and was looking forward to going back to running a business. I probably wasn’t giving them anything juicy, but as a last-minute random statement, I just said “I suppose I wasn’t enough of a twat”. I barely even remembered saying it, it was just a moment of truth. I absolutely just said it off the cuff. I’m amazed they used it.

What reaction have you had from people?

It’s been mixed. In the first week I was in the bottom three and I thought ‘this is horrific’, and I literally did pretty much plead for my life. It was a baptism of fire. Everyone you know watches and you end up in the bottom three – and then you look like you’re nearly crying. But then the next weeks were a lot easier. You get people who are incredibly nice to you. Most people have been nice and you get some amazingly funny things – someone compared me to a plastic spoon. What I did find though that if you find a troll and you like what they say and say something like ‘haha… thanks!’, they become a fan!

It’s been a bit of a window for you into Planet Celebrity…

Totally. My sister would search references about me, and there’d be a few about my chin because I’ve got quite a big chin. I’d be like ‘haha… I’m quite attached to my chin!’ They’d be then so delighted that you’d replied that they’d be like ‘I’m sorry I forgot you were a real person!’ They would then turn into your biggest fans. But I got crazy support for what I said on my exit, because people didn’t expect it and really associated with it.

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What’s happened to you since then?

A lot of selfies! The first few weeks was maybe one in eight people and a few people would randomly go ‘do I know you from somewhere’. But from the last two weeks, it’s like I can’t walk down the street. I know it will go away again, which is reassuring, but it is unreal. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I went out in Soho on Friday night, and there were groups of teenagers flocking round us. They all wanted a selfie. But there are days where I really needed to go to Tesco and I’m with my kid and I’m wearing leggings, and I’m like ‘urghh..’. But I’m not planning on being some kind of famous person.

Has anything else come off the back of it so far?

I’m from Cumbria originally, and the News & Star newspaper have asked me to write a column for them which is really nice. BBC Radio Manchester have asked me to come in and do a talk show, and I’m involved in something called Stepping Into Business where I go into schools and talk about business. I’ll definitely try and do more of that. And I’ve had quite a few offers from businesses to be a guest speaker.

Where does your business fit into this going forward?

Since the programme went out our workload has gone mental. I’ve had to try and juggle interviews and things I’ve had to do with the BBC, so I’ve had to put all new clients on hold until January. That’s killing me, because I hate saying no to work, but we have now got in a few more freelancers to help out. We’ve had some massive, crazy brands get in touch who want to meet with me. We thought this would happen, we didn’t realise just how quick. My sister Fi, who I own the business with, is in China this week seeing a client. I am now literally swimming in emails!

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There are people who have had fairly successful post-Apprentice careers – would that interest you?

It depends what kind of career. I don’t think I’m interesting enough to go on I’m a Celebrity or anything like that. But candidates like Karthik and Jessica, I’m sure they will be amazing for stuff like that. If I was lucky enough to keep running my business but be able to maybe go on talk shows as someone who runs a business as a mum, that would be good to bang that drum. But you don’t really know what’s going to happen.

But overall, any regrets?

Not one. The newspapers can be mean – the Daily Mail didn’t like me very much – but The Independent did! The truth is, everyone is good – no-one’s a novice, they’re all already running businesses or successful in their own careers. A comment you often see is that ‘these people would never survive in the real world’, but I’m sat there thinking, they already are! But I’m thick-skinned, so it doesn’t bother me at all.