Interview by Graham Chalmers
Since The Apprentice first appeared on our TV screens 12 years ago, viewers have seen plenty of candidates talk their way out of being fired by Lord Sugar.
But Harrogate’s Ruth Whiteley, who owns her own business Impact Sales Training, is the one of the few who seemed to talk their way into it after failing to sell a single cat tower at a trade exhibition for pet owners!
Despite being well-regarded and even tipped by the Daily Telegraph - they said she was “getting better with every episode” - week four saw the 47-year-old self-made businesswoman become the latest hopeful disposed of in a black cab.
Ruth, who is married with one daughter Gabriella and lives on “the favoured south side of Harrogate” (she laughs a little when she uses that hackneyed, vague little phrase) is convinced she deserved to go further in the 11th series of the competition.
“I’m not a looker, I’m a worker. I’ve been self-employed since I was 19. I’ve done it myself.
“Once you’re in the boardroom, it’s a lottery. Lord Sugar makes his decisions in an instant. Personal preference comes into it, too. I was gutted when he fired me.
But I didn’t take it personally from Lord Sugar. I’m a businesswoman and I dust myself off and get on with it.”
Ruth’s premature exit from The Apprentice means she has failed to emulate fellow Harrogate resident Kristina Grimes who reached the final of the third series in 2007.
One of the oldest candidates in the house, the former local radio DJ told me the original decision to audition for this series of The Apprentice, which was filmed in the Spring, was motivated by family considerations.
“The timing was just great. My daughter was just starting secondary school at St Aidan’s and I had a little more time to branch out. I built my own businesses from scratch and I was keen to learn and improve my prospects.”
Advance publicity photos may have made Ruth look dangerously sharp but, once on the show, her straight-talking and friendly and chatty Yorkshire nature eventually left her looking a little vulnerable in the shark-like atmosphere of The Apprentice.
“I didn’t want to make my own light shine by doing someone in,” she tells me, a sentiment which didn’t really help her when nice-guy team leader Scott Saunders decided to drag her into the boardroom along with the spiteful Selina Waterman-Smith.
As for tabloid rumours of on set romance between two of her rivals in The Apprentice house, those off-screen “sex in a cupboard” stories which have occasionally popped up in previous series, Ruth is much too respectful to betray any confidences.
She is from Harrogate, afterall.
“If you’ve got time for romance in The Apprentice, you’re not working hard enough in my book.
“When you get back to the house at the end of a task, you’re knackered. You eat, undress, then go to straight bed.
“Being on the show is a repetitive cyle of tension and worry and hard work. It’s like being flayed the whole time but enjoying it.
“It’s the best of times and the worst of time wrapped up in a competitive atmosphere.”
Ruth, who owns her own training consultancy, said her aim on going on the show had been to enjoy a new experience and expand her business knowledge.
In the early episodes of the current series on BBC 1, the blonde-haired Ruth had appeared to do well; showing a flair for selling fish in week one, rescueing a video shoot in week two by turning actress and mucking in, literally, in week three in to secure a load of manure for free.
When facing Lord Sugar’s wrath in the boardroom, however she failed to bring any of that up in her own defence, a mistake which proved to be fatal to her chances of survival.
But Ruth, who in real life tends to have several business plates spinning successfully at the same time, says it’s a lot less clear what the best course of action is when you are a contestant than when you are a viewer.
“I felt confident nothing could stop me getting to the final at least. My only disappointment is that Lord Sugar didn’t see in me what a lot of other people did.
“But it’s one thing watching it and another thing being in it. The viewer gets a lot more information about what the candidates are up to and what they are saying about each other. You’re not aware of all that when you’re in the middle of it.”
Having put those rather loud, colourful, checked jackets back in the wardrobe for a bit, Ruth now hopes fellow candidate Vanya Koutsomitis will emerge as the winner of this year’s The Apprentice.
She’s also a fan Joseph Valente, he of the sharp dress sense and nice quiff and still likes Scott, even though he picked her for the boardroom.
But, ultimately, Ruth believes it’s Lord Sugar who has made the mistake.
“I felt I had all the attributes to win. Perhaps Lord Sugar just wanted to rattle some people, to shake things up by getting rid of a candidate who looked secure?”