Preparing for his new role as host of The Apprentice’s spin-off show You’re Fired, Tom Allen sought advice on how to handle the notoriously gruff Lord Sugar.
‘I was told if he seemed stern or angry I shouldn’t worry,’ says the cheerful comic.
‘But I’ve been in pretty intimidating situations as a stand-up comedian for 14 years, and they pale into insignificance compared with the day I was ushered into his boardroom.’
Lord Sugar, the overlord on the most cut-throat reality show on TV, lived up to his billing.
‘He’s meant to be frightening, and he was,’ says Tom, 36, of that first meeting.
Stand-up comedian, Tom Allen, 36 (pictured), is set to host The Apprentice’s spin-off show You’re Fired on BBC2 each week
‘But he was pleasant – in the same way someone you’re being interviewed by is.
‘I have a lot of respect for him because he works hard and he’s sincere.
‘There’s something endearing about someone who’s intimidating all the time.
‘He isn’t duplicitous, he’s very direct, so you know where you stand.’
This year The Apprentice celebrates its 15th year with another clutch of super-confident wannabe entrepreneurs hoping to win a £250,000 cash injection from Lord Sugar, and in that time he has invested £2.25 million into the victorious apprentices’ businesses, which range from plastic surgery clinics to swimwear.
To celebrate the milestone, the London-based show is spreading its wings, and in the first episode the apprentices are sent to South Africa tasked with creating a tourism company.
This year’s contestants are the usual motley mix of arrogance and talent, including a former footballer, a partially sighted para-athlete, a teenage librarian and the owner of a pillow company.
‘There are some extraordinary characters from all walks of life,’ says Tom.
‘And they do some funny things which will have you thinking, “Please don’t do that!” The trip to Africa adds huge value to viewers because they’re out of their comfort zones and do intriguing things.
‘In episode one there’s an extraordinary boardroom scene. I haven’t seen behaviour like that before on the show.
‘I’m not sure if it was jet lag, but some of them weren’t afraid to show their feelings.
‘And as they found out, Lord Sugar doesn’t suffer fools gladly. But that’s part of the thrill.
The Apprentice is celebrating its 15th year, as wannabe entrepreneurs compete for the chance to win a £250,000 cash injection from Lord Sugar (pictured)
‘We cringe at their behaviour, yet admire them for getting up and doing it.’
Tom will be suited and booted while interviewing the fired contestant on his show each week, which goes out on BBC2 after The Apprentice, but today, wearing a dashing pinstripe suit, he reveals he dresses like that all the time.
‘Even as a kid,’ he says, patting his collar. ‘My parents would say, “Can’t you wear shorts and a T-shirt for crying out loud?”
‘As a five-year-old I wanted to wear dinner jackets.
‘Dad was a coach driver, and Mum worked at the Army & Navy store – there weren’t many people like me in Bromley.
‘I’d carry a briefcase into school and wore vintage suits. I didn’t have many friends.
‘While most kids my age were sneaking into nightclubs, I was sneaking into Noel Coward revues.’
He found kindred spirits at the National Youth Theatre, and from there he started in stand-up.
He also co-hosts The Great British Bake Off’s Extra Slice, where he has won fans for running around with a mic’d-up whisk to interview audience members about their bakes, about which he is hilariously – if charmingly – rude.
Just as with baking, he knows nothing about business.
‘That’s one of the great things about the show,’ he says. ‘It takes us into a world not all of us know.’
The Apprentice: You’re Fired, Wednesday, 10.05pm, BBC2.