New Apprentice interviewer Linda Plant: “I’ll be digging to expose a weakness”

Interior designer Linda and Lord Sugar go back more than twenty years and she promises to be “firm but fair” with this year’s candidates as she joins the interviewer line-up

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The interviews are looming on this year’s series of The Apprentice and there’s a new face among Lord Sugar’s line-up of nerve-shredding advisors: Linda Plant.

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Linda is the owner of international interior design company Homerun Services and joins returning favourites Claude Littner, Claudine Colllins and Mike Soutar, who’ll be armed with their sharpest highlighter pens.

Linda’s known Lord Sugar (Alan to her) more than twenty years, crossing paths as she built her business from scratch. She began with what she describes as “humble beginnings” on a market stall selling clothes, before opening her own retail shops and wholesalers. This snowballed into importing clothes from Hong Kong, at which point she founded clothing brand Honeysuckle. After initial success, Linda showed a range of winter knits at a show in London’s Olympia and admitted: “If one could drown in success, then I would say I was nearly guilty of that”.

“Every single major multiple were at my tiny stand looking at the merchandise saying, ‘How do I get this? How do I order?’ I quickly got a showroom in London and the rest is sort of history,” Linda exclusively told RadioTimes.com.

Linda eventually floated the company, retiring from the fashion business some years ago. After getting into property, the savvy businesswoman found success dressing the properties ahead of sale. “Invariably all of the clients who bought the properties wanted the furniture. And then one or two agents said to me, ‘You furnished that house, could you furnish a house for us?’ and I thought well OK, maybe I’ll just start a little interiors business because perhaps there is a niche.”

Linda’s based in London and continues to travel with her work. But there’s always a little time for a spot on The Apprentice, right?

Ahead of her appearance, Linda tells us more about how it came about, what type of interviewer she’ll be and what she thinks of those business plans…

How did your spot as an interviewer on this year’s The Apprentice come about?

“I got an email from Lord Sugar asking if I would be interested in joining the interview process on the show. I said to him that it would be interesting and challenging and I would and basically he turned me over to the team and we took it from there.”

You and Lord Sugar go back over twenty years, but how did you meet?

“I had a ladies fashion importing business at the time Alan had Amstrad. We travelled very, very often on the same circuit. I had an office in Hong Kong we would meet in Korea, we would bump into each other and that’s really how I came to know him. I’m originally from Leeds so I wouldn’t say too much from social circles but meeting through business.”

You’re among the small group of people who call him Alan…

“Well, I knew him before he was Lord Sugar…” she laughed.

What kind of interviewer will you be on The Apprentice?

“I’m not out to make people squirm. Obviously my role is to advise Lord Sugar and to make sure that his £250,000 is going to the best possible candidate. Therefore, my role is to be sure that that candidate has the right ethos. I’m looking for any weaknesses. You have to be tough in business: firm but fair. You know, a people person. I’ll be digging to expose a weakness so that Lord Sugar doesn’t make a mistake.”

Will you make anyone cry?

“Oh my god, you’re interviewing me, do you not think that I’m sweet? Never mean. Firm but fair.”

What do you think of the candidates still left in the competition?

“I think anybody who gets through The Apprentice, well done to them. Well done to any of them that have got that far in the process. I think they’re all great people.”

And you’ve had a chance to peek at their CVs, were they full of the usual bravado?

“It was interesting. I’m used to reading a lot of CVs. I’ve interviewed lots of people during my career. All sorts of interesting CVs.”

What about the business plans?

“The same. The business plans, again, I’m looking for the right business for Lord Sugar to invest in. That is my job. They are all interesting, all interesting reading. I think today, people do have exciting ideas. The world is an exciting place. It made for plenty of good reading.”

So, if a spot ever opened up alongside Lord Sugar, would you return in a permanent role on the show?

“I hope people enjoy watching me. Of course, you know, you never know what the future holds do you?”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

“Always tell the truth because the truth will set you free. Be honest. Be tough but be fair, which is how I try to be. Those pieces of advice, and looking at people who are successful and seeing the key to their success, those are the kind of things I’ve taken on board.

“I’ve looked at trying to be adaptable, those kind of things through the years. And I’ve admired people like Lord Sugar. Certainly people who are self-made and have reached a fantastic stage in their business career and have still remained with their feet on the ground. People I admire and I have taken advice from and read about them, they have been my mentors.”

What advice would you give the candidate that’s going to work with Lord Sugar?

“I would say, have realistic goals and be adaptable – when I say have realistic goals it doesn’t mean to say that your goal can’t be to make millions. But have a plan with your goal, have a stepping-stone.

“Always treat people well because that’s the right approach in life. You don’t know who you’re going to meet. Keep an open mind. Be firm, be fair, be honest about who you are. Most of all, you’ve got to have common sense in life and your approach to business must be laced with common sense.”

What would you say has been your career highlight?

“I would suppose way back when I won Northern Businesswoman of the Year, that would have been a highlight. Business for me really, even the good times and the bad, is all a highlight. I love business. It’s like a hobby for me. Although the road has not been smooth all along as it isn’t for anyone. Northern Business Woman of the Year and perhaps seeing some of my designs in magazines. Also working for some quite influential private people going all over the world. In my fashion career, it was looking at programmes and seeing my sweaters – those kind of things. Every day things have been highlights.

“And of course, what I would say now is The Apprentice. Being asked on The Apprentice has to be the ultimate so far.” 

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The Apprentice continues Wednesdays at 9:00pm on BBC1