Tim Campbell on 19 years of The Apprentice: "Anybody can win this"
The businessman speaks to RadioTimes.com about winning the show 19 years ago, his close bond with Lord Sugar and why the show's diverse candidates are so important.
The Apprentice will mark 19 glorious years on TV as the reality show returns to screens this February, with classic tasks and a diverse group of candidates armed with stacked CVs ready to win Lord Alan Sugar's £250,000 investment.
Watching their every move is Tim Campbell MBE, who many will remember as the first winner of The Apprentice - banking a £100,000 a year job working for Lord Sugar in the process - and he is now on the other side of the boardroom, something he hadn't dreamt of when he first took part on the show.
"It wasn't even a concept because, at that time, my only dream was to get advice and guidance from Lord Sugar," Tim Campbell told RadioTimes.com. "To go from a Hackney boy selling stuff in markets to being at one point bigger than IBM, that's a massive thing for me to be able to be supported by."
It was Campbell's good relationship with Lord Sugar that saw him stand in for Claude Littner as the business mogul's aide in 2022, and he has continued to do so as the show continues to pull in millions of viewers, which the businessman believes is down to the show's diversity and adaptability for modern audiences.
Campbell previously said The Apprentice was "doing diversity before it was cool", and with the wealth of backgrounds in each and every candidate who has stepped into the boardroom, he couldn't be more correct.
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"The whole reason he [Lord Sugar] embarked in the journey of The Apprentice was to empower more people to start a business," said Campbell. "He was running around the country with Gordon Brown, really advocating about startup[s] and encouraging more people to start up businesses in Britain, and now he's got a television portfolio that's been running for 18 years doing exactly that."
In just the first episode of season 18, there are hilarious quips from Lord Sugar and amusing moments between the candidates, which for a show about business, a brand new viewer may not expect - but that's what makes The Apprentice so great, according to Campbell.
"We dispel lots of myths about business," he explained. "Most people think business is boring, that it's run by just boring people in offices [who] do some spreadsheets, [and] there are elements of that.
"But actually, business is fun. It's engaging. It's working with people; sometimes people get on, sometimes they won't. This is why I think the show has lasted so long, because it brings real elements of business to the forefront, as well as some rather interesting elements of business that you experience every day in offices."
Campbell first stepped onto screens in 2005, and is one of the show's biggest success stories. After serving as project director of Amstrad's Health and Beauty division, Campbell co-founded the Bright Ideas Trust, became a social enterprise ambassador for the government and co-founded digital marketing agency Marketing Runners Ltd - which he still runs today.
While he won the show 19 years ago, The Apprentice has continued to make waves in the industry and on TV since then, and most importantly it has been championing diversity since its inception - and is showing no signs of slowing down, something Campbell believes is "the beauty of the show".
"I love the fact that in this year, we have such a diverse range of people, and not just from ethnicity or different socioeconomic backgrounds, but [with] business experience," he said.
"We've got dentists, we've got doctors, we've got pharmacists, we've got individuals who are currently in business, running online businesses, running virtual businesses. Maura's [Rath] got a big old yoga institute, we've got Sam [Saadet] over here with us, you've got two pie makers - you can't make it up.
"There's such a diversity of people and experience, but that's the beauty of the show. Many of them still need to learn that the better they work with their team members, the less likely they want to lose [and] therefore not get fired in the boardroom."
Due to its unscripted nature, The Apprentice falls under the genre of reality TV, which many people can attach negative connotations to. But does The Apprentice set itself apart from other reality TV shows?
Campbell explained the show portrays "true environments" and praised the "brilliant production team" that puts in all the work to make it the best of the best.
"We've had some people who are in the production team that have been there since day one, when I was there," he continued.
"When I walked back [in], it was amazing. That shows much how effort and energy goes into this show, and that just allows people to create the opportunity for these candidates to do the best they can within those environments.
"I think the ever-changing nature of the world of business, whether it be from a technology perspective or who can get involved in it, I think the show really gives a platform to be able to show that difference."
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While it is the people behind and in front of the cameras making The Apprentice go around, ensuring the show can engage modern audiences in an ever-changing world is also key.
As seen in the trailer for season 18, there is an AI task that the candidates will have to take part in, something that many viewers have familiarised themselves with since the growing popularity of various AI systems like ChatGPT.
And asked whether this is what keeps bringing audiences back to The Apprentice, Campbell believes there has got to be modern elements to keep viewers wanting more.
"It's got to have elements that are new and novel and attractive to audiences," he told RadioTimes.com. "I think there is a need to bring stuff that's fresh and new and engaging.
"But at the same time, the consistency of the format of the show is also its power, because people come back and they know that they're going to expect.
"There's going to be a task where people are going to have to find items and negotiate the cheapest price, there's going to be a task where they're taking people on tours, there's going to be cooking elements [and] there's going to be bits where they have the interviews.
"So I think the beauty of dependency can delicately navigate the tightrope of coming up with new and novel stuff, but also keeping the key elements that keep people interested in the format."
One of the key elements of the show, above all else, is that anyone can win The Apprentice. Over the years, winners have included the likes of dessert parlour owner Harpreet Kaur, entrepreneur Mark Wright and businesswoman Carina Lepore - all of whom are from different sides of the business world.
"If you come in with a good heart, good work ethic and a good business, you can win The Apprentice - and that means that lots of people want to have a go."
The Apprentice season 18 premieres on Thursday 1st February on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.