James McQuillan- Funny Man of the 2009 Apprentice branches out.
by David Wynne-Griffith
For any avid Apprentice fans, James McQuillan needs no introduction but for those who look to reject the reality-TV show media bubble he can be summed up by one example from his amusing appearance on The Apprentice last year. When asked in the intense interview round why he thought he was best suited to be Sir Alan Sugar’s right-hand man, McQuillan jovially joked that he ‘could bring ignorance to the table’. On and off camera, James McQuillan is who he says he is: natural, relaxed and an all round funny man.
Last Friday. James Mcquillan visited Durham to give his perspective on the merits and drawbacks of reality television, courtesy of the Durham Union Society. He was joined by Raef Bjayou, star on series four of The Apprentice, Ben Duncan who appeared on Big Brother 2010 and has featured in another well-know reality TV program aptly labeled Ladette to Lady, and Peta Todd who is widely purported as the ‘Fourth Best Page 3 girl of all time’ in what was a lively and intriguing debate.
However, Palatinate got the chance to talk to McQuillan before his debate. He talked amusingly about his experiences on The Apprentice, his future career in retail and horse racing and his ideas about business, entrepreneurship and reality television. On the latter of these, Mr. McQuillan was ambivalent as he described certain elements of reality TV as ‘distasteful’ as ‘it is surrounded by the image that can become very famous very quickly, without necessarily having any talent. In times gone by, you had to be a footballer, a boxer or a singer to become famous and now you can be famous just for the sake of being famous. That said, there are some good bits to reality TV, where you are essentially rewarded for your talent, but at the same time there is that freak show element that can put people off.’
Reality TV shows are increasingly accompanied by the steamrolling notion that celebrity life is becoming too fantasized by the hoarding masses as fame evolves into a commodity that can be purchased or gained through a few weeks in the jungle, in the boardroom or the omniscient Big Brother house. On this subject, Mr. Mcquilan hinted that he felt that shows such as Big Brother and The Apprentice especially, were ‘attracting contestants for the wrong reasons’.
Conversely, Mcquillan did not deny that shows such as The Apprentice appealed to a surprisingly wide audience, ‘from doctors and academic students in Durham, to blokes who drive taxis’. On the show, Mr. McQuillan gained an extensive media following due to his self-confessed ‘foot-in-mouth’ syndrome and his abject approachability, which stood out in a field of calculatingly competitive contestants. An obviously charismatic ‘Mr. Nice Guy’, James McQuillan admitted that he had gone onto the show with a foreseen tactic in mind: ‘I thought I should go along as playing the buffoon, and then no-one sees you coming late on. Obviously, I managed to shoot myself in the foot a bit at the same time.’
Since the show, Mr. McQuillan has used his celebrity glow to enter into many different fields, including his beloved hobby of horse-racing. He now works for Channel 4 as a horse-racing pundit, a position which comes close to resembling his dream job. However, even McQuillan himself confessed that his fame may soon reach a ‘tipping point’ as he admitted that ‘someone stopped me on a train the other day convinced that I worked in their local Greggs bakery in Doncaster’. Although Mr.McQuilan did eventually correct the inquirer, he did say that this personified his view that ‘the production team at The Apprentice lead you on with assumptions of grandeur after you leave, but that really isn’t the case.’
This year, he has followed the series of The Apprentice with keen interest and at times, distinct pleasure. As a previous contestant, McQuillan experienced a wide spectrum of emotions during his viewing. ‘It was really nice to be able to watch it without having my fingers over my eyes! This time around, I was able to appreciate the show for what it really is. I was also a bit more sympathetic towards the contestants as they are evidently under extreme pressure and there are a million and one things that the television doesn’t capture’.
He referred briefly to Stuart Baggs, widely recognised on this year’s show for his brash and outlandish statements, as ‘a unique inidividual’. However, he also attempted to contextualize the blackened persona of Mr Baggs and other shwashbuckling contestants by explaining that ‘you can spin anyone to a certain extent. If I put a camera on you all day, we might see things differently than on first meeting’.
Intriguingly, he did acknowledge that leaving The Apprentice has ‘given me a leg up in areas that I would not have ordinarily had access to’ but he also told Palatinate that on exiting the show, time was really of the essence. ‘When you leave The Apprentice, you really don’t want to waste time, as you need to use it as quickly as possible to milk any possible earnings potential that you gain off the back of it’.
Over a year on, Mr. McQuillan now works a day job selling a major product for a high-end market retail merchant and also earns a wage as a horseracing pundit for Channel 4. His life long love affaire with the races has mean that his subsequent entry into horse racing seems to have been a major career highlight of leaving The Apprentice. However, looking into the future, the ex-Apprentice star is realistic about his career path. ‘Racing is more of a hobby to be honest, as it doesn’t really pay that well. I get to go and have a laugh with the punters and get paid at the same time which is great but it only happens once a fortnight really’. He also acknowledged that the glow from The Apprentice will soon dampen: I am very aware that I got my current day job principally because of my role on the Apprentice and if people haven’t already forgotten about me, then they soon will do.’
Finally, Mr. McQuillan gave some sanguine and self-deprecating advice to Durham students looking to go into business or entrepreneurship. He urged graduates ‘not to be afraid of making mistakes. When you leave University you might think that you can tick every single box. But it is the ability to stick at things and roll with the punches which allows you to become a success. That’s the biggest skill you will need to be successful. Obviously this doesn’t mean going and failing all your exams! But it is not the end of the world if you get things wrong’. Sir Alan Sugar’s very own ‘village idiot’ seems to have been able to personify his own advice perfectly to fashion a thriving business career.