Claude, you’ve been really missed this series. How are you feeling?
I’m feeling absolutely fantastic. I’m raring to go and really looking forward to being back for the interview stage of the process.
Have you been watching the current series?
The series is the same format as every year because, quite simply, when you’ve got a winning formula you stick with it. I’ve enjoyed it so far and the candidates have been a mix of outrageous, with very little chance of getting investment, to the few who emerge over time and viewers can start to see investable qualities. It’s certainly well proven and a number of good candidates do emerge and blossom.
Are you enjoying being able to watch the current series as a viewer? Is Tim doing you proud?
Yes, I certainly am! I have always watched it as a viewer though, and I’m obviously disappointed not to be there for the whole series this year, but Tim has done a sterling job. It looks a pretty easy gig when you’re just watching from the comfort of your home or from behind the sofa! But it really is quite tough, and I think Tim has coped with all the challenges very well.
Do you think Lord Sugar has been making the right firing decisions so far?
He always makes the right call! It’s very difficult because inevitably, with each episode, you get to the final three in the boardroom, and well, very often all three have the potential to go. But, the format is that you whittle the candidates down week by week and one will go – occasionally you might get a double firing.
I have watched on, and in some situations thought, well, all three of them are culpable for the failure of the task! – but eventually Alan does weed out the weaker ones and we always emerge with these final few, good candidates. During the course of the process, Alan maintains the tension and jeopardy. Viewers are invested in the tasks and candidates; they enjoy the entertainment and words of wisdom from Alan.
We’re delighted to hear the current series isn’t going to conclude without you completely though – rumours are that you’re back for an episode… what can you tell us?
Well, I’m back! But, just for the interview stage of the process. Obviously, there’s not a huge amount I can say without giving too much away but I just hope that when it airs next week [Thursday 17 March, 9pm], well I hope everyone thinks it was worth the wait.
The whole team went to so much trouble to have me back. I had written off this series, but it would seem Lord Sugar and the production company had other ideas! I’ve had so many messages on social media too from viewers saying they hope I’m coming back for the interviews and how much they miss my smiling (!) but obviously I’ve not been able to say anything until now.
It was quite funny how it came about – Alan arrived at my house one day (although he phoned me almost daily!) and he just said, “You will do the interviews, won’t you?” and I replied, “Yes, of course”. The moment it came out of my mouth I was thinking, how on earth am I actually going to do it? The truth is, by the time it came to filming I was feeling better but the team had been so kind and gone to so much trouble so I could be involved.
Will we be seeing a softer side to Claude – or can we expect the interview process to be as ruthless as ever?
I have mellowed with age, but it’s important when we get to the interview stage that we really interrogate the finalists. By this stage in the process the candidates are, whilst apprehensive, full of confidence and they think they’re brilliant. The fact of the matter is, Alan is going to invest in one of these individuals, so it’s important to be thorough. It’s not like a traditional interview where you’re inviting them in to sit down and make themselves comfortable and ask if they want a cup of coffee – we’re there to put them on the spot and make them answerable.
We’ve got a very short space of time to unpick the plans, understand if they can measure up to Alan’s standards, and most importantly, have they got a proposition that is investable? You can’t expect a mild-mannered, gentle interview because that’s not the idea. Very quickly, the interviewer has got to get to the core and uncover all these different elements. All that said, I also think the truth of the matter is that both the viewers and the general appetite for being really mean has changed. In this day and age, a change of approach is probably more appropriate, and I certainly don’t think I am as forthright as I once may have come across.
And finally, the most obvious question, but the one fans of the show will certainly be keen to know: will you be back for the next series?
I certainly feel well enough to come back and am very optimistic, but the focus for the moment is about shining the spotlight on the remaining candidates in this series and finding the next successful business for Alan to invest in.