Claude Littner at the Union: ‘I can’t begin to tell you how stressful doing The Apprentice is’

Claude confirmed there is a sex ban in The Apprentice house, and admitted he had ‘no sympathy’ for Solomon Akhtar during his final interview

Since his first appearance on The Apprentice in 2005, Claude Littner has established a reputation in British culture as a terrifying, no-nonsense businessman. His role in the candidate interviews during the penultimate episode is the stuff of internet legend, refusing to shake candidates’ hands and tearing apart their plans to find the best possible investment for Lord Sugar.

After 10 years as Lord Sugar’s most fearsome interviewer, Claude stepped up to the role of advisor, making him Lord Sugar’s eyes and ears during the weekly tasks. Alongside Baroness Karren Brady, he’s tasked with following the candidates throughout their tasks, reporting back every few hours.

On Wednesday night (26/01) Claude visited the Cambridge Union, and The Tab was given an opportunity to sit down with him ahead of his talk. Whilst the concept of interviewing one of the most terrifying interviewers in the UK frightened me beyond belief, I couldn’t resist the chance to get a glimpse behind the scenes of the Apprentice and hear more about Claude’s business accomplishments.

Claude and me in the boardroom – I absolutely would have been fired in the first week (Credit: Elisabeth Styles)

Claude versus Solomon: The definition of ‘had us in the first half’

Anyone who follows The Apprentice will know of Claude’s most ruthless interview to date, and Claude himself clearly remembered his encounter with Solomon Akhtar in Series 10, explaining that Solomon simply “didn’t have a business plan.”

No Apprentice interview will ever be as iconic as Solomon being torn apart for his two-paged business plan (Credits: YouTube)

Whilst Claude started off the interview very complimentary, as Solomon was “a very nice chap” who had “done well,” the tone of the encounter quickly went downhill as Claude turned past his CV to his business plan.

Considering Solomon had an impressive CV, and prior business achievements, Claude explained it was “very disappointing to turn to the business plan, to find that he didn’t have one.” Claude’s theory was that Solomon “never thought he’d get to that stage” of The Apprentice process, and as a result, was “winging it.”

Despite his harsh approach to the interview, Claude admitted he had “no sympathy” for Solomon in that moment, “because there was nothing that could be discussed with him” and he had “deprived someone perhaps more worthy of a place” from reaching the penultimate episode.

So, Claude “threw him out” because he was “genuinely annoyed.” Although he did admit to regretting the use of “you’re taking the piss,” he explained that “as soon as [he’d] said it [he] regretted it” because the interviews were done with “no reshoots” and he knew that the “BBC would love to use that.”

Perhaps the most iconic part of the car-crash interview was Solomon attempting to exit the wrong way after being brutally kicked out, Claude told me that they “were in a rather tall building, and in a fluster, he was trying to exit through the window.”

‘Surely they’re not going to do that’

The frustration, and most of the entertainment, of watching The Apprentice is watching the candidates make embarrassing mistakes. And no one knows that feeling better than Claude, who has to follow the candidates around for the duration of the process.

It’s a tough job, because in the face of candidates making terrible decisions “you have to stay silent.” Claude told us he “ignore[s] them completely it’s like they’re not even there,” even when some candidates try to make jokes or talk to him, he must stay as impassive as the Queen’s guards.

Many a candidate has been subject to a glare like this (Credit: Elisabeth Styles)

He said that “it’s very tempting to say, ‘oh you’re not going to do that are you?'” but considering he must say silent his “face says it all.” One particular instance when it was difficult to stay silent was during the scavenger hunt task, a series regular where candidates are tasked with finding a list of items at the cheapest price.

Claude recalled being in “someplace in Tottenham, and one of the candidates saying, there’s a place around the corner we can get that, then another character said ‘no let’s go to Birmingham.” At the time Claude admitted to thinking “no, no are you mad! There’s a place around the corner you can go and you want to go Birmingham.” But of course, he “can’t say anything” and viewers just have to watch him “scribbling it down in his notebook.”

‘I can’t begin to tell you how stressful doing The Apprentice is’

Whilst the viewers at home get the entertaining parts of the show, Claude told us “it’s not all fun and games.” Contestants “can’t call home,” and even Claude and Karren have to “get up around 4:30 am” and are stuck “wandering around” with candidates for “God knows how long.”

He also confirmed a rumoured “sex ban” in The Apprentice house. He explained that having a pair of “good-looking” candidates, with the potential for a romantic connection is a consideration in the production’s selection of the candidates. However, he confirmed that someone is hired to live alongside the candidates, making sure there is no “monkey business,” with “the girls and boys sleeping separately in the house.”

Recruiting candidates is a ‘two-pronged attack’

Claude shared with the Union floor that the mix of candidates we see in the show are chosen by the BBC for one of two reasons: being “a bit of an oddball, or really off-the-wall,” or being “credible business people” that are actually “going to get invested in.” Therefore, there’s a mix of entertainment candidates – think extravagant Ryan-Mark or Oscar-hopeful Kurran Pooni, and those that are viable winners. Claude clarified that Lord Sugar, Karren, and himself, have no input in choosing the candidates.

He explained that they “used to get better candidates,” in that “there were more of them that were good right from the off.” But nowadays once they “got down to the final five, you can see maybe two or three that are good.” He finds it “disappointing,” and said he “wants better candidates.”

This year’s series of The Apprentice is missing Claude, as he recovers from a serious cycling accident that he explained almost lost him his leg. But the series has gotten off to a rocky start for the male candidates, who lost twice in a row, and Claude seemed to echo the sentiment expressed by many fans, as he agreed the “girls are so much cleverer than the blokes.”

Ruthless businessman, or a lovely guy?

Claude is an intimidating force in The Apprentice, and that comes from his experience in the business landscape. In his role as a turnaround specialist, “there’s no point in wasting time being nice, or chatty.” He’s hired by companies “on their last legs” to step in and help the company to survive. With a CV that can boast roles as Chief Executive at Tottenham Hotspurs and Chair of various branches of Lord Sugar’s Amstrad, it’s clear this no-nonsense approach has been beneficial.

So, in that sense, the ruthless side to Claude that you see on The Apprentice, is how you would encounter him in business – although, he does concede that he’s “mellowed over time.”

His cold-hard frown still packs a punch, even if he isn’t as mean as he is on The Apprentice (Credit: Elisabeth Styles)

However, despite the nerves pre-interview that I was going to be shredded apart faster than a business plan full of sailboat logos, Claude was the polar opposite of his on-screen persona – although he did joke that I should write “how awful [he] was,” in an attempt to not ruin his Apprentice image, which he admitted was a “rather revolting character.”

Whilst there’s a bit of “showmanship,” to his role in The Apprentice, he explained that he is there to advise Lord Sugar where to put his money; to do so accurately, he must be a “tough” interviewer and be able to cut through the bravado of candidate’s CVs and business plans. He also confessed that he enjoys being recognised for his role on the show, and gets “quite a nice feeling when people come up to [him]” in the street.

The full Union speech will be available to view on the Cambridge Union YouTube channel, and The Apprentice, season 16 (sadly without Claude) airs every Thursday at 9 pm on BBC One.

Feature image credits: Elisabeth Styles