Derry Apprentice hopeful Leah Totton will hold her own
Fiercely ambitious, Dr Leah Totton is a favourite to win The Apprentice, but who is the woman behind the publicity blitz?
It's been billed as the most glamorous series of The Apprentice so far, typified by model-turned-medic Dr Leah Totton. The 24-year-old Londonderry woman -- one of 16 new hopefuls aiming to impress Lord Alan Sugar -- is a slim, striking, blue-eyed blonde who has worked as a model and promotional girl both in Norwich, where she attended university, and London, where she now lives.
But behind the platinum locks and perfect Hollywood smile is a determined, ambitious and fully trained NHS doctor with a bright business mind. As a former model who's always been interested in beauty, she also set up her own medical aesthetics company, after completing her training at Harley Street in London.
The beauty-meets-brains combination means Leah is already a tabloid darling and fan forums are predicting she could prove to be the dark horse of this series.
On her Twitter profile she describes herself as an "eternal optimist" and she may have to rely on that positivity to win over 'Britain's most belligerent boss'. In her audition for The Apprentice she says she intends to "disarm with charm" the bigger characters in the show and won't be resorting to nastiness to make her point.
Her biography tells us she has always been passionate about medicine -- a claim which is supported by her former school teachers -- and that her friends consider her "caring, kind and professional", although she can be 'too ambitious".
Speaking to camera she says: "I'm very hard working and feel I can bring youth, vibrancy, enthusiasm and a touch of class to any business I'm part of."
Talking about her love for medicine -- a career she first showed interest in during her early teens -- she says: "Working as a doctor, nothing really compares in my opinion to attending an arrest call when it is literally a matter of life and death."
She continues: "I feel like I'm an excellent candidate. I'm a very academic person, a blue sky thinker and I'm quite glamorous. I have a fantastic business mind. I'm a good person to be in partnership with."
Those who know her well say she is warm, honest and has no hidden sides. Leah herself says she is "not a particularly nasty person" and believes there is no room for bitchiness in the boardroom. One poster wrote on Twitter that this could be her downfall in the show. He said: "Leah Totton is pleasant but too nice. Not entertaining enough for The Apprentice."
However Leah says she will fight back and defend herself if backed into a corner --'especially if I feel I'm in the right'.
Her best friend Zoey Harkness, who runs Zolero beauty salon in Derry city centre, says that while Leah is 'warm and compassionate' she will not be afraid to speak her mind.
"I've known Leah since we were in first form together at Foyle," she says. "She is quite a soft person, a really lovely girl, but I think she'll be able to hold her own in the boardroom.
"She's not in the least bit bitchy and has no time for that type of thing but she can stand up for herself. The thing with Leah is that she has a real wee charm to her and people will like her.
"As a friend, she's extremely supportive. When I was moving into new premises with my salon, it was quite a stressful time getting everything done. But Leah was always there for me, encouraging me and supporting me.
"She's a very loving girl and so academic. She was always getting straight As in her exams. She's a right wee brain box and always wanted to do medicine. From what I can remember, there was never another option for her.
"She went to Norwich to study medicine and is currently finishing her F1 (Foundation year 1). She's done her hours in A&E and GP work too. She's well used to working under pressure and is up for a challenge. She's also very competitive and ambitious, so I can see her doing well on the show."
Leah, who has a sister Jodie, aged 20 and a 15-year-old brother Dale, grew up in the Waterside area of Derry. She attended Lisnagelvin Primary School and then Foyle and Londonderry College, where she was an outstanding student. She gained a Grade A in Chemistry at AS Level and three Grade As in A Level History, Biology and Psychology. She also won a number of academic prizes for her GCSE and A Level results, including the Biology Cup.
After leaving Foyle, she studied medicine at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. While working as a doctor she then trained in medical aesthetics at the world-famous Harley Street and set up her own company, LT Medical, specialising in skin rejuvenation. She is now permanently based in London but plans to hold clinics in her native Northern Ireland when The Apprentice is over.
Leah's former teachers at Lisnagelvin Primary school have fond memories of her as a young child, with one saying: "She always had something special about her, a certain wee spark."
Mr Philip Hamilton, her primary seven teacher, says she had been a 'bright and bubbly child' who always showed potential.
"I always knew she would make it in whatever her chosen career would be," he says. "She also has never forgotten her roots, keeping in touch with her friends from school days."
Her former careers advisor from Foyle and Londonderry College, Mr Ken Thatcher, says Leah had known from an early age that she wanted to be a doctor. He says he had dissuaded pupils in the past from following this career path as it was a very hard slog, with many throwing in the towel before the degree course was finished.
But there was no chance that was ever going to happen with Leah, he points out.
"She was an incredibly focused and determined young lady," he says. "She didn't come from a family of medics and I'm not sure what the motivation was but she was passionate about becoming a doctor.
"She was prepared to jump through hoops and do all the necessary hard work to get there. She was a very bright girl and a straight A pupil. But she was also very sociable as well and was popular with her peers and teachers.
"I'm confident Leah will do well on The Apprentice. She has that mix of charm and determination and will be more than able to handle herself and fight her own corner. I'd love to see her do well on the show and I can't see any reason why she won't."
Mr Thatcher says Leah had returned to the school on previous occasions to help other pupils apply to East Anglia University to study medicine. And he revealed that she had recently turned down an invitation to come and talk at a careers convention at the school, but had been unable to explain why.
"Now, of course, we know it's because she's going on The Apprentice," he says. "We all wish her well and I'll definitely be tuning in to see how she does."
Best friend Zoe believes Leah will prove popular with viewers and Lord Sugar alike.
"I think she'll come across well and everyone will like her," she says.
"Leah has everything going for her. She's brainy, beautiful and has a good business mind. In fact, she's pretty perfect really."
But while admitting Leah had never been short of male admirers at school, Zoe refused to divulge whether she was single or attached.
"Leah likes to keep her private life private," she explains. "She's a very professional person and wants to keep it that way.
"The Apprentice will be a brilliant platform for her but no matter what happens, I can never see her giving up medicine. It's everything to her."
* The Apprentice returns tonight at 9pm on BBC1 and a second episode will be aired tomorrow with the series then continuing every Wednesday at 9pm on BBC1
Can she better Ben and Jim?
LEAH has two hard acts to follow in Ulstermen Ben Clarke (Series 5) and Jim ‘Jedi’ Eastwood (Series 7), who had a big impact with viewers.
Jim ‘Jedi’ Eastwood, from Cookstown, made it through to the final and was described in glowing terms by Lord Sugar: “Jim is the greatest salesman I have seen for ages. Great bloke ... he could sell Ireland.”
Jim describes himself as a “dynamic and gregarious sales professional”.
He started work at the age of nine chipping potatoes in his father’s chippie and was an all-Ireland cycling champion as a boy. His nickname, coined by comedian Dara O’Briain, spawned another business idea when he was eventually fired from The Apprentice, a T-shirt with his photo and nickname which he said sold well.
Shortly after leaving the programme in 2011 his wife Paula, whom he met in 2007, had their first child, Charlotte Rose.
Jim later set up his own website putting himself up for business as a motivational speaker and as a sales consultant. He also began working with discount voucher website Groupon.
Ben Clarke made the headlines when he said that “making money is better than sex”.
He cited Hugh Hefner as his most admired business icon and Playboy as his inspirational brand. Educated at Campbell College, Belfast, the rugby playing trainee stockbroker won few friends with his arrogant style and was fired on week nine of the series.
Before The Apprentice, Clarke, whose father Daniel heads up Belfast auction house, Ross’s, worked for James Caan of Dragons’ Den fame in his private equity firm
After being fired from The Apprentice Clarke later had to pull out of a celebrity boxing reality show on RTE when a brain scan showed swelling and he said one blow could have killed him.