Apprentice Jim Eastwood has been called all sorts of things, but tomorrow will they call him a winner?
Charming or cunning? Dark or dynamic? A born leader - or born full of bull?
Published 16/07/2011 | 01:02
Has there ever been a candidate in The Apprentice that has divided viewer - and boardroom - opinion as deeply as Northern Ireland's Jim Eastwood?
Whatever your opinion of the Cookstown man, you can't deny he's got us talking - and watching - as he's passionately put his all into proving he's the fine thoroughbred Lord Sugar is looking to back.
The sales and marketing manager burst on to television screens in May when it was announced he was one of 16 candidates vying to win £250,000 of investment from Lord Sugar in the seventh series of The Apprentice.
I was in the same year as Jim at school and immediately tipped him as a potential winner. I remember him well as confident, charismatic, driven and extremely likeable - all the attributes he went to showcase as he bulldozed his way through the 11 tasks.
Only time will tell if he can emerge victorious from tomorrow night's final but I already feel vindicated in forecasting him to go far. What I didn't see coming was how the Tyroneman would become the most talked about candidate of the series, spawning countless nicknames, spoofs and unforgettable quotes.
In fact, I lamented that as a genuine contender, Jim probably wouldn't be very entertaining. Lord, was I wrong about the man who went on to be known as Jedi Jim, Souper Jim, Macho Nacho, the Mother Teresa of Cookstown and the biggest bulls*****r in the world.
The 32-year-old first got fans of the BBC1 programme talking with an amazing knack for bringing people round to his way of thinking with charm. Even Lord Sugar was agog in one of the standout moments of all seven series - when Jim successfully demanded a project manager change his mind about bringing him back into the boardroom after losing a task.
While his mind-bending tricks worked, some found them sinister. Karren Brady was particularly scathing of what she saw as manipulation rather than charm, Nick Hewer called him 'spooky' while Lord Sugar ran out of colourful expressions to describe Jim's love of talking.
The Tyroneman saw boardroom records tumble and his unforgettable sales performance in an umbrella-selling task was described as "virtuoso". (Papa Jim's finest moment in my opinion.)
The final four - Jim, Susan Ma, Tom Pellereau and Helen Milligan - all have the potential to win depending on how strong their business cases stand up to scrutiny.
Jim will be hoping his legendary gift of the gab can withstand the onslaught from Lord Sugar's notoriously tough interviewing team. Money talks to tycoons like Lord Sugar so if Jim's pitch stands up, all previous wobbles will fade away.
Is he charismatic or a catastrophe? A cad or a future captain of commerce? Who cares if Jim's is dastardly or just determined. Jim, you may have something of the night about you but you're bloody good entertainment and you've done us proud.
Jim had an early introduction to business when he started work in his father's fish and chip shop at the age of nine. The 32-year-old is a past pupil of St Mary's Grammar School, Magherafelt, and a University of Ulster graduate.
Jim also studied at Harvard and North Carolina before embarking on a career in sales and marketing. Married to Paula, they are known as the 'Posh and Becks' of Cookstown.
He has cited his parents splitting up as a major driving force in his drive to succeed.