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Let the blame games begin... Apprentice is firing on all cylinders as Northern Ireland's Grainne McCoy and team fail first task challenge

By Eilis O'Hanlon

One describes himself as a diamond, because it sparkles but can also cut you. Er, OK. Another wants to be Prime Minister, but not before becoming a billionaire.

Then there's the woman who compares herself to a nuclear explosion, apparently unaware that this is not generally considered to be a Good Thing.

There can be only one explanation - The Apprentice is back.

Contestants on The Great British Bake Off wouldn't dream of bigging themselves up in this ridiculous way; it wouldn't work if they did. But equally, The Apprentice wouldn't work if they didn't. We love seeing the hopefuls boast about how brilliant they are, because it makes the moment when they crash and burn all the more entertaining.

The 18 contestants in this, the 12th series of the BBC One reality TV show, know that modesty isn't going to win them a £250,000 investment from tycoon Alan Sugar… sorry, Sir Alan… no, Lord Sugar.

(Heaven knows what he'll be called in a few years time. His Majesty King Alan the Great, perhaps).

This year there's also a Northern Irish contestant to cheer on - or boo, depending on your mood. Grainne McCoy, a 31-year-old make-up studio owner from Newry, has some of the most striking eyebrows ever seen in the famous boardroom. There's a touch of Cruella de Vil about them, though she was quiet in this first week's task. Or else just drowned out by the other loudmouths, it's hard to say.

The job involved selling antiques, which should have been a doddle for the Ulster woman. If there's anyone who knows about being stuck in the past, after all, it's us - ba doom tish. Naturally it didn't go well, but, luckily for Grainne, she wasn't the chump who sold off a pair of vases worth £300 for one twentieth of their real value.


The woman who did that wasn't fired either, though the girls did lose - coming second to a boys' team led by a man who announced he had what it takes to make a go of selling antiques because he'd seen Bargain Hunt.

By that reckoning, all those years spent watching JR Ewing on Dallas should have made me an oil baron.

The girls duly found themselves heading to the losers' cafe, drinking nasty looking tea from Styrofoam cups and loudly blaming one another for failing the task, despite priding themselves a wee while earlier on that legendary female ability to work together without falling out.

Double oops.

Three blondes ended up in the boardroom, and dark-haired lady in black Grainne lived to fight another week.

Interestingly, there's a second Irish contestant this year as well. Dillon St Paul - owner of the unlikeliest name in Apprentice history; he sounds more like a fashion label than an actual human being - is from Dublin, and he and Grainne look set to be walking, talking embodiments of their particular halves of the island. He was in the swing of it from the start, talking fast, making friends, smooth as silk, charming the socks off everyone he met.

She had more of a Northern Irish reticence, holding back and giving everyone the look that says "just hold on there a few years while I make up my mind about ye." The next 11 weeks will prove who has the best plan.

Grainne certainly has a tough act to follow. Derry native Leah Totton won the ninth series of the show in 2013, and her cosmetic treatment clinic has been booming since.

Other memorable contestants to hail from here include trainee stockbroker Ben Clarke from Belfast, who, some viewers of Series Five back in 2009 may remember, won a scholarship to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst - not that he went on about it or anything.

Then there was James McCullagh, who was runner up on Junior Apprentice in 2011, winning over everyone with his bright and breezy outlook on life. Only kidding. Confirming every stereotype about Ulstermen, James made grumpy Eeyore from the Winnie the Pooh stories look like the life and soul of the party.

Sadly, if Grainne does go all the way, it's not known yet what she intends to do with the cash; but one clue may be that she's worked as a make up artist on zombie films.

Helping the living dead look their best, eh? A career behind the scenes at Stormont surely beckons.

Either way, the new series should be a blast as always.

Lord Sugar returns with The Apprentice from October 6 (BBC/PA)
Lord Sugar returns with The Apprentice from October 6 (BBC/PA)
Grainne McCoy, one of the candidates in this year's BBC1 programme, The Apprentice.
Frances Bishop Age: 25 Occupation: Owner, Children’s Clothing Company Lives: Doncaster Frances is the owner of a children’s clothing boutique and describes herself as talkative with a feisty personality, which she believes is what has got her so far in the business world. She wants to impress Lord Sugar with her strong positive outlook. She says: “I’m a pocket rocket. I’m quite fiery and live by the rule ‘kill them with kindness’.”
Dillon St. Paul Age: 37 Occupation: Art Director, Fashion Magazine Lives: Dublin, Ireland Describing himself as super-creative, Dillon is currently a freelance Art Director at a fashion magazine. He describes himself as talented, kind and very funny. He intends to be ‘Machiavellian’ about tasks and says he will tell white lies if he needs to. He says: “Sometimes batting the eyelashes can get you a lot in business. Hence, the mascara comes in handy – so they can see those lashes.”
Courtney Wood Age: 29 Occupation: Owner, Novelty Gift Company Lives: Essex Courtney designs and creates novelty gifts which he supplies to national and international retailers. He describes himself as fun with a positive attitude and he believes his confidence is one of his strongest attributes. He says he is not one to sit back and plans to assert his authority in the process. He thinks his cutthroat tactics will help him reach the top. He says: “How would I describe myself in one sentence? I'll give you one word: awesome.”
Aleksandra King Age: 38 Occupation: Owner, Business Consultancy Lives: London Aleksandra owns and operates a business consultancy company. She describes herself as altruistic and extremely confident, believes she has a gift for spotting a good business opportunity and can sell to anyone. She cites her mother as an inspiration as she is fluent in seven languages and has an ability to ‘get people’. She says: “Like the Tasmanian devil in the famous cartoon, I will torpedo my way through to the win.”
Jessica Cunningham Age: 29 Occupation: Online Fashion Entrepreneur Lives: Derbyshire Jessica is owner of an online fashion company and the Operations Director for a PR and marketing agency. She believes her positive helpful attitude will propel her through the tasks, and says she wants to get close to the other candidates to find out how they operate, analyse their strengths and weaknesses and attempt to use them to her advantage. She says: “A motto I live by is: there is no competition if you're already winning.”
Trishna Thakrar Age: 28 Occupation: Recruitment Agent, IT Lives: London Trishna works for a large IT company to provide internal recruitment services. She used to play football semi-professionally, and says her friends would describe her as engaging and funny. She believes her best business skill lies in her charm, but suspects her sensitivity could be her downfall as, if you cross her, she will not hold back. She says: “My only tactic is to be myself; this alone will make sure I win.”
Sofiane Khelfa Age: 32 Occupation: Senior Sales Executive, Technology Lives: Essex Sofiane works in a high-end retail store, negotiating technology sales with high profile clients. He says he has the ability to adapt, deliver and build lasting relations with people in business, but his friends would say that he can sometimes be overzealous. He believes when he gets down to business, his skills and personality will shine through. He says: “The best survivors in the world are the people who adapt, and I’m the best at adapting. I’m like a chameleon. I adapt to anything, anywhere, anytime.”
Alana Spencer Age: 24 Occupation: Owner, Cake Company Lives: Ceredigion, Wales Alana is the owner of a baking company and describes herself as determined, creative and charming. She started her first business at age 17, a chocolate company, before moving on to selling cakes. She believes she is an adaptable businesswoman who will not shy away from any task Lord Sugar sets. She says: “I am incredibly hard working, driven, and I'll stop at nothing to get what I want.”
Rebecca Jeffery Age: 31 Occupation: Owner, Design & Marketing Agency Lives: Greater Manchester Rebecca is the owner of a marketing and design business, working as both the account manager and creative director. She prides herself on being relentless and possessing an infectious enthusiasm, but admits that numbers and calculations are a weakness for her. She says: “People often foolishly mistake my enthusiasm for silliness or positivity for naivety. I’m proof that you can get things done without whinging.”
Mukai Noiri Age: 36 Occupation: Digital Marketing Manager, Fashion Lives: London Mukai has lived in over six countries across three continents and recently gave up his position as a senior communications manager to focus on his business idea. He believes his charm is one of his strongest qualities, though he is a straight talker which he thinks some people might perceive as being insensitive. He says: “I feel sorry for Lord Sugar because previous applicants have been weak.”
Karthik Nagesan Age: 33 Occupation: Owner, IT Consultancy Lives: Northamptonshire Karthik owns an IT consulting company and says his friends would describe him as a born leader who takes charge and blazes a trail. He cites his role model as Alexander the Great because he is a master strategist and a brilliant tactician. He believes he is firm yet polite, making him the ultimate ‘human magnet’. He says: “If I wanted to be like everyone else, I’d have waxed my monobrow.”
Oliver Nohl-Oser Age: 33 Occupation: Owner, Food Distribution Business Lives: Wiltshire Oliver is the founder and director of a sausage manufacturer which supplies supermarkets both in the UK and internationally. He believes his greatest business skills lie in his marketing ability and his powers of persuasion. When it comes to winning, he regards honesty as the best policy but says he won’t be befriending other candidates as he wants to focus on the prize. He says: “Sometimes I feel like James Bond when I’m in my suit.”
Natalie Hughes Age: 30 Occupation: Owner, Hair and Beauty Salon Lives: Glasgow Natalie owns and runs two beauty and clothing businesses. She considers her best quality to be her quick-thinking, but she is also a persuasive talker who insists that nothing embarrasses her. She prides herself on her ability to buy and sell with ease and believes she has the motivation to win. She says: “I started at a young age, I'm a hustler, I've got the hustler’s ambition.”
JD O’Brien Age: 37 Occupation: Owner, Beachwear Company Lives: London JD is the founder and owner of a men’s beachwear company. He believes he can make the best of any situation whilst still being a ‘good bloke’. He says he is going to put in the hard work and aims to make no mistakes along the way. He says: “I won’t suffer fools. I will get upset by other candidates who don’t know their arse from their elbow.”
Samuel Boateng Age: 27 Occupation: Sales Manager, Major Car Brand Lives: London Samuel is responsible for managing and generating new business for over 700 businesses across London. He regards his ability in developing new and innovative ideas to be his strongest business skill. He says he has excellent public speaking abilities and admits he will be ‘on the charm offensive’, but doesn’t want to seem an easy target. He says: “My creativity, my passion, my charm, and my likeability all roll into one, creating one perfect guy.”
Michelle Niziol Age: 35 Occupation: Owner, Property Consultancy Lives: Oxfordshire Michelle is the founder and owner of three companies in mortgages, property and lettings. She describes herself as straight-talking, passionate and honest but admits that she can sometimes be bossy and impatient. She says letting others take the lead could be challenge for her. She says: “I work 15 to 17 hours every day. 100 per cent, I'm a workaholic.”
Paul Sullivan Age: 38 Occupation: Owner, Marketing Agency Lives: Chigwell, Essex Paul is the owner and director of a marketing company specialising in finance, technology, construction and property. He is a self-proclaimed charmer but doesn’t think he needs a ‘USP’ to win; consistency and sincerity will put him ahead. He says: “I'll play the team when I need to be part of the team, but I'm here to win; I'm not here to make up the numbers.”

As Doctor Johnson might've said if he'd stuck around long enough, he who is tired of The Apprentice is tired of life.

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