Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Why ambitious and attractive women like The Apprentice winner Leah Totton are still target

Real winner: Leah Totton deserves credit for her ambition
Real winner: Leah Totton deserves credit for her ambition

Inevitably within hours of Leah Totton triumphing on this year's The Apprentice, the sneers, cat-calls and put-downs began. According to her many detractors, she was allegedly too inexperienced to run a Botox clinic, was deserting the NHS and was too attractive.

Oh, and she had a "rilly grating accent". Of course, beneath all the faux health issues I suspect the real reason Leah has been raising hackles is because she doesn't fit the middle-class, home county bias of the commentators and troll community.

If she'd been a poshly spoken – or even Mockney-vowelled – gel from the Shires with a career in 'communications consultancy' or some other similarly vague but important sounding job there wouldn't be half the spite and envy. But a woman – and worse a qualified doctor – from Londonderry with a clever little idea about a chain of Botox clinics – how vulgar, how chavvy is that?And yet of what is Leah actually guilty? Er... giving the people what they want.

Yes, there are serious issues around the subject of the Botulinum toxin, but it's NOT illegal. Leah isn't proposing to set up some shady business. I'm sure her venture will abide by all the industry regulations.

Her only 'crime' is coming up with what sounds like a commercial winner: that there are many out there in the provinces who might just like the opportunity to make a choice – and, after all, Botox is no more vulgar in Millisle or Cullybackey than it is in Harley Street. "But, but..." sniff the critics – for which read such moral giants as Lorraine Kelly and Dara O Briain – Leah Totton "owes the NHS" some loyalty.

According to their reasoning, Leah is cashing in on skills learnt at the taxpayers' expense. Her training to be a doctor cost a cool £250,000. This is true – and in some ways it is unfortunate. I couldn't praise staff at A&E at Craigavon Hospital highly enough; I saw first-hand their experience, skill and care last week and, yes, Leah would learn much about life over a few years in that environment.

But her decision not to do so is also the price of individual liberty. The only alternative is to indenture students for the rest of their lives. Anyway, why hang the faults of the system on one 24-year-old from the Waterside? It's just ridiculous.

Leah may be a high visibility example but there are hundreds of doctors in private practice trained by the taxpayer and the NHS. And guess what? They largely do it for the money, too. Let's not draw the line there. Hundreds of students graduate as teachers never to see the inside of a classroom. Why? There are simply no jobs for them. The system doesn't guarantee a position.

Besides, why should trainee doctors and teachers act with an altruism that few others show? All students' education is subsidised by the state, but we don't complain about historians looking after number one or scientists taking lucrative positions in private industry. Or lawyers and accountants going into the family firm. Ah, but then that doesn't involve Botox clinics bringing a little bit of glamour to women who want to feel better about themselves, to feel alive. Unlike, er, others who do boob jobs at cosmetic surgery clinics or who work for multi-national make-up brands.

For so many reasons, Leah should be admired. From a working-class background, she's the first in her family to go to university – always a much harder breakthrough to make when mummy and daddy can't fork out for tutors.

And yet the venom directed against her has been deeply instructive. The potent whiff of class prejudice coupled with regional patronisation and a healthy dollop of snobbery about reality TV shows has been unmistakeable. For all sorts of reasons, Totton's face simply doesn't fit.

Or rather it fits all too well. She's blonde. She's good-looking. But she's also very clever. And she's prepared to sell herself as much as the company she is promoting.

So of course we've also had the old canard that she is "more of a man's woman"; that after initial scepticism Lord Sugar was much taken by her. Hmmm.

Looks, intelligence and an obvious ambition – always a lethal combination for a woman. She must be punished or at the very least taken down a peg or three.

One wonders if there would have been the same level of vitriol if this year's winner had been the hunky Dr Leo Totton? I suspect not. Leo would have been given all the bye-balls he needed. Ambition, drive and a natural entrepreneur – classic male virtues.

As for Leah? Her role was to be another self-sacrificing Florence Nightingale to the nation. Because men have careers to forge, women just have debts to pay.

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