Bri­tain’s most fa­mous busi­ness­man tells it straight: he doesn’t like shmooz­ers, or frum­mers, or Is­rael much for that mat­ter. And as for crit­ics of The Ap­pren­tice…

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features -

SIR ALAN SUGAR is not afraid to speak his mind. But the wannabe en­trepreneurs on The Ap­pren­tice, his hit BBC busi­ness-based re­al­ity show, should not take his blunt­ness too per­son­ally. Sir Alan, 61, is just as forth­right on many other mat­ters — his Jewish be­liefs, for in­stance , and how he plans to chal­lenge crit­ics, or what he calls “ k’nacker com­men­ta­tors”, of the show. In his first in­ter­view with a Jewish pub­li­ca­tion, Sir Alan, sit­ting be­hind his desk in his of­fice in Brent­wood, Es­sex, takes just a few min­utes to con­fess: “I don’t go to shul at all. In fact, I can’t stand it. I find it bor­ing. I am an athe­ist as far as I’m con­cerned. I don’t be­lieve in God and all that stuff. I am a sci­en­tist and can ex­plain most of what is writ­ten in the Bi­ble.”

And as Is­rael ap­proaches its 60th an­niver­sary, the East End-born ty­coon says he does not feel al­le­giance to the Jewish state. “I am English. I don’t have any loy­alty to Is­rael. Ob­vi­ously, I sym­pa­thise with them, and from time to time dis­agree with them.

“They have their own prob­lems, but to be per­fectly hon­est with you, I am English and Eng­land is my coun­try. I am con­scious of Is­rael, but I am not one of th­ese para­noid peo­ple that are con­stantly wor­ry­ing about the State of Is­rael. I am more wor­ried about the state of the streets in Eng­land —– that my grand­chil­dren will be able to walk around safely, as I did as a child.”

He does, how­ever, con­sider him­self “very strongly Jewish”, and ex­presses con­cern for the fu­ture of Bri­tish Jewry. “There is a Jewish cul­ture, whether you like it or not. There are Jews and there are non-Jews, and I do be­lieve that it is im­por­tant that the cul­ture re­mains.”

So how would Sir Alan, one of the world’s most recog­nised en­trepreneurs, en­sure this hap­pens? “I don’t think drag­ging chil­dren to shul and mak­ing them do some­thing does it, re­ally,” he re­sponds. “I don’t think that has any­thing to do with the cul­ture. If any­thing, it can be counter-pro­duc­tive.

“Cul­ture comes from lis­ten­ing to your mother and fa­ther and un­der­stand­ing what it means to be a Jew. It doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily come from stand­ing up for six hours ev­ery Satur­day, or starv­ing your­self on Yom Kip­pur, or ob­serv­ing ev­ery sin­gle thing. And I know this might fly in the face of a lot of read­ers, but that’s how I am, and I think ev­ery­body’s got to have their level.

“I look at my fam­ily and they all mar­ried Jewish peo­ple. It wasn’t be­cause we were so re­li­gious. I look at some of th­ese so-called pious peo­ple, who preach to oth­ers about their lesser ob­ser­vance of the tra­di­tion, and you look at their fam­i­lies, and some of their sib­lings didn’t marry Jewish peo­ple.

“It goes to prove that forc­ing peo­ple into shul is not re­ally the way. Al­though, if they get com­fort in it, good luck to them. I don’t like to turn any­one away from their com­fort.”

Sir Alan has never been one to mince his words. And with an es­ti­mated for­tune of £830 mil­lion — ac- cord­ing to last week­end’s Sun­day Times Rich List — he can af­ford to ruf­fle a few feath­ers. His next tar­get is crit­ics of The Ap­pren­tice.

Sir Alan is chal­leng­ing them to take part in a spe­cial “ k’nacker’s ver­sion” of the show. This is “some­thing your [the JC’s] read­ers will like,” he con­fides. K’nacker de­rives from the Yid­dish ex­pres­sion gantzeh k’nacker, mean­ing a big shot or know-it-all.

He says: “So many peo­ple sit in their arm­chairs at home say­ing what a bunch of id­iots th­ese peo­ple [ Ap­pren­tice con­tes­tants] are, but no­body un­der­stands the pres­sure th­ese peo­ple are un­der and how se­ri­ous they take it. Of course, there are those that come on, think­ing they are go­ing to be movie stars, but I get rid of them pretty sharpish. A ma­jor­ity re­ally be­lieve they can do some­thing.

“I would love to get a team of th­ese k’nacker com­men­ta­tors and put them up against a team of for­mer ap­pren­tices and see how well they would do at a very sim­ple task. If I had a bet with Lad­brokes, my ap­pren­tices would win. I am go­ing to put this to the BBC and see if they are in­ter­ested in a k’nacker spe­cial.”

By now, the man known for his abra­sive man­ner has loos­ened up. In fact, Sir Alan — dap­per in a crisp white shirt and royal-blue tie, and no­tice­ably trim­mer than he ap­pears on TV — is far less in­tim­i­dat­ing in per­son than his on-screen im­age would sug­gest.

In fact, he be­comes pos­i­tively twinkly when talk­ing about next week’s episode of The Ap­pren­tice — a must-watch for ev­ery Jewish viewer, he says.

“I think it’s per­haps one of the best episodes ever. I be­lieve this par­tic­u­lar pro­gramme will be­come a cult pro­gramme. It brings a whole new mean­ing to the word kosher, and it is cer­tainly go­ing to be of in­ter­est to the Jewish pop­u­la­tion.”

In the episode, the re­main­ing con­tes­tants are sent to Morocco to barter for goods in a Mar­rakesh souk. One of the items is a kosher chicken. “What un­folds is be­yond be­lief,” says Sir Alan. “You can­not make it up.”

The Ap­pren­tice, now in its fourth se­ries, shows no sign of los­ing its pop­u­lar­ity. Last week’s episode was watched by eight mil­lion view­ers. The pro­gramme has made Sir Alan prob­a­bly the UK’s most recog­nis­able busi­ness­man and may have con­trib­uted to his be­ing asked to join Gor­don Brown’s busi­ness ad­vi­sory coun­cil. He re­jects, though, any sug­ges­tion that his fame has won him more at­ten­tion from the op­po­site sex. “I wouldn’t say that, no,” he in­sists. So, no women throw­ing them­selves at him? “No, no, no, no, no, no, for­tu­nately not, no. That’s not been one of the things.”

He con­trasts the pos­i­tive re­ac­tion he re­ceives now to his for­mer ex­pe­ri­ence in a high-profile po­si­tion, when he was the much-crit­i­cised chair­man of Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur foot­ball club. “It’s a dif­fer­ence of night and day. [As Spurs chair­man] it was dif­fi­cult some­times to walk in the streets. You would get to­tally abused by thugs. In this case, it’s all com­pli­ments and that type of stuff.”

He is par­tic­u­larly proud of the show’s fol­low­ing among younger peo­ple, so much so that he is con­sid­er­ing cre­at­ing a ver­sion for teenagers, al­though he ac­knowl­edges that this might be dif­fi­cult in prac­ti­cal terms. He at­tributes much of the show’s suc­cess to its au­then­tic­ity. “ The Ap­pren­tice is not a scripted thing. I am not an ac­tor. What you see is how it is. Ev­ery­body knows ex­actly that that is me.”

He does, how­ever, have at least one re­gret. It con­cerns his catch­phrase, “I don’t like shmooz­ers”.

“It’s funny, I was the first one to use the word schmoozer, but now you hear it be­ing used by lots of peo­ple. Ev­ery­one knows I can’t stand shmooz­ers.”

But as a re­sult, peo­ple close to him are re­luc­tant to com­pli­ment his per­for­mance on TV for fear of be-


Sir Alan Sugar: “Forc­ing peo­ple into shul is not re­ally the way. Al­though, if they get com­fort in it, good luck to them”

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