Out of the firing line and in demand

He spoke his mind, he had supreme self-confidence and ultimately he got fired. With a new series of The Apprentice about to start, Sarah Freeman caught up with Paul Torrisi and finds little has changed.

There are some people with whom securing an interview is nigh on impossible.

Judi Dench, not a chance... Alan Bennett, out of the question... and now even the most C-list of stars are following the A-crowd by taking a vow of silence unless various publicist hoops have been successfully jumped through and demands for copy approval have been sent and duly rejected.

But just occasionally, just very occasionally, you get someone like Paul Torrisi.

Admittedly he's never been nominated for an Oscar and he's unlikely to write a canon of award-winning plays, but the Leeds entrepreneur, who was one of the undoubted stars of last year's The Apprentice, is without doubt a master of self-promotion.

Within a matter of minutes of sending an email with the hope of setting up an interview to catch up with him ahead of the new series of "You're Fired!" as it became popularly known, he has emailed back a publicity shot, set against what looks to be a backdrop of gathering storm clouds and a promise that he will call shortly. Seconds later the phone duly rings.

The Apprentice came to an end last May, time enough for the dust to have settled and for regrets about having ever taken part in the series which saw 14 contestants battle it out in the boardroom for a 100,000-a-year job with Sir Alan, to have taken root.

But Torrisi, who made it to the final four, before losing out on a place in the final to his nemesis, Saira, and the eventual winner, Tim, is not a man who does regrets.

"Had I left the programme and ended up on benefits then I might have regretted not being paid 100,000 a year," he says with trademark confidence and without pausing for breath. "I went there to win, of course I did, we all did, but I wasn't terribly upset when I got fired.

"The last year has been pretty good."

He's not wrong. According to reports, towards the end of last year he sold his property business, which at least one of Sir Alan's right hand men was doubtful even existed, for 4m, his wife, Bridie, gave birth to the couple's second child, and according to rumours, the Amstrad founder, who clearly had something of a soft spot for Torrisi, offered a job to the runner-up.

"Yes, Sir Alan called me down to London and yes, he offered me a job," he says, happy to confirm the rumours.

"Coincidentally it was the same day my wife gave birth. He wanted me to work for his private jet company Amsair, but he said, 'Paul you're probably going to be inundated with offers and maybe you should come back to me in one or two years time'.

"I've seen him a few times since, his wife bought an outfit for my little girl, and I've been to some of his fundraising events for the Hackney Empire.

"But he was right. The last thing I wanted to do was take the first opportunity I was presented with and then six months down the line think, 'Dam, I could have been doing something so different'. So I took his advice and waited to see what happened.

"I definitely wouldn't be so bold as to call him a friend, but I wouldn't have any problem picking up the phone and giving him a ring."

Refraining from calling Sir Alan a close personal friend is about as far as Torrisi's humility is willing to stretch.

It was his utter self-belief which made him a favourite with the audience and, while he may be taking a rest

from the world of business, he still knows how to sell

his favourite product, himself.

"Let's not pull any punches, I was good on the show," he says.

"There are some people who thought the best thing to do was keep their head down and hope they would get through to the latter stages by not being noticed, but that was never going to be me.

"I'd never been in front of TV cameras before The Apprentice, but it felt quite natural.

"I was offered between 20 and 30 other jobs in businesses when I left, but suddenly there was also a whole new career out there.

"When the programme ended, a lot of media people came knocking, and I would have been a fool not to have answered the door."

In fact, he grasped it with both hands and wedged it open.

He says he rejected an approach from Endemol to appear on Big Brother, and turned down a more bizarre opportunity to take the lead in holiday show Pirates of Mallorca, but is more than happy to run through his list of past engagements and present projects.

"I was asked to write a piece for Start Your Business magazine," he says, before quickly adding that supermodel Caprice and self-made millionaire and Dragon's Den entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne have also contributed to the publication.

"And now I'm writing more regularly.

"I'm also currently filming a property series for UKTV. I can't tell you the exact format, but I'm sure it's going to be good.

"I'm getting good reports from some of the work I have already done, but I don't want to put the cart before the horse, I'm just taking things as they come."

His website also adds that he is in the running for the lead in a film that is backed by one of the large studios, not, he points out, a small independent.

He has given speeches to the Royal Institute of Chartered Accountants in Belfast and the Women of Influence dinner with Penny Junor in Birmingham and in September he appeared on TV's Bargain Hunt.

However, while he's still in touch with Tim, who he last saw at Christmas and is apparently still doing well under Sir Alan's wing, he is less keen to wax lyrical about the other rival apprentices.

"I have no axe to grind

with anyone, not even Saira," he says of the woman who would have pushed even the sanest individual to violence and who only needed to open her mouth to ignite Torrisi's fiery temperament.

"Of course I didn't get on with everyone, but there were some who, after the show, went on to act rather foolishly and did speak out of turn. I only hope that they live and learn."

But did he learn anything from the experience?

While intensely likeable, his acute inability to take orders meant he came across as the most unlikely ever employee, let alone potential apprentice.

"I absolutely believe I could work with someone," he says before quickly correcting himself. "Sorry, I mean I absolutely believe I could work for someone.

"But it would have to be the right person."

Whether there is a person alive who could live up to his own high expectations remains doubtful, but in something of a surprise admission, he admits even he knows his limitations.

"Although I speak in public," he says. "I am not inclined to give out presents and awards to schools and the like, I think that is all pretty silly. I am not a role model for kids, nor am I the great white hope, I am just a guy that did well on a telly show. That, by and large, is it."



More than 10,000 people have applied for the new series of The Apprentice.

Whittled down to 14, this year's contestants include a lawyer, an ex-Millwall footballer, a Cambridge graduate, a university lecturer, a management consultant, a cancer survivor, a financial adviser, a pharmacist, an IT manager, a black-belt martial artist, a restaurant manager and a former supermarket checkout girl.

Yorkshire will again be represented, this year by Paul Tulip, a 26-year-old head hunter from Leeds. Despite being one of the youngest would-be apprentices, the business and sports graduate is apparently in confident mood.

"I always like to put myself up on a stage to see how well I can do," he says. "And I have always been successful.

"People have said I should be on stage as a career. I have always stepped up to the mic, and I think that will come across: Everyone should have a Paul in the house."

It remains to be seen whether Sir Alan agrees.

The 12-week run of The Apprentice begins this Wednesday on BBC 2 at 9pm.