Friday 26 December 2014

I didn't want to hear 'you're fired'

Former TD turned 'Irish Independent' columnist Liz O'Donnell takes on about her most thankless role yet: being a mentor on 'Celebrity Apprentice' – but it's all in a good cause,

Eoin Butler

Published 22/09/2013 | 05:00

'Celebrity Apprentice' judges Caroline Downey, left, and Liz O'Donnell
Pictured at the TV3 Autumn Schedule Launch 2013 are Celebrity Apprentice members, from left, Emma Quinlan, John Maguire, Caroline Downey, Nick Leeson and Amanda Brunker
Liz O’Donnell is a mentor on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’

How did you get involved in 'Celebrity Apprentice'?

How did you get involved in 'Celebrity Apprentice'?

I was approached by Caroline Downey of MCD, who has taken over the Alan Sugar role. I've known Caroline for a long time; we're both directors of children's charities. My instinct initially was to say no, because I figured this really isn't my space. But once she explained it was for a good cause, I came around.

How has Caroline adapted to her new role – are the contestants suitably terrified of her?

Well, she's not naturally a scary person. But she's a tough-minded business person. She shoots from the hip. A lot of the celebrities involved come from the entertainment sector, so they would already know her by reputation.

You once compared politics to reality TV...

I did, insofar as politics is conducted in public. When you lose your seat, as I did in 2007, it can feel like quite a public humiliation.

Was the fact that you couldn't get fired from this reality TV show one of the reasons you agreed to participate?

It was, to be honest. John Maguire and I are Caroline's assistants on the show. I'm not sure I would have agreed to be one of the celebrities if I'd been asked. As a judge, I'm not in the firing line. That made the challenge a lot less daunting for me.

Are the qualities required to succeed in politics and business similar?

Both require great management skills. Only half the work of a politician is done in public, the rest is very mundane administrative work.

Both require tremendous determination and focus, and both require a tremendous amount of self-belief. Because whether you're in a big party, a small party or independent, you really are on your own at the end of the day.

It's all about your own achievement and your own survival instinct. So yes, I'd say they're very similar.

Six episodes of 'Celebrity Apprentice' were shot in three weeks. Was that a gruelling experience?

It was. There were late nights, early starts and we worked right through weekends. You had to be "camera ready" at 6.30 each morning, which is no mean feat for women of a certain age.

Also, filming took place during the summer heat wave, which was just horrific. I remember we were in Cavan town one day and people were just sprawled out in the shade. It was like Calcutta.

What was the biggest challenge for you in the show?

Probably not getting involved. The contestants would have been under enormous pressure and your instinct in that situation would have been to help them, to say 'stop' when they were about to make a mistake. But Caroline wasn't on site during the tasks. So John and I were like store detectives. We were her eyes and ears on the ground, nothing else.

The celebrities include a former member of B*Witched, a couple of Irish models and a 'Fair City' actor. Be honest, had you heard of any of these people before?

Well, I didn't know any of them personally; this isn't really my area. But some of them, like Frances Black, I'd have been aware of; others I mightn't have known so well.

But you'd be surprised. Maclean Burke, who plays Damien in 'Fair City', for example, was recognised on the street everywhere we went.

Did any of the contestants impress you in particular?

The girls were very strong. They weren't always on the same team but, even working separately, I noticed their capacity to multitask was very impressive. With the timelines as tight as they were, that skill came into play a lot.

The guys had different skills. They were better at sticking to the brief they were given. They were less likely to go off on tangents that didn't work.

Were you able to set aside any preconceptions you might have had about some contestants? After all, reckless incompetence is pretty much Nick Leeson's entire claim to fame.

You're just focused in the tasks. You didn't get pally with the contestants or even engage with them much. We kept our distance and didn't get involved.

Were the celebrities good at working together?

Some were better at collaborating than others. There were egos involved, of course. But, at the end of the day, they were all coming from competitive backgrounds themselves – sport, music, entertainment and so on – so they were used to being under pressure and performing in the public eye.

At any point did you think, God, I helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement. What the hell am I doing here?

(Laughs) I'll tell you what, it was a bit of fun. We raised a lot of money for a lot of good causes. I felt exhausted when it was all over, but it was worth it.

Read Liz O'Donnell's column every Tuesday in the 'Irish Independent'. 'Celebrity Apprentice' is on TV3, Monday at 9pm

Irish Independent

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