In boardroom terms it was a hostile takeover. Katie Hopkins, the poison-tongued “alpha female” contestant on The Apprentice, fired Sir Alan Sugar last night and walked out on the £100,000 job.
After months of acidic put-downs, Ms Hopkins, a 31-year-old brands consultant, had manoeuvred her way past 14 rivals to reach the grand final of the BBC One business search.
But when Sir Alan informed her that she was one task away from winning the post, the mother-of-two promptly quit, saying that she did not want to uproot her family.
The sudden departure of the most ruthless of the series’ competitors baffled her rivals. Insiders claimed that Ms Hopkins never had any intention of taking a job with Sir Alan and instead was using the show to find fame.
She has admitted a series of affairs with married men. Pictures of her cavorting naked in a cornfield with a man from the Met Office were splashed across the tabloids this week.
Described as a “consummate actress” by Sir Alan’s lieutenants, she is now using the PR agency which looks after Robbie Williams to handle a wave of media requests. Newspapers are bidding for her story, while a television career as a “female Simon Cowell” beckons.
Media commentators said that she had turned the tables on the manipulative producers of reality television. Mark Borkowski, a leading showbusiness PR, decribed the walkout as “a brilliant move”.
He said: “It is the first time that a contestant has pulled the rug from under a programme. Punters are becoming more savvy than producers and they know that quitting a show means they control their career from outside.”
Speaking on the You’re Fired programme, Ms Hopkins denied any calculated decision to quit. She said that the potential upheaval of moving home had suddenly hit her.
Ms Hopkins had stunned Sir Alan as he was selecting two finalists in a tense boardroom scene. “You’re in the final, you’re staying,” he told her.
But Ms Hopkins wavered. “I’m making a decision without having the courtesy to speak to the people who care for my children,” she said. “It’s a risk, it’s a discourtesy to my parents.”
She had promised Sir Alan that she would move from Exeter to London. A furious Sir Alan snapped: “I haven’t got time to wait for you to make a phone call.”
The stand-off ended with Ms Hopkins deciding: “I don’t want to make a fool of you or me. I think it’s more important to get the courtesy to have my plans in place, so I’ll have to stand down.”
The final will be contested between Simon Ambrose, 27, a Cambridge graduate and internet entrepreneur from London, and Kristina Grimes, 36, a single mother and pharmaceutical manager from Ireland who lives in Harrogate, Yorkshire.
Tre Azam, 27, from Essex was fired for being too argumentative. Lohit Kalburgi was also fired. The Apprentice has attracted five million viewers since transferring from BBC Two. Ms Hopkins, who willingly took on the role of “posh bitch”, became a cult figure.
A fling with contestant Paul Callaghan was exposed in the boardroom. Asked during a “job interview” last night if she had ever lied or cheated, she replied: “Yes, to get someone else’s husband because I wanted him. I’d say that was pretty ruthless.”
A spokesman for The Apprentice said: “Katie’s forthright views made for great television even though she probably did split the nation.”
However Sir Alan had called for applicants with a higher business calibre after complaining that too many of last year’s competitors saw the show as a vehicle for a media career.
Michelle Dewberry, last year’s winner, quit her job with Sir Alan within months to launch a business consultancy. Defeated finalist Ruth Badger has a series on Sky One.
Ms Hopkins’s victims will not be sad to see her go. Naomi Lay, an advertising sales manager, was compared unfavourably by her rival with a retriever after being fired.
Ms Lay said: “It’s a real shame that someone who actually is very professional thinks it’s necessary to behave like that.” Ms Lay now hopes to have a television career.
Katie’s killer lines
“Whenever there’s an issue Kristina tries to cover her arse. It’s a shame she doesn’t do it a little better with the skirt she wears”
“Kristina is a complete snake in the grass, a pain in the arse and frankly too orange to be taken seriously”
“When your best friends are Mr Pinot and Mr Grigio you want to watch it”
“I’d like to be the one who secures Adam’s exit back to the North and his Northern chums, where I do feel he rather belongs”