Interview: Cindy Ledgerwood - I won’t need Sugar for tea venture

Cindy Ledgerwood left The Apprentice three years ago with an unfortunate reputation for eccentricity. Now, after working in India and completing a degree at Napier, the entrepreneur is launching a range of herbal medicine brews

THE last time the world clapped eyes on Lucinda Ledgerwood she was being gently mocked by Adrian Chiles for her colourful dress sense and refusal to take part in the corporate vanity wrestling of The Apprentice.

After a few rounds of interviews with the national media, she seemed to vanish. It turns out that she went to India as the infamy of being a “zany” and “eccentric” – which basically boiled down to the fact that she liked to wear berets – was just getting too much to bear. Even in Leith.

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Now she’s back and with a new venture which sounds like a great opportunity for investment by a man called Sugar – tea.

She’s dropped the Lucinda for Cindy – which she says is how she was always known by friends before her reality TV adventure – and has spent the last 18 months completing a herbal medicine degree at Napier University. Graduation is fast approaching but, in the meantime, she’s got a business to launch at the Royal Highland Show this week.

“It’s been incredibly hectic,” she says. “I probably wasn’t planning to launch for another couple of weeks, but when I was given the chance to be at the Show I just took it.

“It’s a wonderful feeling being right at the beginning of something like this and, of course, I just hope it really takes off.”

Cindy’s big idea combines her loves of business and herbal medicine. She’s launching Miss IntegriTea, a range of hand-blended organic herbal teas, with a male range – MasculiniTea – still to come, including a blend designed specifically to keep you awake at night.

It seems a big leap from being a risk management expert to making herbal teas for the health-conscious. It could even be described as zany.

But the 36-year-old has always ploughed her own furrow and appears unafraid of taking the kind of risks at which more traditional career-ladder climbers would baulk.

She studied neuroscience and psychology at Manchester University before going into a graduate training programme with Ernst & Young. Still in her 20s, she’d already worked in London’s private banking sector for seven years and decided to quit.

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“I went travelling for just over two years with my then boyfriend. We ran a backpackers hostel in Australia and then took a camper van round America.”

On her return, she body-swerved London for Edinburgh, arrived by train, got changed in the Harvey Nichols’ loos, went for an interview and got a job as a business consultant with Scottish Widows.

After going freelance, she entered The Apprentice without having ever watched it as she didn’t have a TV for five years. At the time, she was earning a reported £100,000 a year, but was prepared to give that up for the mentoring of Lord Sugar.

“One of the reasons I did The Apprentice was that I’d got to the top of my field and felt I’d done what I wanted to do and I was after a change of direction,” she says.

But she changed her mind again, even before she was fired.

“For me, the important thing has always been that I’m comfortable with who I am and the principles and morals I have, and I know that it’s not necessary to be a bitch in business,” she says. “I just want to have a career which makes me happy.”

Back home in Edinburgh, she had an opportunity to do some media work, but it got to the stage where her TV fame meant a visit to the supermarket was no longer private.

“It’s a very strange thing having people recognise you wherever you go, looking in your shopping trolley,” she says.

“I never had any bad reactions, everyone was always lovely, but it began to get a bit overwhelming. I even stopped wearing colourful clothes because I thought that was why I was being recognised.”

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However, her fame had a very positive outcome. She was already working with The Prince’s Trust on mentoring young business people when she was approached by Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) about a two-year-stint in Delhi – on an Indian salary – to help revitalise the running of Pravah, a youth organisation.

“It was great to get out of the country,” she says.

“The job was a strategic role. I did a lot of planning, reviewing organisational structures and looking at staff development – that sort of thing. It wasn’t wholly altruistic, but it was a chance for me to use my skills in a way to enrich other people’s lives and help build a sustainable future for young people.

“The organisation was all about helping young people in Delhi, working with orphanages, giving young people a chance. We did a lot of work with street kids which was incredibly satisfying. We took 70 of them to the zoo one day – it was just wonderful.”

She adds: “It was so different from life here – a real experience. I shared a house with other staff and there was always the hustle and bustle of the markets. I probably have The Apprentice to thank for it. I probably wouldn’t have done anything like that at this time of my life, perhaps when I was in my 50s, so it gave me a push in that direction.”

What wasn’t so great, though, was her health. She ended up suffering from both scurvy and dysentery, which called a halt to her Indian adventure after 18 months.

“I was really ill, it was awful. I was going to go back out but really I couldn’t after being so ill. I lost quite a bit of weight, which was maybe no bad thing after I saw myself on television,” she laughs.

“But being back meant I was able to pick up my studies in herbal medicine again and this time finished the course.

“I’ve also been working Saturdays in Hanover Health Foods to gain more experience and I realised that one of the most effective and safest ways to use herbs is as a tea.

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“I think I was also influenced by being in India where herbs have huge importance in the culture, so I’ve been planning this for over a year and have suppliers set up and I believe the range provides what people want. Everything is hand-blended by me and uses the most sublime herbs, flowers and fruits. It’s not ‘dust in a bag’ tea. I will also make bespoke teas for individuals.”

Tea, of course, was initially a medicine before becoming an everyday beverage. Cindy’s range includes teas for the menopause using sage, motherwort, rose petal, vervain and lemon balm; another for hair, skin and nails which contains horsetail; and then there’s DigesTea for intestinal health and indigestion as well as others for sleeping and dealing with anxiety.

It’s as far removed from the booted and suited boardrooms of her past as it’s possible to be, but Cindy has no regrets. She’s happy back in Leith living with her cairn terrier Borage, and working hard to set up her website through which her teas will be sold.

The logo has a 1950s feel to it, of a blonde woman in polka dot dress with a large teapot in her hand, from which a flower is growing through the spout. “I’m getting a dress just like it for the Show,” she laughs. “I haven’t totally given up colourful clothes. In fact, I’m looking at a pair of pink sparkly shoes right now.”