Hugh Reilly: Young winner takes all – and plays it safe

Young Apprentice's Ashleigh Porter'Exley floats off in Lord Sugar's limo after her win. Picture: BBC
Young Apprentice's Ashleigh Porter'Exley floats off in Lord Sugar's limo after her win. Picture: BBC
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APPRENTICES have changed – and so, it seems, have teenagers basking in 15 minutes of fame, writes Hugh Reilly

When my mum and dad married, they didn’t have a ha’penny between them. Worse, they couldn’t afford a hyphen – hence, I was doomed to go through life burdened with a single-barrelled name. Of course, if my father had invested his pay rather spending most of it in the pub and making beer-impaired impulse purchases such as a Twenty Irish Harp Tunes album, my title could have been Hugh McCluskey-Reilly. To be fair, that fact that I am alive today is due to my mono-surname. Brought up in the Easterhouse housing scheme, there was a broad consensus in the tight-knit community that decreed beating up a kid with a double-barrelled name was excusable on grounds of provocation.

Back then, the term “young apprentice” conjured up an image of a jug-eared boy in grimy dungarees, weighed down carrying a bag of tools for his tradesman master. Ashleigh Porter-Exley, winner of BBC’s Young Apprentice reality TV show, does not have over-sized lugs. Further, she is the only apprentice I have ever to known – other than the scarily flamboyant lad who lived in the next close to me – to wear a dress.

The 17-year-old Yorkshire lass has been awarded £25,000 for enduring the practised one-liners of Lord Sugar, a man who in 1983 only escaped being kidnapped when the dyslexic leader of an IRA group misread the target to be Shergar. With Ms Porter-Exley wowing the judges with her ethical streetwear brand, many people expected the whizz-kid entrepreneur to start up an edgy, innovative business. Instead, she has chosen to either establish her own property management company or an accountancy firm.

For property management company, read estate agent. I find it odd that a go-getter thinks that the road to riches begins with a shop whose windows are awash with shiny, colourful pictures of houses nobody wants to buy. In these hard economic times, selling a fridge-magnet to a hermetic cave-dweller would be easier than closing a sale on a residential property. Ms Porter-Exley will need to learn a whole new language to mesmerise potential purchasers into putting down a deposit. “Up-and-coming area” is realtor shorthand for a district that resembles an Afghan village after several drone strikes personally signed off by Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama. “Handy for local amenities” means the flat is above a pub, opposite the town’s STD Clinic and around the corner from the bustling homeless unit.

My guess is that she will plump for creating an accountancy firm. At present she is studying for an NVQ in accountancy, a very basic level of competency in that field. Being slightly innumerate need not be a barrier to achieving professional chartered accountant status. My accountant, Alan, runs his own company, not bad for a man who finds the task of solving a newspaper’s “easy” Sudoku as challenging as cracking the Enigma code.

According to Lord Sugar, the young apprentice won because of her “utter graft”, a praiseworthy but ultimately redundant quality should her fledgling company secure the contract to do the UK tax returns of Starbucks, Vodaphone and Amazon.

Ms Porter-Exley is young, carefree-ish and single; thus, many of her contemporaries are mystified why she has opted to waste the prize money on something as vacuous as an enterprise that could give her a tidy income for the rest her days.

Celebrity-obsessed, orange-faced teenage bimbos would have headed to the nearest plastic surgeon for a boob job, bum-tuck and the kind of full lips that make male trout frisky. Instead of carrying a fake Louis Vuitton bag over shoulder haggled from a “looky, looky” man on the Benidorm promenade, a classy wannabe WAG could splash the cash on authentic designer accessories in the hope of being spotted and seduced by a Premier League footballer; sadly, in all likelihood, she will be phoning provincial press editors trying to sell her kiss ’n’ tell story of a night of passion at the Bathgate Travelodge with a Raith Rovers reserve love rat.

Young men with £25k to burn would probably rush to a saleroom and buy a second-hand sports car, with insurance perceived to be something of an optional extra. Having blown his tank on a set of flashy wheels, the boy-racer has little money left for expensive fuel and is thus reduced to driving up and down the high street, loudly accelerating as he hurtles towards the red traffic light. It’s cool to be seen sitting in a coupe, fingers tapping ostentatiously on the roof, one hand on the fake-fur-covered steering wheel. It’s less cool, however, when the car is parked in a disability bay at Lidl and the red-faced hot-rod is helping his elderly nana put her groceries into the compact boot.

Many teenagers would have used the money on exotic holidays. Travel broadens the mind, they say, although the fact it also lays the body open to malaria, hepatitis, dysentery and Japanese Encephalitis remains largely unspoken. In recent times, taking a gap year has become very fashionable. Tales of Scottish youngsters helping Mekong Delta fisherman repair their torn nets warm the heart. However, most kids of my acquaintance would prefer to squander their stash on a gap weekend in Vegas.

I’d like to think that our youth would consider giving some of the money to charity. The Secret One Fortieth Millionaire could go undercover, work with ordinary folk doing extraordinary service in society and make them cry uncontrollably when the bone of a couple of hundred quid is tossed in their direction. Others may decide to help the very poorest in our midst by undercutting the outrageous interest rates charged by the likes of Wonga. An altruistic teenager offering an almost unbelievably low Representative APR of just 2,000 per cent would soon drive these pay-day loan companies out of business.

Like Ms Porter-Exley, I too had a job at aged just 13, delivering Sunday newspapers. Looking back, I learned many skills. As transport manager, I was responsible for making sure that the pram wheels did not part company from my barrow. Head of security, I had to ensure no excitable scamps pinched a salacious News of the World when I was upstairs shoving a puritanical Sunday Post through a top flat letterbox. On one occasion, as a PR consultant, I spun a line that my Sabbath day tabloids were soggy due to heavy rain and that reports of a dog being seen cocking its leg over my barrow were without foundation.

Hopefully, having basked in her fifteen minutes of fame, young apprentice Ashleigh Porter-Exley will, indeed, become master of her own destiny.