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The Apprentice: who’s passing the fitness test?

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Legend has it that, in the warm-up to the 2002 World Cup quarter final clash between England and Brazil in Osaka, our boys were taken aback by the physical condition of the Brazilian players. Later, when the game started, David Beckham famously pulled out of a tackle, the demi-gods ran up the field, scored, and our pale lads were on the flight home.

Last night, The Apprentice became a physical contest and Michael Sophocles, a shambling wreck after weeks of task failures and increasingly implausible self-defence (how dare he turn on our beloved Raef), was withdrawn to avoid further punishment.

By contrast, Lee and Alex seemed physically suffused by the challenge of renting out super-cars. Like a pair of flaming red Ferraris, their exhausts pumping with testosterone, the two giants roared out of the house, muscling their way to the most emphatic victory of the series.

Michael was beaten before the day had even begun, barely able to rouse himself from his slumbers. By the time he’d got to Harrods where, for some reason known only to him and Mohammed Al-Fayed, he imagined he’d find rental customers, the big boys were tearing the task limb from limb in the City. Michael was dead meat.

I shouldn’t overdo this, because there are plenty of entrepreneurs who enjoy a long lunch, but of the hundreds of successful self-made businesspeople I’ve met over 20 years, I’ve never met one who didn’t have enormous physical resilience and stamina. Yes. they will have schmoozed until the early hours and occasionally wallowed in the fruits of their success, but never to such a point that they lose a sense of the bigger picture.

John Caudwell, Britain’s first self-made billionaire, is a fitness fanatic and awesome physical specimen. Richard Branson has long pushed himself to new limits in physical and sporting endeavours. Charles Dunstone retains his focus and composure through competitive sailing. I don’t suppose Sir Alan would class himself as an athlete, but he apparently plays tennis regularly and is, without question, a very perky figure who, even in these later years of his entrepreneurial career, is as mentally nimble as ever.

What one doesn’t see among successful businesspeople (counter to popular wisdom) is slobbishness. I’ve never yet met a truly impressive, successful entrepreneur who abuses their personal condition. Even the City, built on (how shall we put this?) enhanced excess, tends not to tolerate real abusers for long. The men and women at the top of the tree are not the the coke-heads of yesteryear.

According to tabloid rumour, the inhabitants of the house in this year’s Apprentice have enjoyed life to the full, carousing to the early hours. Which is all fine and dandy – if you can take it. The man-beasts who are Lee and Alex (and indeed Clare and Helene) are clearly up for the challenge. With his Richard Dreyfuss gait and early hints of middle-aged paunch, Michael Sophocles was just asking for early retirement.

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