There aren’t many 24 year-olds who can claim they’re business partners with one of the world’s best known business tycoons.
But then there are not many women like Leah Totton.
After being crowned the winner of The Apprentice on Wednesday night, the future couldn’t look better for the Derry woman.
Combining both brains and beauty it’s full steam ahead for Leah’s business plan to open a medical cosmetic clinic - ‘Dr Leah’ - with the multi-millionaire.
And speaking to the Journal in one of her first interviews since winning on Wednesday night, Leah said she was looking forward to coming home tonight to spend some time with her family.
While filming on The Apprentice finished last December, Leah only found out she had won on Monday.
“It just hasn’t sunk in yet,” she said. “I am so happy and it is great for my hometown, especially with the City of Culture.
“There has been so much going on with Radio One’s Big Weekend and Jordan O’Keefe on Britain’s Got Talent. Now there is this.”
She revealed how her little sister Jodi has been staying with her as she has done all her press interviews.
“We are such a close family,” she said. “Jodi has been helping me take it all in.”
Leah’s first clinic is set to open in October in London. However, she says she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of opening a clinic in Derry.
“I’d love to open a clinic in Northern Ireland,” she said. “I benefited from a great education there which was second to none.”
But Leah also admitted that she has struggled to cope with some of the negativity in the press and some of the flak she took on Twitter.
“I found it difficult and sometimes it has been upsetting when people were questioning my ethics and said things about my looks.
“Thankfully when that was happening there was always someone from home supporting me. The support from the city has meant so much. I am just a normal 24 year-old girl and I have to take it on the chin. But I’m delighted I got the win in the end and that makes it all worthwhile.”
As for going into business with Lord Sugar, Leah said: “He is a brilliant person, I feel so lucky. And Karren Brady is a woman I have so much admiration for; she is a person who I genuinely warmed to and someone hopefully who I can continue to work with in the future.”
And of her opponent Luisa Zissman, Leah added: “She is amazing, if I had lost it couldn’t have been to a better person.”
After a gruelling 11-week journey, only two candidates remained in Lord Sugar’s search for a business partner and on Wednesday night they faced their toughest challenge yet.
Finalists Leah Totton and Luisa Zissman were summoned to leading venue One Marylebone at 5pm, the location for the final showdown.
Lord Sugar told the two female finalists to launch their businesses with a brand, a website and a launch campaign.
Former contestants making up Leah’s team were: Francesca MacDuff-Varley, Alex Mills, Myles Mordaunt and Uzma Yakoob while Luisa’s had Neil Clough, Zeeshaan Shah, Jason Leech and Natalie Panayi.
Leah was determined to achieve her vision for the brand, and worked with Alex and Myles to create the perfect logo for her company. To produce her promotional video Leah headed to a clinic where her team pick up on her appearing to be stressed, with Alex saying to colleague Uzma: “She just needs to calm down.”
On the third day of the task during the presentation Luisa seemed to fall apart when questions were opened out to the floor.
She is asked about her expected profit in five years’ time, and says: “Do you know what, I can’t answer that. I’d just be lying.” Devastated, Luisa cries backstage after the pitch, taking comfort from her team members.
Before making his final decision, Lord Sugar asked Leah and Luisa to leave the boardroom so he could consult with aides Karren Brady and Nick Hewer. Lord Sugar stated: “Two completely different business models. As far as Leah is concerned, she doesn’t look like she wants to listen. It’s all very well being adamant about what you want to do but she will need to listen.”
Karren, who was impressed by the young professional from Derry, responded to Lord Sugar’s concerns: “I have to say, having observed her closely, she is an incredibly bright young woman. I mean she really does know what she’s talking about. She’s shown that she can take a gift that she has and use that to create a business. I think that shows a really unique skill.”
Leah and Luisa were brought back into the boardroom to hear Lord Sugar tell them: “Well ladies, this is the most important meeting we are going to have in this process here. It’s the most difficult for me, because we do have two very credible business plans.”
Deciding on his winner Lord Sugar said: “So, I think I’ve made my mind up now. At the end of the day, the devil in me is wanting to take a risk. Leah, you’re going to be my new business partner.”
Speaking in the car following her successful news, Leah stated: “To have Lord Sugar show this faith in me is absolutely unbelievable, it’s amazing. I had much less experience than the other candidates in business coming in to the process and I really can’t believe that I have got this far and that I’ve actually won it! I can’t believe it. I’m really going to do everything that I can to prove that he has made the right decision and I won’t let him down.”