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Was Lottie Lion set up to be a hate figure? Defiant Apprentice star claims infamous race row Gandhi text was ‘taken out of context’ in order to portray her as the villain
- Lottie Lion, 20, was the second youngest contestant in the series’ 14-year history
- She believes she was cynically allocated role of the series villain by producers
- Moved out at 16, has lived alone since and effectively estranged from parents
When she was told that she’d been selected to take part in the latest series of The Apprentice earlier this year, the then 19-year-old Lottie Lion had a pretty shrewd idea of what her role on the show might be.
‘I was going to be the young, posh, clever one,’ she recalls. ‘And it was a role I was happy to play.’
The very self-confident teenager — she only turned 20 last week and is the second youngest contestant in the series’ 14-year history — certainly lived up to the billing.
Lottie Lion was the second youngest contestant in the series’ 14-year history and she certainly lived up to the billing
There was a cut-glass accent, a business plan targeting the huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ set and a razor-sharp mind that prompted even Lord Sugar to acknowledge she was ‘a bright girl’, before qualifying the rare compliment by comparing her to a ‘fine wine bouquet’, i.e. she ‘gets up everyone’s nose’.
Perhaps not quite everyone’s — but there’s no doubt Lottie immediately proved a Marmite character, with some viewers applauding her take-no-prisoners confidence and others accusing her of being a fame-hungry narcissist.
There is another role, however, that Devon-based Lottie — who left the show on Wednesday night after losing out in the notoriously tough semi-finals ‘interview’ round — believes was also cynically allocated to her by the producers of The Apprentice. One she says she was unprepared for: that of the series villain.
‘I was going to be the young, posh, clever one,’ she recalls. ‘And it was a role I was happy to play.’ Pictured Lottie on The Apprentice
Apprentice contestant Lubna Farhan
And not just any old villain either: a racist one at that (she told a fellow Apprentice contestant, whose parents hail from Pakistan, to ‘Shut up Gandhi’). It’s an accusation that, as she says in her first, full blistering interview, was not only unfair but untrue.
The quote — which became public in October — was taken out of context, Lottie says. It was made in a private WhatsApp conversation after the recording of the show had stopped, and Lottie believes that this, together with the ‘cynical editing’ of her footage in the show, has led her to become a hate figure.
She’s been trolled on social media, spat at in the street, verbally abused in wine bars, and has been sent links to websites showing ways to end your life. She’s even had to report two death threats to police.
‘I have had people abusing my looks, my character, threatening to beat me up, everything,’ she says. ‘The judgment the public has made of me from ten hours of edited footage has been savage. I know I am a forthright character and not everyone likes that so I expected some negative criticism, but it is the level of it that I wasn’t prepared for.
‘It has been much worse than anything I could have imagined. Whatever The Apprentice say about caring for the people on their show, they have effectively abandoned me. I just feel they don’t care at all. They got their viewing figures, a show they can sell around the world and that’s all that matters.’
From left to right: Lottie Lion, Jemelin Artigas, Lubna Farhan, Carina Lepore have a disagreement in South Africa
The personal fallout, meanwhile, has been immense. ‘I’ve watched myself on TV and I don’t like myself either — and that’s a very toxic thing to go through. I have cried myself to sleep a lot,’ she says.
‘They have ruined my confidence. I feel like it is going to take a while to get the old me back.’
Her story certainly serves as a timely warning to anyone who is contemplating signing up for their 15 minutes of fame on a reality TV show — a potent reminder of the pitfalls of exposing yourself to the blowtorch of hatred that finds its home on social media.
It is a formula that even the most self-assured person would struggle to cope with — and Lottie is certainly that. When we meet, she is calm, measured and personable, although clearly wounded from recent experience.
She is also, we have to remind ourselves, very young — only just an adult, albeit one with a lot more life experience than most people her age. As she reveals for the first time today, she moved out of home at 16, has lived independently since then and is effectively estranged from both of her parents.
Yet she had a happy childhood at first. The daughter of Dominique Lion, a Belgian-born businessman, and Stephanie Blackmore, a former desk officer at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who is now an estate agent, Charlotte Lion grew up in a cottage outside Barnstaple in Devon with what she admits was a ‘beautiful lifestyle’ of winter skiing and summer holidays.
That all changed when Lottie was 12 and her father, in her words, ‘disappeared’. ‘I don’t want to go into the details, but when he left it all came crashing down,’ she says.
Following her parents’ divorce, Lottie moved with her mum to a remote farm near Morebath, close to her maternal grandparents Bruce and Rita, to whom she remains close. A Saturday job on a local country estate introduced her to the country club world of hunting and shooting — and proved the kernel of her subsequent Apprentice business idea, an elite country club exclusively for women.
‘I’ve always had ideas — I set up a car washing business at the age of 12,’ she recalls. By the time Lottie was 16, however, relations at home had deteriorated to the extent she decided to move out. ‘I really didn’t get on with my stepdad and I wanted freedom. Mum and I were arguing a lot — I am sure I was a nightmare to live with too but I just had to get away,’ she says.
And so Lottie moved into a flat on her own, working evenings and weekends as a waitress while also studying for her A-levels.
It can’t have been easy. ‘It wasn’t,’ she says. ‘I struggled even to get a flat — I had to work really hard to persuade my landlord that I was a good bet. I worked 40 hours a week while also studying.’
By 18, deciding to eschew university, Lottie moved to Taunton and got a job in the local school library — a job she describes, in rather grandiose Apprentice-style language, as ‘secondary education consultant’ on her LinkedIn page — although she says she also gave speech and language classes to the local students.
It wasn’t all work and no play though: Lottie also seems to have acquired a taste for spa breaks, days at the races, expensive cars, drinks and shoes, all showcased on countless pouting Instagram posts featuring glasses of champagne and Louis Vuitton bags.
That is a lot of lifestyle on waitress money — how on earth did she afford it?
‘I also did some modelling work which was pretty well paid and I organised parties, too. I juggled a lot of plates basically,’ she says. ‘That’s one of the things that makes me sad about what has happened — that people won’t give me credit for how far I have come. I have worked really hard.
‘If the flip side of that is being confident, then I am not going to apologise for that.’
Again, one must remind oneself that Lottie is only just 20 — something that will have caught the eye of researchers for The Apprentice, who no doubt gobbled up the forthright Lottie’s application in which she described herself as a ‘very cut-throat person’ who brings ‘class’ to everything she does.
This, of course, is entirely in keeping with the show’s general thrust: no series of The Apprentice is complete without candidates jostling for the limelight and making a series of laughably supercharged claims about their abilities and talents.
Indeed, it is encouraged, says Lottie. ‘When I was doing my recorded interview the team say, “Give us your cheesiest lines.” They encourage you to say things like, “I’m the best of the best.” But that’s fine, it’s a game,’ she says.
‘The way I saw it there were not a lot of opportunities in my area. This was a way of getting my business idea out there. It was a no brainer to try to apply.’
Filming took place between April and June, and Lottie insists that generally she got along with her fellow candidates, particularly ‘luxury womenswear consultant’ Ryan-Mark Parsons and risk management consultant Marianne Rawlins.
She shared a room with semi-finalists Pamela Laird, a beauty brand owner, Carina Lepore, an artisan bakery owner, as well as account manager Iasha Masood — and says they all got on well.
‘Honestly the main argument was about Pamela’s amazing hair clogging up the sink,’ she says.
All seemed well, in fact, until a chat which took place on the candidates’ WhatsApp group in August — long after filming had finished — was made public in October, when the show was on TV.
In it, Lottie writes ‘Shut Up Gandhi’ to fellow contestant, account manager Lubna Farhan — who was one of the first to be voted off the show.
It left Lottie mired in accusations of racism and the series producers fighting off echoes of the now notorious 2007 Channel 4 Celebrity Big Brother episode in which the late reality star Jade Goody referred to Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty as ‘Shilpa Poppadom’. Yet it’s an entirely unfair comparison, insists Lottie.
The 20-year-old insists she wasn’t making a comment about race but was responding to what she believed was a quote by the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, which read, ‘sometimes people with a character are characterless’ — posted by Farhan.
‘I said, “Shut up Gandhi, that doesn’t make any sense!” directly relating to the quote. Everyone laughed and that was that,’ she says. ‘I even had some separate friendly communication with her [Lubna Farhan] afterwards. The next thing I know, a few weeks later, I read that I have made a racist comment.’
There is no doubt that there was bad blood between the two, with Lottie also writing: ‘I f****** swear if you disrespect me again I will f*** you up,’ in another post.
‘Lubna had been winding me up,’ she says now. ‘But I shouldn’t have got into an argument.’
Either way, at least four of the contestants complained to Boundless, the production company that makes The Apprentice, which, after an investigation, reprimanded Ms Lion’s ‘unacceptable behaviour’.
‘I have a recording of that meeting,’ she says. ‘They told me they were fully aware I wasn’t racist, but because Lubna was hurt they had to do something.
‘So they knew I had been misconstrued and were happy to see me branded a racist in public.
‘But the reality is that all a future employer will now see if they put my name into Google is “race row”.’
The show’s producers also told her she could not appear on ‘You’re Fired’ — the spin-off show in which former contestants chat to a panel about their experience — and that she would not receive the £1,000 fee given at the end of the process to candidates who fulfil the terms of their contract. ‘They effectively washed their hands of me,’ she says.
By this stage, of course, The Apprentice was on air and Lottie was more than aware of her public presence. ‘I knew from the very first episode what the producers of The Apprentice had decided to do with me,’ she says.
‘As the series went on, it felt like they even deliberately edited it so I looked like a bad guy. It was incredibly upsetting — this huge wave of disappointment washed over me.’
A spokesperson from The Apprentice says: ‘Every show is a fair and balanced representation of events. We have a thorough and robust duty of care protocol. It is not the case that the production has abandoned Lottie. The production team has repeatedly offered her various forms of support which she has failed to respond to.
‘The negative Press coverage stemmed from Lottie’s language to another candidate, not the actions of the production.’
There are some, of course, who would say that it is all fair game —that once you sign up for a reality TV show you have to take whatever comes your way. ‘People have to be reminded that just because I have decided to put myself out there on television doesn’t mean I’m not human,’ says Lottie. ‘There’s criticism and then there’s abuse.
‘The sad thing is that generally I really enjoyed the process — but the aftermath has been horrible.’
This week, that process came to an on-screen end, when Lottie’s business plan for her ‘socially elite’ country club floundered in the face of a lack of detailed figures. It left finalists Carina and recruitment company owner Scarlett Allen Horton, 32, to battle it out for Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment.
Lottie was, at least, afforded a gracious exit. ‘It didn’t show this on-screen, but Lord Sugar told me that he felt I had taken part in the process five years too early and I think he was right,’ she says.
Little chance of her going back for more, of course — those bridges are well and truly burned. Instead, she is trying to focus on moving forward with her business plan — and focusing on the positive. ‘Love it or loathe it, the Lottie Lion brand is pretty well known now,’ she says.
Few could argue with that. The pertinent question might be — at what price?
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