Me? A Celebrity? It's Preposterous! One Minute He Was Settling into Retirement, the Next He's the Star of the Apprentice and Countdown. Now, Nick Hewer Tells Jenny Johnston, He's Even Trying to Lure Former Sidekick Margaret Mountford Back to TV
Byline: Jenny Johnston
Could Nick Hewer be having a belated midlife crisis? The signs seem to be there. First, he spends a lot of our interview talking about how he's the kind of man who craves danger. He starts one sentence with the words, 'If you're the sort of person who likes the sound of gunfire, as I am...' Pardon? Is this the same Nick Hewer, the man-with-the-clipboard on The Apprentice, and whose latest TV job has been hosting Countdown?
Then he tells me he's just bought himself a little sports car 'for weekends'. Oh crumbs. He's 68 and says himself that he doesn't like to drive fast 'because I'd kill myself'. Did the news go down well at home? 'My partner told me it was ridiculous and deeply inappropriate. I told her I could chase young women in it, and she said [he adopts his trademark chewing-on-sour-lemons face] "That's a jolly good idea."'
One assumes, from the fact his kneecaps are still intact, that the long-suffering Catherine doesn't seriously have to worry about him chasing young women. 'Alas no. I seem to have misplaced my libido,' he says wistfully. 'But wherever it is, it's best to leave it there.'
It's now seven years since Nick, a PR executive, threw his retirement plans up in the air and accepted a 'tiny role' as a consultant to the then Sir Alan Sugar on The Apprentice. He had no experience in TV and, as he puts it, 'no idea what I was doing'. The show, to his astonishment, was a huge success. A second series was commissioned, then a third, it moved from BBC2 to BBC1, and Nick had found himself a new career, in showbiz - all, he says, by doing little more than arching an eyebrow.
He's now being bombarded with requests to appear on panel shows, hobnobbing with the likes of Jonathan Ross and Jo Brand ('with whom I want to elope, incidentally,' he says), and loving every ridiculous minute of it. 'Isn't it preposterous,' he says today, gearing up for a new series of The Apprentice. 'I get to my 60s, I've got the retirement house in France sorted and I'm contemplating the pipe and slippers. Then all this unfolds. Of course I've seized it. It's fun. And it's flattering. I mean, look at me! I'm not goodlooking. I'm not an ex-athlete. I've got no talent, no training, no anything really. It all seems quite silly sometimes. I suffer from a sort of Impostor's Syndrome most of the time. I've got no business to be doing any of this, really. Any fool can do it. And to be paid for it - and rather well - it's an attractive thing.'
Still, he's not daft. There is a line between shaking up your retirement and launching yourself full-pelt into an all-consuming showbiz career. 'I turned something down two days ago because I think there is a sort of crossover between greed and exhaustion,' he says. 'You don't want to keep taking on more and more until you have a heart attack.'
What's delightful, and presumably what keeps his feet on the ground, is that his family seem utterly bemused by this late celebrity blossoming. A divorce, Nick has two grown-up children, and is now a grandfather. 'I think my family do their best to ignore the fact I'm involved in this strange world. There's probably a bit of embarrassment. They don't watch. My grandson Fred, who's six, walked into the room when I was on telly and said, "Oh look, there's Grandpa Nick." No one else had noticed. There's a kind of indifference, which is very healthy.'
And what about Catherine? He laughs. 'She doesn't watch me either, or if she does, she's likely to say, "Really, Nick, with all your white hair and your white face, I urgently ask you not to wear white shirts. You looked washed-out and about 80."' When I point out that he doesn't have a white face and indeed is rather tanned, he says, deadpan, 'It's probably high blood pressure.'
He and Catherine don't have a conventional relationship. Although they got together only after he was divorced and she was widowed, they knew each other in a previous life. …