Pride: Four of Nottingham’s Reality Stars Lift the Lid on Their TV Experience

Interview: Ashley Carter & Emily Thursfield
Tuesday 02 November 2021
reading time: min, words

Some wanted fame, some wanted success and some just wanted to have a bit of fun. No matter what their motivations, our Notts reality TV stars have all experienced the good and the bad of becoming almost famous. From chasing chickens for Lord Sugar to baking Battenberg for Paul Hollywood, here’s what they had to say about their time on Come Dine With Me, The X Factor, The Great British Bake Off and The Apprentice...


Simeon Hartwig
Come Dine With Me – Series 12

The Application
I didn't even apply to go on it. I moved into a little flat at the back of Hockley and we used to get calls to our landline all the time that weren't for us. We always ignored it, except for one time when it was Come Dine With Me asking if anyone wanted to apply. The woman seemed to like me, and put me forward to the next interview stage and it escalated from there. It was a bit of an accident really.  

The Audition
I told them I was going to have a pizza party, but they said someone else did that recently. Then I said I was going to make banoffee pie for pudding, but they said no to that, too. They suggested I make ice cream, so I was like yeah, sure, why not? The researcher helped me a lot, because she basically convinced me to make a load of stuff I didn't know how to make so I'd get on. 

The Evening
Each evening takes about six hours, and you just sit around getting battered. So I was really lucky to go first, because by the fourth evening everyone was knackered and marking a bit more critically. You only get £120 to spend. You're allowed to spend more, but I'd just started my brand and needed that £1000 prize! I spent half the money on booze, because I thought if they were drunk they'd enjoy themselves no matter what happened. 

The night drags on because people get taken out to be interviewed individually, but in general they let the conversation flow. If things got a bit boring they'd stop us and take us back to a controversial conversation topic we were having earlier. I think they don't really want you to get on well with each other. 

The Messy Flat
I wasn't prepared for it at all. My flat was so messy that the production crew had to help me clean up before people arrived. I didn’t even have enough chairs! But I made sure I got loads of product placement for my brand - I had a t-shirt, jumper and a jacket with my slogans on. My online sales definitely went up afterwards.

The Controversy
I ended up coming joint-first, which I'm still a bit pissed off about. The producer pulled me aside after I gave quite a low mark with the guy I ended up tying with. He said that I seemed to have enjoyed myself, and that I was in danger of setting a bad precedent if I didn't give him a higher score. But his food wasn't very good! But he convinced me, and we ended up having to share the money. 

The Aftermath
People recognised me a bit afterwards, but most of the time they didn't know where from. I wish I'd been single at the time - I could have used my fame for a bit! I actually stayed in touch with the researcher. We were at the same house party in London and ended up going back to hers. We did the deed, but I had to get up really early the next morning for a market in Brick Lane. We didn't use protection, I didn't have cash on me and I was still a bit drunk, so I ended up writing her a cheque for £20 for the morning after pill and left it on the bedside table. I massively regret it to this day. She text me calling me a dick and that was that. Absolutely gutted.

Jordan Cox
Great British Bake Off - Series 5

The Application
I've never wanted to go on TV before - I'm not a fame hound at all. As a general rule I'm a very private person, but it just seemed like a really silly, lovely thing to do. 14,000 people applied to be on that year, and the process was quite long. I was called down to London a couple of times, and it was a constant show of your baking skills. Unlike other shows that might be more about your personality, Bake Off is very much about whether you could bake. 

The Right Stuff
The producers were really keen to make sure that no-one who went on was fame hungry or doing it to get some sort of TV career. Even the people that have become famous off the back of Bake Off were the people who were underdogs, and didn't really stand out at the beginning. 

The Press
It was still a really tiny show, which seems crazy now. The first few seasons were on BBC2 and only had a few million viewers. But my series was the first to move to BBC1, where 13 million people watched. A guy from The Mail camped outside my front door as my wife's father had just died. He was a proper Beano-esque reporter with a long trench coat asking stuff like: "I hear your wife's father just died. Was it a slow death?" It was like, hang on, I just wanted to bake a cake. 

The BBC very specifically told us that this wouldn't happen. They said the local press might get in touch if we get to the final, but the nationals don't care. Two days after that we were on the front page of The Mirror, the Daily Mail and The Sun

The Attention 
About three years after the show had been on I was getting off a bus at Victoria Station when this guy came up to me saying, Allright Jordan, you don't recognise me do you?" I had no idea who it was. Turns out he'd met me three years earlier, asked for a photo and, for the entire time, had had it as the background on his phone. That was a lot to take in! I expect the BBC prepare people a bit more for it now, but back then it was crazy how little they prepared you for it. Twitter wasn't as big back then, but I was amazed at the level of vitriol that was thrown around toward people that weren't quite baking a cake correctly. It was a brutal time, but the negativity was definitely outweighed by the positivity. 

The Global Impact
My wife and I got married in Las Vegas, and spent a few days in LA afterwards. One night we went into a vegan butcher on Venice Beach, and there was a girl who was levitating with excitement because she’d seen me outside - it blew my mind. We're talking five years after the show was on TV, on the opposite side of the world - why would she know who I am? But it shows how big the show's impact is. I ask myself, if I'd known how big it would have all gotten, would I still have applied? The answer is probably not. But that isn't to say that lovely things haven't come out of it, and things are much calmer now. I made an effort to distance myself from it all a few years ago. I didn't want to be known as that guy who did that thing years ago. 

Elizabeth McKenna
The Apprentice - Series 13

The Motivation
I went on The Apprentice to get the investment from Lord Sugar and win. End of. I didn’t see The Apprentice as reality television - to me that’s programs like Big Brother and TOWIE so I didn’t really realise exactly what I was getting myself into at the time. There was a selection of candidates who were there purely on the reality television track - they didn't really have a business concept, they just wanted telly exposure to see where that would take them. 

The Process
They call The Apprentice ‘the process’, and I never really realised what they meant by that until I got into it. Every day is just a process of whittling the competition down. It is a competition and I’m very competitive. Everybody there can potentially do something that gets you fired. You have to be careful on all fronts. 

The Editing
Running around chasing chickens and all that stuff did actually happen - you’re not scripted in any way as to what you do. They’ll just lay something out in front of you, and leave you to it and film what happens. The difference between what I was experiencing and what you see on television is what an individual says and means and how this can be perceived when the show airs can be very different.

The Trolls
I feel that a lot of my privacy has gone. The problem with reality television is that people think you’re fair game for abuse. I didn’t have social media until the week before The Apprentice launched, and I didn’t know that there were people who just rage there. I found the more tongue in cheek things, like ‘She looks like David Walliams in drag,’ funny because I’m not the quintessential Apprentice candidate. I’m 6’2”, size 16 and never wear heels or dresses. But the nasty, more personal comments got to me. To be honest, that doesn't come from the wider Twitter community - the worst abuse I've had is from Nottingham people. I will say that when you see these reality TV people on their knees with depression, you should believe everything you hear about them being alone and under pressure. 

The Rough with the Smooth
For me, The Apprentice wasn’t social media. It was meeting the best group of people I’ve ever known, and going through an experience only a very small number of people will ever get to do. It was a really positive experience in my life. Lord Sugar shook my hand and told me that I represent 90% of the businesses in the country - the small businesses - and that I should be proud of how I’d represented them. When I was fired, I told him that it had been my honour and please, and thanked him. I genuinely meant it. The social media rubbish and pressure of being a public figure that came afterwards is just different from the show. 

The Legend
One of my life's bucket list items was to go on Mastermind. I went on Celebrity Mastermind and I won it, hands down. My subject was Watson Fothergill, the Nottingham architect and I was very proud to have won with a Nottingham subject. 

I'm going to say this with arrogance, but I'm probably the best Apprentice candidate of all time. There’s an ‘Elizabeth’ section in The Apprentice best bits, and I’ve had a music video dedicated to me. I've taken my business from a little shop in Nottingham to a national brand, and I wouldn't have been able to do that without taking the opportunity the show gave me. You are a product of every experience that you go through in life, and The Apprentice was definitely a pivot-point in mine. 

2 to Go (Pete and Emma)
The X Factor - Series 1

The New Concept
Pete: We had already featured on a BBC show called Star For A Night a couple of years previously, and we had a lot of fun, so we fancied throwing our hats into the ring again.
Emma: The X Factor was the first show to be billed that you could go on as an act bigger than one person, so we knew we could audition as 2 to Go. We also hoped this new show would be a bit different to the other ones around, as we were on the first series ever.
Pete: Even back then we were cynical enough to know that even winning on a show like this wasn't a guarantee of long-term success. We thought if we really went for it, it could open some doors for 2 to Go.

The Waiting Game
Pete: There was a lot more waiting around than we had realised. From the first auditions through the entire process, there’s a lot of time when you’re doing nothing and trying to keep some energy going, because at any moment you might have to spring into action and look animated on camera. 
Emma: We didn't spend as much time with our mentors as the show makes out. Ours was Louis Walsh, and we didn't see him from one week to the next, although we did have his phone number.

The Adrenaline Rush
Pete: Going on live TV knowing that there would be millions watching was a big high, but it always felt like it was over way too fast. I think there's a lot of adrenalin going through you and it all seems to happen in a flash.
Emma: The tour we got to do afterwards was by far the best part of the whole experience - we got to play to Arena audiences of over 20,000 people.
Pete: Ultimately after it was all over, I think we both felt depressed. A bit like the long build up to Christmas, and then it's all over. You can't help wondering at that point if there's something you could have done better. If we'd chosen different songs, or made more of an effort. Those thoughts were inevitable. But we always knew that we would still have our act and we would still go on and do gigs and enjoy ourselves, as we still do today.

The Fame
Emma: We did get recognised a lot after the show, particularly when we were together. The attention we got was all positive though really, signing autographs or having a picture taken
Pete: One thing I'll always remember is appearing on The Paul O'Grady Show after we got voted out. Afterwards we thought we'd try and get his autograph, and as we were just about to ask him, someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked for our autograph. That tickled me.

The Impact
Pete: We had some brilliant gigs off the back of The X Factor, and we’d often find ourselves on the same bill as the top acts of the time.
Emma: We were able to get better gigs and command a higher fee around the time of the show, so it definitely affected our working lives. We even did a stint on a local radio show as DJs.
Pete: I'm very glad we went on the program. That said, I wouldn't go on a program like that now. People often tell me I should, but I'm in a different place now. I went there and got the t-shirt.

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