As Luisa Zissman observes, few candidates from BBC TV’s The Apprentice actually become famous. The 26-year-old businesswoman, who owns Bakerstoolkit.co.uk, The-Bakershop.co.uk and a bricks-and-mortar cake shop, Dixie’s Cupcakery, says that she is actually pleased that she was runner up in season 9 of the show rather than overall winner.
“I would never have done The Apprentice if it was for a job, like it used to be. With the show’s new format there was the chance to get £250,000 for your business. The great thing was that, even though I didn’t win, I got the money anyway because my profile had built up, and investors were interested. I was actually better off that way because I gave away less equity for a similar amount of money. In fact, I gave away less than half of what I would have done on The Apprentice, and my business launched very quickly so I’m really happy with the result. I have more control this way as I own 76% of my business as opposed to the 50% I would have been left with if I had won, and I got to choose the investors that I thought would work for me. I was able to select people with different skill sets who could each bring something useful to the table. On a day-to-day basis they don’t get involved much at all. If I have a problem I let them know; if something’s gone great then I let them know. It’s a much better working environment for me with much less pressure.”
Luisa seems to be bucking the trend of obscurity displayed by most of the other candidates from pretty much all seasons of the show. She has become a well known face on TV and in celeb publications and seems to have pulled off a remarkable balancing act: she has managed to become a little notorious and controversial while also being very popular. Luisa’s personal life was the subject of considerable gossip after her appearance in Celebrity Big Brother 13, but the overall tone of the reaction was appreciative of her openness and straight talking.
To an extent, Luisa is surprised by the amount of exposure she has received since appearing on The Apprentice.
“People have said, ‘Oh, you did The Apprentice to become famous,’ but that’s wrong. It wasn’t something I’d considered or expected because, when you think about it, no one from The Apprentice has really become famous. I was in the ninth series and in all those nine years you don’t really remember anyone… except maybe Katie Hopkins. People don’t even remember the winners. If the plan had been to become famous, then Big Brother – the civilian Big Brother – would have been better, because people do go on that show to get a profile. I genuinely went on The Apprentice to get investment for my business. I never expected all that kind of media frenzy around me. I still think it’s weird that people are so interested in my life.”
Be that as it may, people certainly do seem interested, and Luisa hasn’t disappointed them. In addition to her colourful presence and candid revelations in the Celebrity Big Brother house, Luisa has made headlines with her run-ins with the aforementioned Katie Hopkins. When Hopkins launched a rather odd Twitter attack on Luisa in early February, she seemed unprepared for Luisa’s snappy, hilarious response (sadly, neither tweet is appropriate to reproduce here), and withdrew from the spat she had instigated, lapsing into Twitter silence.
A couple of weeks later, Channel 5 aired their ill-conceived panel debate, The Big British Immigration Row: Live, and invited both Luisa and Katie to participate. As one might have expected, Hopkins took the anti-immigration position, regurgitating ill-informed, reactionary tabloid propaganda about immigrants draining welfare, health and education resources. Luisa, in more rational and measured tones, was clearly not inclined to let Hopkins’s angry diatribe pass unchallenged. She firmly pointed out that workers from overseas are frequently more disposed to accepting hard, manual work that many native British people would not wish to do. Luisa’s opportunities to expand on her point were rather limited by interruptions from Hopkins, and by the inability of the programme’s presenters to moderate discussion and prevent panelists and audience members from shouting over each other. Luisa, who declined to be drawn into the melee, was one of the few participants to emerge with temper and dignity intact.
Luisa is an active Twitter user and that was, in fact, the medium that first alerted Regtransfers to her desire for a personal number plate.
“Yes, I tweeted that I would like a number plate for my new car, and a lot of people responded to my tweet and said that Regtransfers were the best in the business and I should go to you guys. You’ve got a very good reputation with my Twitter followers and you were the name that kept coming up.
“I love my new plate. I love the fact that LU11 SAZ is so like my name. I’m really very pleased with it. I’ve wanted a personalised number for years, so I’m really happy.
“I’m a bit of a petrol head. I like fast cars, and I especially love white cars. All my cars are white: my Range Rover, the Ferrari, and the Audi that I’m giving up. It’s always been an ambition of mine to own a ferrari. It’s quite a masculine car and then when people see it’s just me driving it… [laughs] I quite like that. I love going fast, and I’m going to take the Ferrari on track days and stuff. It’s the perfect car for me, and it’s actually also really comfortable, as well as fast. It’s a really nice drive, quite smooth but packs a good punch. It’s the perfect car.”
The fast car is in keeping with many people’s perceptions of Luisa.
“People sometimes get the idea that I go to a lot of parties but a lot of that is media stuff. It’s fun but it’s still work, I don’t get to choose when I do that but I can understand why people think it’s just me partying.”
The nature of media work obviously means attending events in the evening, well after office hours. How does Luisa manage to fit that in with her most important role, as mum to Dixie.
“I wake her up, first thing, and then take her to the nursery. She goes there from Monday to Friday and she loves it; she just runs in and shouts, ‘Bye!’. She doesn’t even look back half of the time. It’s good that she enjoys it, as she has to go to nursery for me to be able to work. I collect her after I’ve done my work at the office, and I usually put her to bed myself. I have a live-in nanny, but that’s more for evenings, so I can go out and do media stuff if I need to after Dixie’s gone to bed.
“Sometimes during the day I’ll do interviews and stuff. My split tends to be three days of office work and two days media; then I normally have two days off a week to do photo shoots and stuff. I also write a column which has to be submitted on a Wednesday. So, I do tend to work a lot, but I love it. I don’t mind doing 18 hour days.”
With such a varied and busy career it is easy to forget that Luisa is only 26 years old.
“I’ve always been quite mature, I think. Mature but immature [laughs]! I’m quite grounded: I know what I want from life. However shallow it sounds, I like fast cars and big houses and, hopefully, I’ll be moving this year to a big house with a pool and stuff. That is what drives me: to be able to send my child to a private school; I like wearing Jimmy Choo and Burberry clothes. It is a bit shallow, but that is the kind of thing I like in life. I’m going to take Dixie to Disneyland this year. I’ll be able to do that because I’ve worked for it. I believe that if you work hard you’ll never struggle. For me it’s always been about that focus. I’m just really driven.”
Luisa is fortunate that her long working days are filled with things that interest her. During her youth, growing up in Buckinghamshire and going to school in Northampton, she didn’t always enjoy how she had to spend her time.
“I was good at school – I was quite naughty but always academically quite good – but I didn’t like school. I didn’t really like being told what to do. So, I think from an early age I knew that I would have to work for myself because, obviously, if you can’t really take orders then you’re not going to get on with an employer.
“I started my first business when I was 20, and then it just kind of grew from there, as I got new ideas. I’ve always had a passion for baking so I opened my cake shop three years ago and then, from that, started my first online baking business. Then, of course, I got the idea for my own Bakers Toolkit brand and website.
Although Luisa’s own focus is clearly on her serious business ventures, it is her media appearances that have made her a celebrity. Luisa clearly perceives the media side of things as a significant opportunity, and not to be wasted.
“I’m really happy that I did Celebrity Big Brother. It was such a good experience. I would go back into the house in a heartbeat. I loved it.
“I’m not a particularly paranoid person but other people seemed to worry about what people were saying about them on the outside. Being in that closed environment for so long, and only having those other people to talk to, you know nothing of what’s going on. Naturally you become a bit stir crazy, but it’s good. It was fun.”
Luisa has maintained friendships she made during her time on The Apprentice, and in the Big Brother house where she was confined with, amongst others, comedian Jim Davidson, models Casey Batchelor, Jasmine Waltz and Sam Faiers, singers Lee Ryan and Dappy and Journalist Liz Jones.
“From The Apprentice, I still speak to Leah, Natalie and Zee every so often, and from Big Brother I talk to Jasmine and Lee and Dappy. I spoke to Casey and Sam yesterday, and I was with Dappy yesterday. I spoke to Jim last week, and Liz I’m having dinner with tonight. So, we pretty much all speak still, which is nice.”
Luisa even takes a tolerant and philosophical view of the relentless scrutiny that so many other celebs baulk at.
“If I don’t want to be seen then I won’t be seen, is probably the easiest way to put it. And I think that’s pretty much the same for every person who is in the public eye. If I go on a date then I’ll go to a restaurant where I know there will be no paparazzi, and I know that the restaurant won’t tip the paparazzi off, so I can remain quite private. On the whole I find it quite controllable, and you do have to take the good with the bad. You can’t just have things all your own way. I enjoy it all really. I don’t even care when people write bad stuff; I just think, That’s fine, knock yourselves out!
“As long as people are interested in me, I want to keep doing what I’m doing. As long as they want to watch me on TV, read my columns and see pictures of me then I’ll carry on doing it all. As soon as everyone loses interest I’ll quietly go and not outstay my welcome.”
That being the case, it looks as if Luisa will be around for some time.
Story: Rick Cadger
Interview: Angela Banh
Photography: Stan Thompson