Reality bites

It’s a hot day and she has only had a few hours sleep, but Jo Cameron’s energy is seemingly undiminished. She got back in the early hours from a short break in the Czech Republic and, in her own words, is “absolutely knackered”.

Not that it shows. The former HR manager is more than keen to tell me what has happened since she found fame, and notoriety, on The Apprentice earlier this year.

If you watched the programme you will remember Cameron. It’s hard to forget her – the loud one with curly ginger hair who screamed and cried in equal measure. But she insists that her on-screen persona is not a true reflection of her real self.

“What you saw is only part of me. The Apprentice Jo Cameron is part of me, part of the time. When you put anybody in an environment like that it’s going to bring out some good points, and some points that need improving,” she says.

Since hearing the iconic words “you’re fired” from Sir Alan Sugar, Cameron has become somewhat of a local celebrity in her native Coventry. She has opened school fêtes, guested on radio shows and even appeared on The Weakest Link alongside Michael Barrymore and stargazer Russell Grant in a reality TV special.

So has she enjoyed this new-found fame?

“It’s been a real adventure since I left the show. It has opened a lot of doors for me and probably closed some as well,” she admits. “You don’t really know what the aftermath is going to be and just have to go with it.”

Cameron is also nurturing a fledgling speaker career – talking about issues such as diversity and motivation. “I’ve got a few bookings and am very excited about it. I’m going to speak about diversity for some corporate clients, and the adrenaline is already kicking in,” she says.

Cameron has recently set up her own recruitment consultancy, aimed at finding jobs for the over-50s. She also runs a training and coaching business.

“Discrimination is still happening and I hate it. I get frustrated that people are in jobs that are clearly below the skills and experience they have,” she says.

Totally driven

The 36-year-old has worked in the field of equality and diversity for many years, having studied ethnic minority career progression as part of her MA in human resource management. Her professional background is in the motor industry, where she was head of training at MG Rover.

As one of only a handful of women at management level in the car industry, she found the experience character-building.

“I once went to a management conference and there were only about three women in a room full of men. They looked at us like we were from the planet Zogg,” she says. “I was determined not to feel intimidated by that environment and, eventually, I adapted.”

Cameron was made redundant shortly before the firm went bust last year. But rather than get too downbeat about her situation, she recognised it as “the biggest opportunity” she had ever had.

“It was very sad what happened to Rover, but it gave me the freedom and flexibility to do what I wanted,” she says.

Her friends then encouraged her to apply for The Apprentice after seeing an ad calling for contestants. “It was one of those ‘eureka’ moments,” she says. “I just knew it was the right thing to do.”

The TV series was filmed over a period of six [“it felt like 60,” says Cameron] weeks.

“It was very intense and incredibly hard work. You’re surviving on a few hours sleep a night, with a group of people who are challenging to work with, and you’re set these unbelievable tasks,” she says.

In hindsight, would she have done anything differently? “In the first few episodes, I was very lively, very emotional. But then I got quieter as there was a lot of pressure to conform and adapt to the rest of the group. I wish I hadn’t done that and just been myself,” she admits. “I should have stood up for myself a lot more as I felt like I absorbed a lot of the criticism and blame. I don’t think I defended myself as well as I could have.”

Her critics accused her of giving into her tears, something deemed unacceptable in UK office life. “The British mentality doesn’t allow for much emotion,” says Cameron. “I think it’s a good thing, but in Britain it’s frowned upon.

“I think it would be a good thing if people were a bit more true to their own feelings. It would certainly make work more interesting,” she says.

No mud-slinging

Readers contacted Personnel Today at the time the show was aired, angry at the way Cameron was acting and accused her of damaging the reputation of HR with her emotional outbursts. But she won’t be drawn into mud-slinging with other HR professionals.

“I saw the rants and thought they were hilarious. As I’ve said, the on-screen Jo Cameron is part of me, part of the time. It’s very difficult to generalise about people, so they need to look beyond that,” she says.

In fact, Cameron believes HR professionals could learn from her self-assured attitude. “When I was at MG Rover I made sure I understood the business. We went on to the shop-floor to see what happened and how they built cars. That gave the department a good reputation,” she says.

“HR needs to make sure it has a good level of business knowledge and is assertive.”

Cameron hardly pauses for breath during the interview and it feels like she is just warming up. She is certainly not planning on standing still.

“At the moment I’m enjoying the publicity and speaking side of things. But I’m very passionate about women in politics,” she says. “There are not enough female MPs to mirror the country’s population and that needs to change.”

Does this mean we face the prospect of Cameron going head-to-head with her namesake David in the House of Commons? “I’m not ruling it out,” she admits.

You write Cameron off at your peril, and although she took some flak – some justified, some not – during her TV appearances, she is adamant she has no regrets about going on the show.

“Put me back in that environment and I’d probably be exactly the same,” she says. “That’s why people think I’m mad. I don’t think I am I think I’m quite normal.”

Cameron chameleon

Cameron on…

  • Life: “I don’t say no to a lot of things – I want to take on fresh challenges.”

  • The workplace: “People respect you more if you stand your ground.”

  • The Apprentice: “I’m not a person that’s very good at taking orders and following procedures.”

  • HR: “Needs to be more assertive and be a lot clearer in demonstrating the business benefits.”

  • Cameron: “I’m not sure what I would make of myself.”

The national press on Cameron…

  • ‘Human Niagara Falls’

  • ‘The UK’s most annoying woman’

  • ‘Sir Alan’s favourite nutter’

  • ‘The Marmite woman [you either love her or you hate her]’

  • ‘Charlie Dimmock on speed’

  • ‘An emotional yo-yo’

The HR profession on Cameron (from the Personnel Today ‘rant line’)

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