Raef Bjayou: What Raef did next
Raef Bjayou may have been fired by Sir Alan, but a media career beckons for the charismatic Apprentice candidate who acquired his immaculate personal grooming habits at his Hertfordshire boarding schools. Pat Parker reports
TO say life has been hectic for Raef Bjayou since he appeared on The Apprentice back in the spring is something of an understatement.Offers from TV and magazines flooded in after the Hertfordshire-educated entrepreneur was fired by Sir Alan Sugar after making an artistic TV ad for tissues which unfortunately omitted to include a shot of the product. He's done a series of reports for the Richard and Judy show and has taken part in Living TV's The Underdog Show, in which celebrity contestants choose an orphaned rescue dog, and train it in obedience. Raef has become so attached to his new pooch, called Suz, that he's decided to keep her. 'She's really sweet,' he says. 'We've formed a very close bond.'Although Lee McQueen was finally chosen as Sir Alan's apprentice, Raef was arguably the star of the series. Who can forget his immaculate dress sense, his old-fashioned chivalry, and the impeccably-polished vowels with which he memorably declared, 'The spoken word is my tool'?Since The Apprentice, he tells me, life has been 'mayhem'. He's been working flat-out, trying to combine his media commitments with running his import/export company, and his mini property empire (he has four properties in north-west London, Ealing, and Fulham, where he lives). He's acquired an agent who is steering him away from tackier media offers, such as posing semi-nude in certain magazines. Raef is keen on a serious media career, perhaps presenting his own chat show. Yet he insists he appeared on The Apprentice out of a genuine desire to work for Sir Alan. 'I definitely wanted to work for the man who turned nothing into �800million through legal, honest means, and hard work. And I admire him more since being on the show, because when you are in the boardroom face to face, you realise his character assessment is incredible. He's an incredibly shrewd man, although that's not to say he's completely infallible.'Raef hoped Lee would win, and is convinced he was the right man for the job. 'He's a great guy, very enthusiastic. With Lee, you get someone who's easily mouldable.'Raef gives some illuminating insights into The Apprentice experience. The boardroom sessions, for example, which are heavily edited on screen, actually last up to two hours. 'Sir Alan analyses what went on in the task, and everyone has their say. It starts off quite relaxed but then the tension builds up until you arrive at the inquisition that goes on when the losing team is interrogated. At that point, you're full of nerves.'The whole experience is intensely gruelling. 'Sir Alan describes it as a business boot camp, and it honestly is. It is physically and mentally testing. You're back from one task at 2am and out on another at 5.30am. You need lots of stamina - we were surviving on Vimto and Skittles, because you don't have time to eat. And the hunger and lack of rest can lead to acrimony.'He personally found the acrimony amongst candidates 'ridiculous', and gallantly defended Sara in an early round against post-boardroom bullying. Raef managed to get on with everyone. 'I love people. Even when people are being obnoxious, I'm very laid-back. I'm an actor first and foremost. I have a good system of self-control.'Raef declared on the show that he wasn't going to descend to backstabbing in the boardroom to save his own skin. His reward was to be stabbed in the back by Michael Sophocles, co-director of the tissues advert, who shamelessly blamed Raef for the film's failings. He doesn't blame Sir Alan for being over-lenient with Michael, the 'nice Jewish boy' who didn't know the meaning of 'kosher'. 'It's a beautiful trait to give someone a chance and try to see something where others see nothing.'He admits that in hindsight, his team deserved to lose the tissue task. 'This is a business show, not a contest for Britain's next top director. We fell on our faces commercially, but we did well artistically, where unfortunately it doesn't matter.'But he does admit to feeling hurt when Sir Alan unceremoniously dismissed him as 'a lot of hot air'. 'He was wrong because I'm most certainly not a lot of hot air, and he's subsequently recognised that. I guess I was pretty hurt. And it was so far from the truth because I'm actually quite a profound individual.'And so it seems. Our conversation ranges from politics, to philosophy and the nature of God. He calls himself a 'deist', believing in God but not in religion, which is man-made and therefore flawed. He's an enthusiastic reader of Aristotle, Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre.Raef was born in London 28 years ago. His father, a property developer, is half-Portuguese, but he has few ties either with Portugal or with his father.The rift seems to stem from his parents' divorce when Raef was nine and boarding at Westbrook Hay prep school in Hemel Hempstead. But his memories of Westbrook Hay are fond ones. 'I absolutely loved it. It had a great community spirit, and I made some terrific friendships. I went back to a reunion a couple of years ago and it was just brilliant.' He went on to board at the prestigious Haileybury public school in Hertford Heath - formerly Haileybury and Imperial Service College. Again, he enjoyed his time there hugely, although he says it was more traditional and disciplinarian. It was Haileybury which instilled in Raef an obsession with personal grooming and tidiness. 'It's an ex-military school and we had regimental mornings and church on Sundays. The first thing you had to do in the mornings was make your bed, and if it didn't have hospital corners, you were in trouble. And I still feel that unless the bed is made and things are tidy, the day isn't going to be a success. I'm a neat freak.'He retains a great fondness for Hertfordshire. 'I love it. Growing up here was a terrific experience. It's the place I called home for many years.'After reading politics and history at Exeter University, where he gained a reputation as the 'best-dressed man on the campus', he spent a gap year digging irrigation trenches in Ethiopia. His import/export business now distributes HIV tests to Gambia and Senegal.His first proper job was working for Foxton's estate agents in Knightsbridge. 'It was long hours, and quite intense. It left no time for a personal life. It implanted the seed in my mind that I had to work on my own.'He may not have much enjoyed his year working at Foxton's, but it did lead to him meeting his girlfriend, Virginia, who was one of his clients. The two only became involved after he left, and have been together for about two years. Having spoken to him, I'd say there is certainly more to Raef than matinee idol looks and charm. He strikes me as intellectual, thoughtful, honest, positive and friendly. His as-yet unfulfilled ambition is to become an actor, and if his media career blossoms, he may achieve that goal. In which case, despite having been fired by Sir Alan, he may yet have the last laugh.