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The Apprentice, & Alan Sugar


The BBC's version of the USA's The Apprentice television programme was broadcast from February to May this year. The American version featured Donald Trump choosing an apprentice from a group of contestants who, each week, had to compete in tasks designed to demonstrate their business skills in order to avoid being unceremoniously dismissed from the programme by Donald. The winners, meanwhile, were rewarded with 'millionnaire lifestyle' experiences. The ultimate winner - the apprentice - went on to receive a contract with The Trump Organisation and a six-figure salary.

The UK version had Alan Sugar at the helm. Alan is normally described as a self-made multi-millionnaire, with a reputation for being one of the country's most successful entrepreneurs. In terms of character, he is also known for being somewhat irascible. Born and bred in the east end of London, Sugar is a straight-talker who has more recently been looking for ways to 'give something back,' and his involvement in the BBC's version of the NBC programme is part of this desire; he offered to do it for free, but the BBC reportedly said contracts wouldn't allow him to do it for free so he told them to pay his fee straight to Great Ormond Street Hospital. In the same way as the USA version, the winner of the UK programme was offered a one-year contract with one of Alan Sugar's companies for a six-figure salary.

The USA version

In the USA the series has been very popular. It was first broadcast on 8th January 2004 and was second only to American Idol in the ratings for the 18-49 age range of established series. It is now in its third series, and its website even offers merchandise for sale, such as t-shirts, mouse mats, and even a talking Donald Trump doll. Make of that what you will!

On the day of broadcast, the Sun was in Capricorn, symbolising Trump himself, closely conjunct Chiron, symbolising the apprentice theme, in trine to Jupiter in Virgo, again symbolising the benevolent uncle figure mentoring the young worker, and in trine to the north node in Taurus, symbolising a theme of development that is fitting for an apprenticeship. With Mars on the Sun/Saturn midpoint (i.e. Mars halfway between the Sun and Saturn) in combination with the aforementioned factors, this was an ideal time to start a business competition based around an apprentice role.

The UK version

"The Apprentice, the series that gives a unique insight into the competitive world of business, is coming to the UK's public broadcaster BBC2 with Sir Alan Sugar at its helm." - Production company press release

The UK series enjoyed healthy ratings for its channel but did not have a peak-time or even main channel slot: it was broadcast on Wednesdays at 9pm on BBC 2, receiving around three million viewers per week. At the time of writing the BBC reportedly have not committed to doing another series.

"'The Apprentice' will bring the world of business alive. It will be television at its most intelligent, its most alluring and its most entertaining." - From the official application form website

Despite one of the aims of the programme being to give an insight into and promote the field of business management, the BBC piled it on thick on their webpage for the show: "Fourteen blood-thirsty entrepreneurs compete in the ultimate boardroom drama." Compared to the USA version, however, the BBC's looked as if it was very much the poor relation.

Alan Sugar had said the UK version would be 'less glitzy' and more practical than the USA version. The production company said it would be altered to reflect the differing British attitude to 'naked ambition and the accumulation of wealth.' However in reality it just looked as if very little money, effort, or imagination had gone into it. If it was meant to put business in a good light, it would be easy to argue that it failed.

The boardroom set was dull and clichéd and the waiting area looked like the inside of a prefab building. As for promoting business people and entrepreneurialism, the contestants seemed straight out of a badly cast soap opera. They readily and openly indulged in mutual back-stabbing and throwing one another to the lions, and spouted meaningless corporate-speak throughout their boardroom spats. Despite dressing in suits they somehow managed to look unprofessional on the whole. At least the outfits matched the behaviour; I suppose you could call it a form of congruency!

The Guardian newspaper, after interviewing Alan Sugar, wrote:

"I don't envy The Apprentice winner who has to work with him, and this, really, is the weakness of the programme. It is intended to make business seem interesting and comprehensible to the general public - an entirely laudable aim - but the world it presents is so cut-throat, joyless and frightening that I imagine most young people will watch it and think if that's what a career in business entails, I want no part of it."

The general public's opinions expressed on internet fora revealed similar sentiments. One, apparently unaware that Alan has hardly ever worked for other people, said:

"I have been watching "The Apprentice" and am completely puzzled as to why the aggressive little man called "Alan Sugar" has not yet been sacked. He has an ego the size of a planet, the manners of a baboon's bottom and the intellect of a cowpat. Rich he may be, but employable he ain't."

Donald Trump's catchphrase "You're fired!" was not adapted for the UK market where 'sacked' instead of 'fired' would be more in keeping with the predominant culture this side of the pond. Alan Sugar has himself pointed out that the contestants aren't employed by him and therefore can't be sacked/fired, so either phrase is meaningless in reality. The USA version is described by NBC as an 'unscripted drama' however in the UK it was categorised as a 'reality TV show.' Whether it bears much relation to reality is debatable.

Astrologically, the UK version of the programme had none of the things in its favour that the USA version had. In fact, the chart is pretty dismal for the stated purpose and intent of the programme. I actually struggle to say much about this chart because it is so ill-fitting for the aims of the production company and broadcaster.

The Apprentice (UK) - birth chart
Mars in Capricorn is one of the few placements that speak of entrepreneurialism in this chart. Placed at the IC, this is the root and foundation of the programme, but square the Ascendant betrays an over-emphasis on competitiveness and self-serving ambition.

The cluster of planets across Aquarius and Pisces highlights Alan Sugar's desire to be philanthropic via this programme. One episode was devoted to a fundraising task for the Hackney Empire theatre, which Alan is directly involved in outside of the programme (he was born and brought up in Hackney in London.) These two signs also do not favour competition, which is of course the essence of the corporate game being played in The Apprentice; these signs are geared towards co-operation and group interaction for the good of the whole, which runs counter to what the programme is about.

With Jupiter and Saturn in square to one another between the 1st and 10th houses, there is an innate tension between these two traditional 'business planets' - not a good time to start a programme designed to present business in an attractive light. Saturn retrograde in Cancer has been conjunct the UK's Moon, stationing there throughout much of this series, and so perhaps this programme is actually meant to portray how hard-hearted and self-centred, in the name of 'toughness,' this nation has become, and how ugly and repulsive those traits are. The business world in particular values the control and suppression of emotion; The Apprentice has been a rollercoaster of emotions, often negative in tone. Devaluing (Saturn) the feminine (Moon) is being writ large. Maybe there is a message here about the humanity of corporate culture.

Alan Sugar

“My philosophy has always been to work hard, be honest, be frank, be credible and always learn from your mistakes. My good news/bad news approach to business has earned me a reputation for being blunt but you’ve got to have what it takes to make it in business. I was delighted to be approached for this role. It sits perfectly with my long held belief in the importance of promoting enterprise. What a great platform.” - Alan Sugar, quoted in production company press release

Alan Sugar set up Amstrad (Alan Michael Sugar Trading), an electronics company, in 1968. He made his fortune with Amstrad in the 1980s during the computer boom. Amstrad hit troubled times in the '90s, but today Sugar's personal fortune is estimated at £700 million. He was knighted in 2000 in recognition of his contribution to industry.

Alan is probably a 'double Aries': His Sun is definitely in Aries, and his Moon may well be in Aries too. The moon changed signs at around eight thirty on his day of birth, and since no birth time is available for him we can't known for certain whether the Moon was in Aries or Taurus when he was born (nor can we know his Ascendant or house cusps, so they have been removed from the diagram below). No matter, both signs are known for their wilfulness, determination, and drive, and both are focused on 'what I want.'

Alan Sugar - birth chart

With a trine between the Sun and Saturn his concept of himself naturally and easily includes the idea of leadership and authority. This is someone who feels comfortable being in charge, occupying a managerial role. He is willing to shoulder responsibility and sees himself as an executive, someone who directs and steers, rather than the person who obeys the orders. The Sun on the Jupiter/Pluto midpoint suggests someone who can shine dealing with finance, but more psychologically, it reflects an attraction to power, and large-scale ambition. This is backed up by Jupiter being placed in Scorpio.

Mars in Pisces (and also septile to Neptune) shows a different side to Sugar's nature. This is a side that contradicts his tough, no-nonsense, I-know-what-I-want, Arien character. Mars in Pisces is easily confused about which way to go and is therefore easily led and easily influenced, and we have glimpsed this in The Apprentice on a few occasions. This placement shows a tendency to passive-aggression, and an inclination to be very sensitive to people's attacks. More positively, there is the drive to act from compassion, to be unselfish, to be philanthropic, and it is this Piscean side of Alan's character (in combination with Venus in Aquarius) that he seems to be moving towards as he nears his second Saturn return (i.e. when Saturn returns to the same degree it occupies in his birth chart).

The Saturn return years are important both professionally and personally, and constitute a time of re-assessment of one's past, present and future direction, goals, achievements, and life-structures. During the second Saturn return around age 58, the third part of one's life comes into view, and decisions are made in accordance with that view. It will be interesting to watch what Alan Sugar chooses to do with his life and what direction he goes in once he has completed this life re-assessment in a year or so.


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Applying astrology to people's lives Health, emotional intelligence, zodiac elements, understanding change, Angelina Jolie, Gwen Stefani, Germaine Greer, & more

Astrology for the 21st Century - Bringing the sky down to Earth


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