The Apprentice's Luisa Zissman on feminism, selling sex stories and her invincible business
The self-described 'business Barbie' talks to Chloe Hamilton about her plans after narrowly missing out on the £250,000 investment from Lord Sugar
“You’ll have to pay me if you want me to talk about my personal life,” says Luisa as soon as I switch on my dictaphone, eyeing the stack of newspapers next to me.
The Apprentice runner-up is quick to tell me people are paying her £15,000 to talk about her private life, putting paid, as it were, to any doubts surrounding her business acumen.
No-nonsense Luisa Zissman, 26, has been the source of tabloid gossip for the past few days, after she sold a story about her “wild sex life” to The Sun.
Keen to prove she’s a credible businesswoman, she agrees to meet me to set the record straight.
She arrives in an eye-wateringly tight pink dress, blister-inducing heels and a full face of make-up which accentuates those disarmingly big eyes. Complimenting me on my pink hair (“I like you already, you have pink hair!”), she asks if there’s anywhere she can charge up her iPhone.
I leave Luisa in reception while I dash into the office to plug her phone into my charger. I return to find her engaged in conversation with a man who appears to be giving her business advice. “She gets mobbed all the time,” the Apprentice press officer accompanying her mutters.
iPhone safely plugged in, cookies and water distributed, we get down to business.
“I’m very able, I’m very capable, I know what I’m doing,” she says animatedly. “There’s nothing wrong with having a personality in business.”
But Luisa’s three businesses have been scrutinized by the press since the show ended. Last Wednesday The Independent ran a story revealing she was the director of only one company, with net assets of less than £200.
“Oh, that b****cks?” she says through a mouthful of cookie. “To be honest, I couldn’t really give a s**t. I know what I’m earning.”
She explains that two of her companies are sole traders, which means their accounts are not in the public domain. Every candidate has to undergo a rigorous vetting process in order to take part in The Apprentice and Luisa tells me she provided bank statements before the series started. “They knew I was credible,” she says.
Luisa’s business plan was to use Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment to create a wholesale firm catering to the baking market.
She’s since pitched for investment with a company called Angel’s Den, one of the biggest Angel investment companies in Europe, securing investment in both her current businesses, The Baker’s Shop and The Baker’s Toolkit, which will be housed underneath one umbrella holding company. She plans to launch the new venture with the help of her backers in November.
Ten minutes into our interview it’s easy to see why Luisa was accused of being abrasive throughout the series. She repeats the phrase “I really don’t care” about ten times when I list some of the bad press she’s received.
“I don’t need any more people to like me in the world,” she says. “If you don’t like me, I really couldn’t care less. Just go away then, just go and be with your friends. It just doesn’t bother me.”
The self-described “business Barbie” is keen to remind me she’s not some bimbo with fake boobs.
“People will look at you and think you’re some kind of pot smoking hippy,” she says, pointing at my pink hair.
“Just because I’ve got big fake boobs, people automatically assume that my brain is any less capable than someone sitting next to me in a pin-striped suit with their hair pulled back.”
I reassure her I’m not a pot-smoking hippy, but have to admit she’s incredibly convincing. So why did she decide to sell sex-stories to the press?
“I do not have a problem with being a sexually liberated, sexually empowered woman in the twenty first century,” she says.
“I don’t do it [glancing to her more salacious headlines] anymore because I got bored of it, but if I wanted to do that now, why couldn’t anyone do that if they wanted to?”
At this point, the press officer scrawls something on a scrap of paper and holds it up to Luisa, who reads it before quickly changing tack, bringing the conversation back round to business. I fear I’ve ventured too far into the cordoned off zone of her private life with only chocolate chip cookies to offer in return.
I try again. According to one headline, Luisa “hates feminists”. When I ask if this is the case her eyes widen in protest and she assures me the quote was taken out of context.
“I said I hate extreme feminists,” she says. “I don’t think there should be a difference between men and women and perhaps this makes me a little bit of a feminist, but I would never stand here and bash men.”
Self-employed Luisa’s biggest challenge on the series was working with other contestants. She tells me it was difficult to be surrounded by people who were just as capable as she was. I ask whether she was pleased to be in an all-female final.
“You know, it’s great that we’re flying the flag for women in business, blah, blah, blah, but it shouldn’t be about our sex, it should have been about the best people,” she says, clearly frustrated that the public think her looks have influenced her career.
“If you look great but you’re thick as s**t, people still won’t deal with you,” she says.
“If I weighed fifty stone and had a face like I’d just been run over, people would still do business with me because I’m very good at what I do.”
The girl has guts and there’s little doubt in my mind she’ll be successful. But as a baking entrepreneur? I’m not sure.
She has the same business-savvy mind as reality TV favourite Katie Price and I fear she’s flying too close to the media sun. She tells me she’s not averse to doing things with the press (“It’s fun, it’s a laugh, why not?”) but I wonder whether she knows she’s courting a fickle beast.
As soon as we finish our interview she glides effortlessly back into business mode. Gathering our belongings, she chats to the press officer about arranging a fifteen minute interview with a magazine.
“It’s only fifteen minutes,” Luisa says casually. “Shall we say a grand?”
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