Credo: Margaret Mountford: 'I was once called the nation's favourite headmistress'

The ex-lawyer, ex-'Apprentice' adviser and reluctant celebrity on ambition and debt

HOW MUCH BENEFIT IS ENOUGH? That, essentially, is the thrust of our new show [which Mountford presents with The Apprentice's Nick Hewer]. The image we get from the media is rather distorted: that everyone on benefits has 27 children and lives in a mansion. Actually, very few people defraud the system, and most struggle to make ends meet.

I DON'T KNOW WHAT MAKES FOR CONTROVERSIAL TV This is probably because I don't watch TV myself. But I hope our show will make people think. Twenty years ago, opinion polls suggested that most people were in favour of the welfare state. People aren't so willing to accept that money should be spent on people who aren't working.

I CAME INTO TV BY ACCIDENT I'd been a lawyer for 25 years and when I retired in 1999, I joined the Amstrad board. When Sir Alan Sugar started on The Apprentice, he asked me to be the female adviser. I think it was because I knew so little about TV that I agreed to do it.

I WAS ONCE CALLED THE NATION'S FAVOURITE HEADMISTRESS I like to think that was a compliment. I certainly don't think people felt they needed an exercise book down their trousers if coming to see me. And I'm not sure I accept that I had a fearsome reputation. I don't suffer fools gladly, but who does?

PUBLIC RECOGNITION DISCOMFITED ME Being someone who never recognises anybody, I was amazed that so many people recognised me, and continue to. A lot of people come up and ask if I'm that woman from The Apprentice. Sometimes I say yes, other times no.

I LEFT 'THE APPRENTICE' TO BECOME A STUDENT at the age of 57. I studied papyrology at London's UCL, and it was such fun being in a classroom. I felt 18 again. And no, I wasn't the oldest student. I might have been the second-oldest though…

STUDYING IS A WONDERFULLY SELFISH OCCUPATION You read all these things, you write all these essays, and you work hard, but it's just for you. I think mature students do well because they're doing it for themselves.

I HAVE A LOVE OF LANGUAGES At 14, I wanted to be an interpreter or translator. I went to university to study French and German, but hated it, so switched to law.

PEOPLE ASK FOR ADVICE A LOT I'm not a font of wisdom. I simply try to help people when I can, but not regarding the law. I retired in 1999. Things have moved on a lot.

I'VE ALWAYS BEEN AMBITIOUS in that I have always wanted to succeed at whatever it was I was doing. I was successful as a lawyer, successful as a student, and I leave it to you to decide whether I have been successful as a television person.

THE LAW AND THE TV INDUSTRY are very different, but both attract highly ambitious people. In TV all [people starting] have to do now is memorise the different kinds of coffee people want. Eventually they might get the chance to make programmes that make people change the way they look at the world. That's the ambition. Not all will fulfil it.

I RARELY WATCH MYSELF ON TELEVISION I would watch sometimes, just to see how The Apprentice was edited. Was it edited to my satisfaction? No, I thought it was all rubbish!

DEBT HAS BECOME A WAY OF LIFE My parents' generation was appalled at the idea of debt, but now it's simply a part of the way we live.

Margaret Mountford, 61, is a lawyer turned television presenter and personality. 'Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits' starts on BBC1 from Thursday at 9pm

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits