Apprentice winner accuses partner of running off with $1m prize money


What do a female plumber from Somerset, an Arab property magnate with a fondness for buying English football clubs and an eco-friendly Los Angeles architect have in common? The answer is they all feature in an intriguing legal battle over just who gets a share of the $1m dollar prize money from a Middle Eastern version of The Apprentice.

In a saga which if nothing else highlights the global nature of the celebrity business, Hannah Dodkin, a 32-year-old plumber whose engagement to actor and BT advert star Kris Marshall was announced recently, this week filed a court case in California claiming she is owed some $500,000 (£323,000) by Richard Best, her co-winner of a reality TV show filmed in Abu Dhabi.

The dispute arises from the pair’s participation in Hydra Executives, a spin-off based on The Apprentice format and filmed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in which the “Lord Sugar” role was taken by Sulaiman Al Fahim, a billionaire developer who is best known in Britain for his role in the takeover of Manchester City and his short-lived ownership of Portsmouth FC.

Ms Dodkin, from Dulcote, near Wells, claims in court documents filed in Los Angeles that Mr Best, an architect specialising in eco-friendly buildings, signed a contract with her - signed in front of cameras - prior to the grand final of the reality show in March 2009 in which she would get a half share of the top prize and embark on a jointly-owned interior design company together.

Mr Best eventually emerged as the winner of the programme with Ms Dodkin, who has since returned to Somerset and her work as a plumbing and heating engineer, recognised as partner on the victorious team.

But nearly three years later, the businesswoman is still waiting for her money and accuses her co-finalist of reneging on the deal, arguing she is entitled to the £323,000 and the accrued interest because of a breach of contract and his alleged failure to pursue their business plan.

Ms Dodkin told The Independent: “This is not a nice position to be in. I signed a contract with Richard in front television cameras in which he agreed to share the prize money. It is difficult to understand on what basis he thinks he can now keep all of it.”

According to the legal documents, Mr Best eventually received the full $1m prize in January 2010.

The court claim said: “Richard Best and Hannah Dodkin formed the winning team. They agreed to share the winning prize 50/50 and also to embark on a business venture with each serving as an equal partner... On February 10 2010, Richard Best informs plaintiff that he will not share any of the winning prize money with Ms Dodkin.”

Ms Dodkin was a surprise addition to the line up of finalists for the television show after she was eliminated in the ninth show of the contest being fought out between eight British and eight American would-be entrepreneurs.

Mr Al Fahim, who is not a defendant in the legal claim, is quoted in the court document as telling Ms Dodkin to “go after the money and get the finalists to do your business plan, not their own”. The tycoon, who came to prominence during the takeover of Manchester City in 2008, attracted controversy in 2009 when he acquired then Premier League side Portsmouth FC for a reported £60m and then sold it 40 days later to a Saudi businessman.

Mr Best did not respond to a request for comment from The Independent.