Rich list separates the self-made from silver-spoon brigade

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Sir Alan Sugar may continue to hire and fire them with a gruff wave of his finger, but for many apprentices who started their working lives sweeping up the salon, peeling potatoes and fetching the tea, the tables have well and truly turned.

The fortunes of Britain's self-made millionaires, who studied for apprenticeships rather than go to university, have risen dramatically in the past year, with the wealth of the richest 50 tripling in the past three years.

The 2006 Vocational Rich List includes a cast of business leaders, musicians, TV chefs, celebrity gardeners and fashion designers. Together, their net worth has soared from £2.7bn in 2003 to £8.1bn last year.

Heading the list is the entrepreneur John Caudwell, worth £1.6bn, who served an engineering apprenticeship at a Michelin tyre factory before founding his international mobile phone group.

He is followed by the "King of Diamonds", Laurence Graff, who has built a fortune of £1.3bn after doing his apprenticeship at Hatton Garden in London. Sharing second place with him is the former Post Office apprentice Sir Terry Matthews, the richest man in Wales and owner of Celtic Manor, which will host the 2011 Ryder Cup.

The tycoons, whose combined wealth has nearly doubled in the past 12 months, led a field peppered with star names such as Eric Clapton, the fashion designer Karen Millen, the chef Gordon Ramsay, the former welder Sir Alex Ferguson, and Delia Smith, who began her career as a trainee hairdresser.

The report, compiled on behalf of City & Guilds, comes as research published yesterday showed the private school system continued to exert a disproportionate control over the top jobs in the professions, politics and highly sought-after jobs in the media.

According to Michael Osbaldeston of City & Guilds, vocational training offers a lifeline for state educated youngsters with average qualifications.

"The big message from this is that there are a number of ways to succeed, not just the traditional one that everyone thinks about - getting A-levels and going to university. There are some very rich people out there who have taken a different route.

"It is about starting off with the right attitude and being open-minded."

Supporters of vocational training argue that the Government's target of getting 50 per cent of young people into higher education make it more vital than ever to provide high-quality on-the-job tuition. But the demand is growing.

Last year, 1.75 million people aged 15 to 19 studied for a vocational qualification - double the number of four years ago. Part of the attraction is put down to the soaring cost of university, with some students leaving their studies with debts of up to £20,000. Going straight into the workplace can bring material as well as career benefits, it is claimed.

"University teaches you to think - you come out with a mind that has been trained - but it is not designed to teach you to do a job," said Mr Osbaldeston.

The success of young stars, such as Jamie Oliver, with an estimated worth of £25m, and Stella McCartney (£15m), who proved she was not just her father's daughter, completing apprenticeships at Savile Row and Christopher Lacroix, has helped to drive the boom.

Along with the likes of Alan Titchmarsh, worth £10m, the new breed of television tradesmen have helped to make once unfashionable jobs, such as catering, tailoring and gardening, sexy. But with only six women in the top 50, three more than in 2005, the self-made business remains a male-dominated one.

There remain reservations over the depiction of apprenticeships, as created by Sir Alan Sugar. "It has been useful in getting the word back in use, but most don't get treated like that - otherwise there wouldn't be so many of them trying to do it," said Mr Osbaldeston.

The rich by industry

BUSINESS

Three men dominate the top 50 in terms of net worth - the mobile phone tycoon John Cauldwell (£1.6bn), international diamond dealer Laurence Graff (£1.3bn) and telecom tycoon Sir Terry Matthews (£1.3bn). Together they are worth more than £4bn. By contrast, Jane Packer, who got a City & Guilds in floristry, has built an international business worth £7m.

FASHION

Women rival men in this field. Karen Millen is the highest-ranking female entrepreneur, with a fortune of £40m, ranking 21st. Also present are Stella McCartney (£15m); Vivienne Westwood (£10m); and Alexander McQueen (£20m).

COOKING

The rise of the TV chef has helped propel Gordon Ramsay to a fortune of £35m to be the highest paid of the celebrity cooks. Jamie Oliver (£25m), Delia Smith (£13m, pictured)) and Gary Rhodes (£10m) all feature as do catering entrepreneurs Robyn Jones (£15m) and Lak and Kamal Basran (£25m).

ENTERTAINMENT

Billy Connolly (£12m) started out in a Glasgow tenement and got his first job as an apprentice at the Govan shipyard. Rolf Harris (£10m) studied City & Guilds at Kennington Arts School. Alan Titchmarsh (£10m) took his apprenticeship at Kew Gardens and got his first break on BBC's Nationwide.

HAIRDRESSING

After starting as an apprentice at über-fashionable Leonard's, frequented by the likes of Twiggy and the Beatles, John Frieda perfected his trademark Purdey-look for Joanna Lumley in the 1970s. After branching out into hair-care products and building a string of famous salons, he is eighth on the list with a fortune of £185m.

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