Author: Anna Mason.
Yorkshireman Paul Tulip was, in his own words, a ‘cocky little wideboy’ when he blazed onto TV ‘s The Apprentice back in 2005. Fifteen years on, he’s launched a podcast and he’s back on the telly. Paul has grown up, but he’s still got his cheeky side…
Paul Tulip was a 24-year-old aspiring sales entrepreneur when he was stopped by a homeless Big Issue seller on the streets of Leeds. The man was smoking a cigarette and drinking a can of lager, trying to sell his magazine.
“Mate, I’ve done your job” said Paul, thinking of his time selling phone contracts to people on the streets of Sydney. “I understand times are tough, but you don’t want to be going up to people with a cigarette and a beer can. I reckon if you leave them out and pick your audience, you’ll have a lot more success. You’ve got Noel Gallagher on the cover of your magazine, so sell it like that!”
“I hadn’t thought about it like that. Thanks mate” replied the man, and Paul went on his way.
Writing ‘Homeless people’ in response to ‘Tell us some things that frustrate you’ on the entry form for BBC hit The Apprentice, Paul was unaware his answer would come back to bite him. Going on to successfully take part in the show in 2005, spending weeks flying through the televised tasks, he was then called in for a panel interview.
“It says on your application form that you don’t like homeless people” was one of the first things fired at him. Paul scrambled to explain what he’d meant by his form entry, but communication was lost as the panel proceeded to tear him to bits. His interview bombed and the young sales whizz from Boroughbridge ended up finishing a respectable fourth place.
Talking today, though, he still finds it frustrating his words were taken entirely out of context.
“Now I can’t watch reality TV, because I know how they do it. They set you up for a fall. Recording would stop and they’d say look, we know what you actually meant, but it’s TV at the end of the day.”
It’s perhaps natural Paul has recently been reliving his quick rise to stardom. A combination of lockdown plus a 2020 revival of the best bits of The Apprentice means that not only has he had time to reflect on this period of his life, his face is up on the screen again. In 2005 and for years afterwards, Paul was a well-recognised figure around Leeds and Harrogate, when people would constantly stop to chat to him.
These days, sightings in our northern haunts are rarer, since he emigrated to the city of Melbourne in 2009.
“I fell in love with Australia back when I was 18, away to play cricket in Fremantle. Then I was off working my way around, on my own.”
A job selling mobile phone contracts in Sydney was the first indication he had a natural gift for sales. At the time, the company’s top seller was signing an average of seven customers per week. In his very first afternoon 18-year-old Paul sold 11. The role entailed targeting members of the public out on the streets, and Paul would sell everywhere. Queues, trains, buses, Bondi beach: nowhere was off limits.
As fate would have it, when Paul returned a decade later, The Apprentice started airing in Australia that very week. This of course led to him being widely recognised, even now. Did he foresee the impact The Apprentice was going to have on his life?
“I don’t bring up The Apprentice as much as people might think because I know the first thing they do is Google it, and they’ll see incorrect quotes, for example one from a different Paul, on a different series. And stuff like that, I don’t really want to have to defend.”
Life is good in Melbourne, as it was always destined to be. Determined and go-getting, Paul was driven to succeed from a young age, and keen to get out there and explore the world. Raised in Boroughbridge by police officer parents Janet and Jim and with a sister, Claire, he had a comfortable, trouble-free childhood, and strong roots.
“I’m really fortunate that way. I can’t say I had a tough upbringing in any way shape or form. We had great Christmases, all that, and my parents were really generous with their time.”
He loves cricket, and played a lot growing up. “I made most of my good friends through sport, and I’ve still got mates from when I was 10, 11 years old.”
Paul is now happily married to Lehia and the couple have two children, six-month old Seth, and Josh, three. Five years ago, Paul and Lehia started their own recruitment company together, focusing on the executive space within retail, which was thriving until the pandemic hit.
“Covid has really given me time to think and evaluate. Most of our clients are really struggling at the moment. I’ve had some great self-reflection moments, and I’ve been looking back with some nostalgia, even melancholy, I suppose. There have been so many points when things could have gone a different way, but I don’t regret anything because now I’ve got my life here with Lehia and the kids, which I absolutely love.”
Does he ever find himself missing Yorkshire?
“Of course, it’s God’s country as they say, (though I’m not religious!). I miss the pubs, the incredible scenery and of course the people and their sense of humour. Being in Melbourne though, we get the best of both worlds as we can visit anytime, though we prefer the UK summer and Christmas.”
He launched a podcast in lockdown, Tulip Talks: an honest and entertaining chat about this that and everything. The weekly Saturday recordings almost feel like therapy sessions, during which Paul gets to bypass conventional media outlets and let rip on past and present experiences and views.
Having fallen foul of sensationalism in the past, it’s easy to see why he finds this format so refreshing. He gets to tell his story, and his version of events, his way. One of the most hurtful moments in the aftermath of The Apprentice must have been when he was invited to one of his old cricket clubs to open their new clubhouse and play a charity game.
“It was the week I was going to get fired, and I didn’t really like the timing of it, but I wanted to do it, as a favour. I’d always been in the local paper as a young kid, for cricket achievements, and for some reason I thought there was going to be a nice write up, just going to play a charity game. Anyway, I remember getting out quite cheaply that day, I tried to hook somebody quite early and I got caught on the boundary. It was a bit of a laugh, the guy that got me put his finger up, said ‘You’re fired” and it was funny, it was fine. But then I saw the newspaper headline: ‘Paul Tulip fired and disgraced at his old cricket club’ and I remember thinking wow, the media suck.”
They were heady times for Paul, and the show had viewing figures of four million every week. When filming stopped it was straight back to work, at a recruitment company based in Harrogate. A condition of the show was a confidentiality clause, meaning Paul was sworn to secrecy for six months. “I was 25 and I was a little wideboy, driving around in the company Porsche thinking I was it. But all the time, while The Apprentice was airing on the BBC, I was thinking, you may all think I’m great for 10 weeks, but wait for week 11. I’m going to crash and burn, because I get fired for saying that I don’t like homeless people.
“It was crazy. We were going into week three, week four, week five and I’d be going out into Leeds on a weeknight and getting recognised left, right and centre. Of course it went to my head. I was 25 and thinking look at me, I’m on TV, I’m awesome. I was playing a character… I went in there bold as brass at my interview stage, and I was going in to be controversial, to be the young, arrogant, cocky guy. There were reporters coming to the house, asking for interviews… It was a crazy, crazy time.”
Popular perception is that life in Oz is more relaxed and a complete contrast to the UK. Is this really the case?
“It’s not that you work less over here, it’s more that people don’t live to work. Australians make the most of every single hour of the day. In the UK, most people sit on the couch Monday to Thursday nights, whereas over here people are out doing things, seeing people, living life!
“It always astounds me when I go back to the UK and try catch up with people mid-week for dinner or to go the pub and they’re like…. Er..it’s Wednesday, we watch Gogglebox on a Wednesday. Pre Covid we would think nothing of jumping on a plane for three hours to go to Byron Bay for the weekend.”
Paul Tulip has come a long way since he was a teenage backpacker selling mobile phone contracts in Sydney. What is clear though, is were he to lose everything and have to start again, he’d do it. He’s got the street smarts, and the patter, and the sales spark. Sir Alan Sugar started out selling radio aerials out of a van; our own Yorkshire boy Paul Tulip flogged phones on buses and beaches.
Tulip Talks podcast is streamed on Spotify.
The Apprentice Best Bits is available to view now on BBC iPlayer.