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It's been a tumultuous five years since Kent's Mona Lewis vied to be a candidate on one of the most-watched shows on TV.
Mona was one of 16 entrepreneurs hoping to became Lord Sugar’s sidekick in the fifth series of the long-running show, and despite surviving until week eight before being “fired”, for the first time in her life, she considered herself a failure.
The 32-year-old, said: “I suffered a breakdown after the Apprentice.
“I think it happens to a lot of contestants, but it’s not made public.
“On the show, you’re living in a completely different world, then you come back to reality and it hits you.
“I didn’t understand what depression was. When you hear other people have it, you think it’s an excuse to bunk off work or something – then it hit me.
“When you get down, and you’ve got other personal issues to deal with, the down is really bad.”
A self-confessed work obsessive, Mona said the crippling post-show comedown lasted for four months until she successfully sought help.
“I felt I was a failure and not a good mum, I couldn’t even get out of my car to walk my son into school because of what other mums might be thinking at the gate.”
Mona’s journey to Lord Sugar’s TV boardroom began in 2004, the year she moved to England from her native Tanzania with her then husband, and son Ryan, now 11.
Never mind trying to land a lead role within a multimillion business empire, she found it hard enough to find any job when she first arrived in the UK.
“I ran three businesses in Tanzania, so HR people told me ‘you’re too good for this job’ whatever I applied for,” she said.
“So I started at the bottom, working as a cashier for NatWest in Sheerness, then Sittingbourne.
“I can’t forget those days, earning £835 a month when the monthly rent was £500 – I don’t know how I survived.”
By the time the Apprentice came calling in 2009, Mona had worked her way up to senior business manager, a role she had to resign from to join the show.
Admitting it was a huge gamble, she said: “The bank couldn’t take a risk, they didn’t know how I’d come across on TV.
“I had a child on my own and mortgage to pay.”
The editing suite can be a cruel place, but Mona feels the precariousness of her personal position persuaded the show’s producers to give her an easier time of it.
She swears she’s not seen a single frame of her appearance since it was broadcast, claiming it would be “very cringey”.
But she said her mum’s seen it, and told her she came across “very well”.
“I wasn’t like the other candidates, I had nothing to fall back on,” Mona said.
“Most of the others were still living with parents.
“I think Sir Alan saw a lot of himself in me, which might have had something to do with why I wasn’t edited badly.”
She had other reasons for avoiding taking the diva route famously trodden by other Apprentice stars.
“I had a child of seven at the time,” she said. “I didn’t want him to feel embarrassed looking at my behaviour later in life.”
Her performance didn’t go unnoticed by the tabloids, however, who accused her of homophobia following the task which got her “fired”.
She and her team were assigned to re-brand Margate as a resort.
On screen, and in a roundabout way, Mona tried to explain that the county wasn’t ready for such a relatively extreme makeover, which she now admits came across as rather clumsy.
But the red-top interest didn’t end there.
In her first job following her screen exit, she said interview-seeking reporters regularly blocked her entry to work.
She claims a certain national newspaper even offered her a chance to appear on Page 3, which she dismissed as “disgusting”.
Not forgetting the toilet encounter with Katie Price, when the model/celebrity confessed to her she was in love with another man, a subsequent headline-grabber in another well-known national.
Mona, a 1996 Miss Tanzania runner-up, said: “I’ve got to give credit to celebrities out there, I wouldn’t want to be in their position.
“I was a five-minute wonder, but I refused all offers to do other reality shows.
“I wanted to stay focused on the long term, not the short term, and that’s what makes me employable.”
Mona said she “loves” what she does now, adviser at Oxford Centre for Innovation which deals with high-grossing businesses.
She describes herself as “very happy”, despite facing an impending divorce from her husband – whose name she won’t reveal – following a two-year marriage.
She and new partner Chris live together in Eden Village, Sittingbourne, while her son Ryan, currently at Minterne Juniors, joins Borden Grammar in September.
Mona’s still ambitious, and feels her personal and business experience could make her ripe for a move into politics.
“On the show, you’re living in a completely different world, then you come back to reality and it hits you" - Mona Lewis
“As a mum, I’m really passionate about education, and one of the biggest difficulties facing businesses is finding people with the right skills.
“My ambition is to ensure my son has the skills in life to succeed, then I would like to see Sittingbourne be more vibrant and affluent with a lot more career opportunities for young people.
“I want to give something back to the town I love.”
She has no regrets herself, but what about others thinking of putting themselves in Lord Sugar’s finger-pointing firing line?
“Always try. If you don’t try, you don’t know,” she said.
Avid Apprentice fans may have to wait longer for the next series - Lord Sugar is believed to have delayed the show until the autumn because of the World Cup.
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