Caroline Downey: ‘I have no interest in being a TV presenter again. I didn’t really enjoy it so much’
The ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ judge talks about fame, women in business and privacy
Judge and jury: Caroline Downey. Photograph: Eric Luke
‘We were told not to smile on camera in the boardroom,” Caroline Downey explains when the Irish Times photographer tells her it’s okay to smile at the camera. She has been regarding the lens with quite a forbidding expression, because this is what she does in her role as a judge on Celebrity Apprentice.
Actually, Downey’s default expression is not the imperious, grande-dame and rather chilly one portrayed on screen these last four weeks; it’s a great big smile. We’re sitting in her office at the Gaiety Theatre, of which she is managing director. She’s also an owner and director of MCD, the country’s biggest entertainment promoter, which sells more than a million tickets a year. And she has been responsible for raising almost €40 million for charity over the past 25 years.
“I think it was because of my charity work that I was asked to be a judge,” she says. The series features a number of people, some better known than others, including Nick Leeson, Amanda Brunker, Mikey Graham and Emma Quinlan, who are competing to win €25,000 for charity.
Downey agreed to be part of the series without having seen any of the Apprentice shows, which have featured Donald Trump in the US, Alan Sugar in the UK and Bill Cullen here.
“I was sent some tapes, and I said, I suppose I should watch it before we start filming. So a friend and I went to my house in Spain, where we have a cinema, and we watched it. My friend would talk me through it: ‘This is where people come into the boardroom . . .’
“My first reaction was that I was signing up to the gym as soon as I got home. I knew there was a table involved in being a judge, but I hadn’t realised there were full-body shots.”
In the end she got hooked on the various versions of the show. “I prefer the way Donald Trump fired people. He always did it respectfully. I think Alan Sugar is too aggressive. I decided I wanted to do it Donald Trump’s way.”
Four episodes of the show have now aired. Has it meant that people recognise her on the street? She laughs. “I live in a world of celebrity because of the people I work with, people who really are famous. One Direction, for instance. I go to The X Factor with Louis [Walsh] every year. I met One Direction before they were even put together as a band. It was the same with Westlife. What I’m doing is tiny.”
Walsh texted her after Monday’s show this week to tell her he thought she looked like Judge Judy in her pearl-collared outfit. “I can tell you, when I’m walking down Grafton Street with Louis, there’s only one person the public is looking at, and it isn’t me,” she says, laughing. “So no, I’m not recognised.”
Given that she occupies such a prominent position in business, what are her opinions on the lack of women in senior management in Ireland? She thinks for a little while. “Until you asked me this question I don’t know if it had ever crossed my mind that this was an issue.” Really?
“Well, maybe I thought about it recently, when I was on a radio show with Liz O’Donnell” – a panellist on Celebrity Apprentice – “and the presenter asked why there were so few women in politics. I guess in our industry, entertainment, we’re equal. Being a woman is not something that holds you back. But I don’t believe you should be given a job because you’re a woman. You should earn it.