I’m not sure what I make of the Apprentice, or rather its winner, Dr Leah. On the one hand, it is great that one of the female contestants won, and even better that there were two women in the final. At the beginning of the series, it looked as though the girls were too silly, vain and self-obsessed to pull together at all. I felt ashamed of them and ashamed of their example to my daughters. But the more vacuous girls fell by the wayside and we were left with two smart, focused women. But their plans? Cupcakes and botox? Per-lease.
Is this seriously what Elizabeth Garrett Anderson struggled for, when she fought the medical establishment to become the UK’s first woman doctor in 1865? What on earth would she make of a girl who had had five years of state-funded education (Garrett Anderson took most of her courses at her own expense, as no medical school would admit her for years) and chose to use all that training in order to pander to women’s insecurity about their looks? It’s all well and good that Dr Leah says she wants to make sure that her ‘industry’ of botox and fillers is regulated, controlled and safe. But the reason she’s made Lord Sugar’s eyes light up is because the clinics she plans will be hugely lucrative. There is absolutely no shortage of paranoid women, of all ages, who believe that having a rigid forehead will make their lives better. Dr Leah may argue that she is doing nothing to fuel their anxieties and is simply making sure that procedures are safe, but the very presence in the high street of Botox clinics, apparently approved by a respected businessman and, to some extent, under the aegis of the BBC, will give injections and fillers a new respectability and normality. No longer something that only celebrities resort to as a guilty secret, popping into a Dr Leah for a top-up of fillers will be as easy as getting a latte from Starbucks.
What a shame that Leah didn’t want to inoculate orphans against polio or invent a cure for cancer. We do love a saintly, but feisty, heroine. But of course Lord Sugar wouldn’t have gone for that. There’s no money in orphans, and not a lot in cupcake sprinkles either, as Dr L said pointedly about her rival Louisa’s plan. I felt sorry for runner-up Louisa – she seemed to be flogging yesterday’s stale buns with her pink-themed cupcake vision. Much as I love a fairycake, I think their moment may be passing. But I’m saying that just as the new series of the Great British Bake-Off starts, so I may have to eat my words.
I suppose it all proves that if you give men and women access to education and the freedom to choose their own paths, they won’t often oblige you by picking something worthwhile or admirable. And I suppose that is what equality is really all about. Brave new world, that has such people in it.