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The Apprentice star Tim Campbell MBE: I honed my business skills in a DJ collective called True Elegance

Tim Campbell MBE, aide to Sir Alan Sugar on The Apprentice, revealed his ‘cheesy’ teenage DJ name and why his background is his superpower

Tim Campbell MBE is known by millions for his business brain as Sir Alan Sugar’s aide on The Apprentice. But did you know he was once part of a DJ collective called True Elegance?

In a new interview for The Big Issue’s regular Letter To My Younger Self feature, East Londoner Campbell explained how he showcased the entrepreneurial spirit that would see him win series one of The Apprentice at an early age in 2005.

“I was an aspiring DJ in a collective called True Elegance,” said Campbell.  “I’d save up money I earned working in McDonald’s to buy records in Hackney and three of us would play them at parties and dances and get paid. It’s so cheesy, my DJ name was DJ Archers, after the drink – because they took the mick out of me drinking schnapps and lemonade!”

Campbell, who was awarded an MBE in 2012 for services to enterprise culture, explained how his adventures with True Elegance provided a valuable lesson in business.

“We held our first major party before my 16th birthday with more than 400 guests at a club in Romford Road, but it got shut down because we didn’t pay enough for security,” he said.

“We got our mate to be security guard and he let someone in with a gas canister who gassed the place and got us shut down. That was an important lesson in business – don’t scrimp on the important things.” 

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In a wide-ranging interview, Campbell also talked about the insecurity he felt growing up, and why he owes his success to his mum.

“We lived in East London – my mum, me, and my younger brother and sister. There were really tough moments where my mum was freaking out about whether she would have to give up her house,” he said.

“She shielded us from the adversity she faced. But I understand the sacrifices she made to make sure we got access to education and never went without food – ever – even if it was yesterday’s dinner for breakfast. My mum shaped me as a parent, as an adult male – in terms of how to respect women and not to be toxic in relationships. But also, my mum was an entrepreneur. She just called it making ends meet.

“Coming from the environment I grew up in has served me well,” he continued. “I’m not caught up on materialistic things and the flexibility I have from being able to speak to people from East London as well as the ‘superior’ individuals who had authority over me is a skill I’ve been able to use. I’d tell my younger self to stick it out. Stay true to who you are and use your background as a superpower.” 

Campbell described the importance of the local library in expanding his worldview and explains his philosophy of business.

“The question anyone in business should be asking is: does this business make the world better?” said Campbell.

“Every business can be a social enterprise because it should be serving society. On one level, by providing work, it is doing that. But at the deeper, more profound level, is the function of the business actually making the world better?”  

The full interview with Tim Campbell MBE, including his admiration for The Apprentice boss Sir Alan Sugar, will be in The Big Issue magazine, on the streets from January 16.

Tim Campbell MBE appears on The Apprentice, BBC2, Thursdays and on iPlayer

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