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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Review

Sir Alan Sugar
The Biography by Charlie Burden
Published by John Blake Publishing 2009
ISBN-13: 978-1844547029
Daniel Cann

In the last few years British television has been saturated with reality shows. One in particular has received much attention and commentary not so much because of its contestants, but because of one man, Sir Alan Sugar. For those that did not know about him before ‘The Apprentice’ aired they did afterwards. With his straight-talking direct approach and aptitude for the one –line put-down his fame and notoriety grew. His catch phrase ‘You’re fired.’ Was soon being imitated by the general public and seized upon by the media.

Before this phenomenon there was a much bigger and engrossing story. To those that are only aware of Sir Alan Sugar as a television personality there is a fascinating background and subject behind the public persona. Author Charlie Burden attempts to tell this remarkable businessman’s life story.

Born in Hackney and growing up in the East End of London helped to shape the strong independent streak in Sugar, Burden tells us. The reader will also learn that Sugar left education at the age of seventeen without attending University. In his first year of working he walked out on no less than four jobs which were more a reflection of his employers’ shortcomings than his own. At a very early age Sugar had strong business acumen and it was not long before he set up his own business Alan Michael Sugar Trading.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading these early chapters as it was presenting a different image and a world a million miles away from his later fortune. The pages turned quickly as I read how Sugar used to sell electronic goods from the back of a van, until within a few years he turned this small firm into an empire. As Sugar puts it himself it was not necessarily the amount of money he made but rather the ‘buzz’ he got from making a good deal.

I did feel that Burden’s biography jumps somewhat from Sugar’s marriage and early business success to his days developing computers from 1982 onwards. What happened to the 1970s? These intervening years just disappear.
The rest of the book is going to be familiar to some and new to others. Burden informs us episodically how computer giant Amstrad was born and how Sugar’s company developed also into communications, satellite television with Rupert Murdoch’s Sky (Sugar produced the satellite dishes), property and private jet hire. His tumultuous time as Chairman at football club Tottenham Hotspur is well documented and Burden does well here but you get the general feeling that no new insight is being offered, rather a summary of well established facts.

I did enjoy how a self-made man became a giant entrepreneur in the business world with an estimated fortune of £830 million. It is compulsive in parts; however, Burden is unable to go deeper than just presenting the facts. His book is cobbled together from interviews and quotations from newspapers and magazines; so much is already common knowledge. I also found his descriptions a little too reverential and even fawning at times.

There is a totally unnecessary summary of each series of ‘The Apprentice’ that most of us will be familiar with already. Why tell us what happened all over again? Burden again offers very little added insights so this is a pretty much redundant part of the book. In its defence this biography is like a beginners guide to all things Sir Alan Sugar. There is plenty of surface, but not enough depth for my liking. Burden also does tend to speculate what Sugar was thinking at key moments in his life and this is the problem with any biography, without input from your subject you can only guess, using secondary evidence to back your work up.

The rest we know. Behind his gruff and blunt exterior there is a warm, witty, devoted family man. What Burden has done is to catalogue Sugar’s public life and achievements so far well and for this he is to be commended. Just don’t expect more than that from this biography.

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