After rushing back from her 3-year-old son Zacariah’s first trip to his new nursery, former The Apprentice star and budding TV personality, Saira Khan, takes a moment to catch her breath before talking to MFM. Once composed, Saira opens up about her life as a working mum and businesswoman, plus gives us the juicy gossip about what it’s really like in THAT boardroom.
With her contagious charisma and 110mph chat, mum-of-one Saira is one busy lady. With her baby skincare company Miamoo about to launch into 200 Boots stores in July, and endless TV stints at the BBC in the pipeline, Saira’s been working hard since her departure from Lord Sugar’s boardroom in 2006. One thing’s for sure, there is definitely life after The Apprentice…
MFM: As a busy businesswoman with big dreams was motherhood always in your plans?
Saira: “I have always wanted to be a mum, but as a woman you put it into the back of your mind and think it’ll naturally happen. But I think for me I wanted to do my career first, and when I decided that [it was time for children], I wanted to go down that [family] route.
“However, it wasn’t that easy for me as I had endometriosis. In the end I had to have IVF to get Zac. I was 38 when I had him and although my dream had come true, it wasn’t as easy for me as with other people. Being a businesswoman there isn’t a ‘no’ in my vocabulary, so I tackled the problem to find a solution. I tried IVF and it worked.”
MFM: Has your son Zac shown any signs of following your footsteps into the business world?
Saira: “I certainly think that Zac is very confident and it’s a big thing you need in business and in life. When kids see you being confident yourself, it’s something that rubs off on them. He will literally talk to anyone and he loves people. For example, when I dropped him off at nursery for the first time today, I was a nervous wreck but he let go of my hand and said, ‘Goodbye Mummy!’ and off he went.
“Zac really isn’t shy and retiring. He is a very confident little boy and I don’t think that’s a bad trait for him to be a successful businessman in the future.”
MFM: Should Lord Sugar be worried?
Saira: “Lord Sugar had better watch out! I could definitely see Zac working in business in the future.”
MFM: You’re a full-time working mum now with your own business. Do you find it difficult being a working mum in the spotlight?
Saira: “Being in The Apprentice gave me the confidence to branch out on my own and I used it as a real stepping-stone. I never left the show thinking, ‘I’m now a business expert’ and I knew I had to step it up to prove that I wasn’t in it just to get a media career. I needed to show people that yes, I was on The Apprentice but now I’m going to earn my stripes.
“Yes, it was and is hard, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m living proof that, as a woman, you can start a business from your kitchen table; all you need is a laptop and phone.”
MFM: What was the one big thing you learnt from being on The Apprentice?
Saira: “The biggest and most important lesson I learnt was if you want something done, you couldn’t delegate big decisions to other people! You have to be really, really involved. Every step of the way. When you start up, you are the manager, the PR manager, the sales person, the everything! It’s definitely my baby and I look after it with all I’ve got.”
MFM: Do you ever combine your boardroom skills with being a mum?
Saira: “From a young age I made sure that Zac had a routine and he’s a product of who I am. Like a product or business, you have to invest your time and passion and throw yourself into it, because if you don’t, you won’t be able to reap the rewards or benefits.
“In the boardroom, I never felt like I knew everything. I was constantly learning. That’s the same with Zac – I never claimed I knew everything and read so many books on how to be a good parent. I think having boardroom skills and being a mum is very similar! Managing time, putting your energy into it and learning all the time makes you better at what you – both at home and at work!”
MFM: You managed to hold your own with Lord Sugar – how do you deal with toddler tantrums?
Saira: “I’m quite lucky as Zac takes after his dad and is calm. But he does have temper tantrums! Zac never goes mad and throws himself in the middle of the road, but he sometimes cries and whinges when he’s tired. Instead of shouting or pulling my hair out, I sit down and say, ‘Zac what is wrong? Why are you crying?’ I get him to give me the answer why he is behaving like that, rather than him just kicking something or me! He’s got a nice temperament really but I like to get to the bottom of the problem.”
MFM: Is Zac aware that his mum is on the TV?
Saira: “Yeah, he is aware, but he’s definitely not my biggest fan! I made a children’s programme for CBBC recently and we sat Zac down to watch it. It was really weird because he couldn’t bear to see me on the TV!
There was me saying, ‘Look Zaccy, it’s mummy!’ and he was like, ‘Turn it off, I want to watch something else.’ It was not the reaction I was expecting.
“I was like, ‘My performance isn’t that bad is it? You should be proud your mummy is on the TV,’ but he wasn’t impressed one bit!”
MFM: Which other celebrity mums do you admire?
Saira: “I really admire Fiona Bruce. She’s got three children and always looks great. I think she’s a brilliant person.
“Myleene Klass is another one. She does a really good job and does what she’s passionate about. She’s always with her children, which I think is great. While it’s brilliant having kids. you shouldn’t neglect what you do as a person. I think she’s done a great job, definitely a role model for working mums.
“I think Dannii Minogue is fab, too. She looked great throughout her pregnancy and is really besotted with her boy, that’s clear to see.”
MFM: Going back to The Apprentice, what is it really like in there? Is it as scary as it looks?
Saira: “The boardroom – yes, it’s very scary! With the boardroom, there’s no getting away from the fact that if you’re on the losing team, Lord Sugar is going to give you a hard time. It’s amazing that we’re in the sixth series and people are STILL making the same schoolboy errors. You need to go in there mentally prepared that your peers are going to try and knock you out of there!”
MFM: Lord Sugar – a real-life meanie or just a TV personality?
Saira: “When you see Lord Sugar in the boardroom, he is not acting, he’s is being himself! I worked with him for six months and he is just like he is on TV. He walks in, no chit-chat, and is straight to the point shouting, ‘What are the results?’ If you can’t take him in the boardroom, you’ll never be able to work for him. He can smell a fraud for miles!
“I think the reason no one else could do that role is because he’s genuinely being himself. That’s why people believe and they know that’s who he is. He’s EXACTLY like he is on the TV. He’s very generous and loyal.
“However as nice as he can be, I definitely wouldn’t want to cross him in business…”
MFM: Have you been watching the current series? Who do you want to win?
Saira: “I think Jim Eastwood is a good contender. The thing with Jim is, there’s a lot of hype about him – but he needs to make sure he doesn’t rub people up the wrong way and be too arrogant. You’ve got to be liked by people. If people like you, they’ll want to do business with you, it’s as simple as that. If you’re too cocky and competitive, it’s not an attractive quality.”