Behind the scenes at H&W - Dan and Padraig talk about the day The Apprentice came to visit

H&W's Paddy and Ursula meet Nick and Karren

Heyland & Whittle fans and enthusiasts of The Apprentice alike are likely to have been thrilled with the episode that aired on Wednesday, in which contestants of the BBC TV programme were tasked with designing and producing their own candles and reed diffusers.

It had all the usual drama of the show, plus our long-held secret is out - the episode was filmed entirely on location in our factory in Sussex during the summer. 

H&W's Dan and Padraig were on-hand to offer their expertise to the two teams - and to look on as the tasks progressed - so we caught up with them both to chat about the day they got some inside information into the world of TV production.

They explained that the day started just as it seems to on the box: with everyone rolling up in the classic black people carriers, along with extra vehicles for the sound crew and production team. However, there had been plenty of preparation before that, with producers initially telephoning out of the blue to see if H&W would be willing to act as hosts - and then some groundwork necessary to set everything up.

Preparing for the day

"A lot of work in the background went on because of the nature of the product, so that they could make what they wanted on the day," said Padraig. "Originally, the BBC wanted far more options - choices of different fragrances, many different candles, for example, but it just wasn't possible. It doesn't happen that way; it has to be much more formulaic.

"Normally, a new product takes three to six months," Dan added.  "They had an afternoon to do the whole thing, so the process had to be standardised in advance for them." Finally, a plan was settled on and the BBC decided that each team would simply be given a few fragrances and the choice of colour or no colour, while the costings and financial information would be provided in a dossier.

As you might expect, there were meetings to discuss mixtures of ingredients, what might happen if something went wrong, health and safety, and legislation. The day itself also had to be carefully scheduled in to avoid too much disruption for our own operations. Padraig explained that a bank holiday was selected so production didn't have to stop for the day and the usual personnel were not in the factory.

"We would have had to shut down and send all the staff home because it was all such a big secret," laughed Padraig.

The teams get started

Once all the practicalities were out of the way and the contestants had arrived, the fun really started as the two teams got down to business. Dan and Padraig revealed that nobody was given an advantage over their fellow competitors - and the producers were happy to produce a true 'fly on the wall' show by stepping back and letting everything unfold.

"Each production team really knew what they were doing rather than having everything scripted. That was what made it the most fun part for me," said Padraig.

"They were very fair to both teams - if one had some advice from me, Padraig was advised to do the same. They were very interested in fairness," added Dan.

One pleasant surprise for H&W was how down to earth everyone seemed, contrary to their portrayal on The Apprentice. "Clearly they had to exaggerate their personalities in order to get seen or noticed. Off-screen, we chatted with them and they were genuinely nice people," commented Dan. "Sanjay [Sood-Smith], who seems really arrogant in the interviews, in real life was almost quiet and retiring, and really good at what he was doing."

Padraig also recalls thinking how impressive his team was under pressure. "They were being scrutinised, with me butting in, the director butting in, they were being forced to do things - I'd have been stressed out." One thing that did surprise him was the fact that each of the team members had to go out and be interviewed during the production process, whether they were behind or not - oh, and all that backbiting? It seems that isn't entirely representative of real life, either. "They were all in it together and brushed the problems off. They all seemed to get on well," Padraig said.

Meanwhile, Dan said he found it quite amusing that the contestants were regularly bossed about by the production team. "They ushered them around and told them off like schoolkids!"

Putting their foot in it

We hope you enjoyed the sneak peek of our factory and the finished episode of The Apprentice as much as we did

Unsurprisingly, the two teams didn't get through the day error-free. In fact, things got off to rather a bad start for Padraig's team when they failed to listen to the briefing, as you'll no doubt have noticed on the TV - and then proceeded to make those alarming, Day-Glo yellow candles.

"I told them the recipe, they cut me short, then they went ahead and did it all wrong," he laughed. "They didn't start pouring the candles for an hour after the other team. We left them to it; it was a bit like watching them through a pane of glass. I wanted to say things all the time, but knew I couldn't."

A very long day

Regular viewers might be surprised to learn just how hard the contestants have to work to prove their worth to Sir Alan - and this translated to a long day for H&W.

Dan revealed that he arrived at the factory at 9am and fired up the boilers for the candles a couple of hours later. The Apprentice contestants arrived at around 4pm - and there wasn't much time for resting after that.

"From the word go, it was filming all the way through. We didn't lock the doors until 2am the following morning. The director had said we'd be done by 9pm, but I could see at 5.30pm that the day would go on and on. But it was a great experience. The local pizzeria did well out of us all! It was a long, long day but great fun," Dan said.

Seeing how far H&W has come

Watching first-timers at the helm of the production process proved quite nostalgic for Dan and Padraig, who, as you'll know from our previous 'behind the scenes pieces', came from small beginnings to create the successful business you see today.

"When we started to make our own candles, there were probably some similarities [to the contestants] - we were all fingers and thumbs, we made some of the mistakes they made," Dan recalled. "We made about 20 an hour; we wouldn't want to work like that now or we'd be out of business! We were making a mess of it. Now we make 1,200 a day and are having to expand production."

"During the summer I realised we've come quite a long way. We have focused on getting it right and that shows through," Padraig added. "I guess I became more proud of the business through the experience of doing this - it's an old, artisan way of doing things."

They were also reminded of their love for what they do - the BBC 'shopped around' a number of different companies, but eventually came back to H&W, perhaps because of their evident enthusiasm. "Even the contestants said 'you really love making candles, it's really obvious' - it was a nice compliment," said Padraig.

Tips for the final?

Finally, we had to ask - did Padraig and Dan spot any clear winners among the teams that visited them that day?

"I only really met four people from Team Summit. But out of those four, I would go with Sanjay I think. He was a pretty strong character, really got to grips with the maths of the task and was quite calm. He was perhaps a bit of a worrier, but he got everyone behind him. He seems quite shrewd," said Dan.

Padraig commented: "Good question - I'm not sure. Felipe was very cocky in the beginning, but he really grew on me. Although he continued to make a series of mistakes, he brushed them off and moved on. Jemma was extremely quiet but did come up with some good suggestions, so she might have been a bit of a dark horse."

However, he added: "I'm not sure any of my team were better than the others - I don't know if any of them would make it to the final." Time will tell if these assessments are correct.

At last, it was time to wave everyone off and return to normal at H&W. However, we hope you enjoyed the sneak peek of our factory and the finished episode as much as we did - it was certainly an experience we'll never forget!