THE STAKES are higher than ever on series seven of The Apprentice with more pressure, more risk and even more difficult challenges for the 16 hard-nosed contestants.

Gripping viewing – but no-one will be watching the opening episode of this year’s series (next Tuesday) with more interest than the employees of Scottish & Southern Energy in Reading. They’ll be following the fortunes of their former colleague Edward Hunter, who quit his job as an accountant at the energy firm to become a contestant on the show.

You see, even though Hunter trained at one of the Big Four auditors, being an accountant isn’t really what he wants to do in life.

Given a sneak preview of the opening episode, The Capitalist was wincing as he told judges Lord Sugar, PR impresario Nick Hewer and Karren Brady, vice-chairman of West Ham FC: “I’m the wheeler dealer who accidentally became a finance professional and wants to get out.”

Fighting talk. But isn’t that just the sort of swaggering bravado that got Stuart “The Brand” Baggs into trouble last year? (“I’m not a one-trick pony, I’m not a 10-trick pony, I’m a whole field of ponies – and they’re literally all running towards this job.”)

And talking of pony, Hunter’s up against the likes of 28-year-old estate agent manager Alex Britez Cabral, who believes that “if you are successful, you are unpopular, so unpopularity is a good thing.”

As you’d expect, the thrusting line-up also includes some impressive titles like “business psychologist”, and “skincare entrepreneur”.

Which makes The Capitalist wonder what the collective noun would be for such a group of go-getters? Suggestions by email please.

IN A NEW twist from previous series of The Apprentice, this year’s winner will enter into a 50/50 “uncivil partnership” with Lord Sugar, who will invest £250,000 of his own money into their business idea.

The investment is the same sum of money Sugar used to start his first company in 1967, adjusted for inflation; he wants to prove to the public it is still possible to start a business from scratch as a way of ending the “moaning culture”. “All the doom and gloom has nothing to do with the banks,” he said. “You have to help yourself. It is as simple as that.”

Reminding his audience that “I’m from Hackney, not Eton,” Sugar added: “I’m not interested in highbrow economic garbage. I am interested in people going out and starting a business from nothing and making a pile of money. It is the small companies, the one-man bands of this world that are the backbone of this country, not the likes of BP and M&S.”

AS SOON as Winterflood Securities heard the news of the Royal engagement, the original theme for its Christmas party – traditionally held in April – was pushed back to next year in favour of hiring a troupe of butlers to entertain their 1,000 guests.

Even though the Winterflood hosts didn’t dress up for its Right Royal Knees Up – except for a distinguishing rose buttonhole – The Capitalist hears their behaviour was suitably regal, with life president Brian Winterflood insisting guests call him “His Royal Bri-ness” for the evening.

Professional lookalike Jeannette Charles made a convincing Queen for the night, although guests were less impressed by “Prince Charles”. “Some people thought he looked like Gary Lineker,” said a mole.

THE PREVIOUS Lord Mayor Nick Anstee was so impressed by the “courage and good grace” exhibited by cricketer Alastair Cook in this winter’s victorious Ashes tour, he and alderman Gordon Haines nominated the batsman for the Freedom of the City of London.

Cook, who was “honoured” to follow in the footsteps of England players Andrew Strauss and Michael Vaughan, received the award at a cricket-themed lunch at the Guildhall yesterday. But don’t expect to see Cook driving a flock of sheep over London Bridge – that particular privilege associated with the Freedom has, sadly, been phased out.

THE FAMILY of Richard Crossley, the Merchant Securities chartist who died at home in London on 12 April, has confirmed the funeral will take place on Thursday 12 May at 10am at Christ Church Spitalfields on Commercial Street. There will be drinks afterwards to celebrate Richard’s life at Sweet Basil Restaurant on Brushfield Street.

No flowers by request, but donations may be made in memory of Richard to the Multiple Sclerosis Society c/o Janet Burrow, Dale Edge, Back Lane, Whittingham, Preston, Lancashire, PR3 2FH.

For further details, please contact John Coulson on 0207 375 9030.