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Stars in Training

Stars in Training: Celebrities whose apprenticeships changed their lives

The UK’s 10th National Apprenticeship Week is taking place between 6-10th March, and it’s a great opportunity to not only highlight the runaway success that apprenticeships have become, but also to encourage more young people to make apprenticeships their launch pad to an exciting new career.

We thought we’d start the celebrations early by telling you about a few people who were apprentices before they became household names. Not all of them stayed within the industry they apprenticed for, but every one of them owes at least part of their success to the skills their apprenticeships taught them.

Let’s consider celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who left school with just two GCSEs and apprenticed at restaurants all over London. Jamie’s such a firm believer in the power of apprenticeships that he even started a ground-breaking apprenticeship programme at his London restaurant Fifteen. “My intention was really simple,” Jamie said on his website, “on one hand to create one of London’s finest restaurants and, on the other, to use the magic of cooking to give young people who’ve often faced enormous challenges in their lives, the opportunity to unlock their true talent, through great training and mentoring.” The programme has proved so successful that Jamie and his team are working hard to expand it across the country.

And while we’re on the subject of cooking, did you know that Gordon Ramsay’s spectacular career also began with a catering apprenticeship?

What about apprentices who eventually found fame in the world of entertainment? Elvis Presley and George Harrison were both apprentice electricians and Eric Clapton took a vocational course in stained glass design, whereas comedian Billy Connolly was an apprentice welder in the Glasgow shipyards. We wonder if he worked alongside ex-Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who was an apprentice toolmaker at the same location? “It is only when you had the opportunity to have an apprenticeship did you realise the long-term benefit,” Sir Alex said in 2011, “Anyone who had that experience will have appreciated the skills they learned.”

Moving on from entertainment, let’s look at the world of fashion. Stella McCartney learned the skills of fine tailoring while working as an apprentice on London’s historic Savile Row, and now she runs her own fashion house. The late Alexander McQueen also apprenticed on Savile Row and went on to become one of British fashion’s most internationally renowned designers.

But, here at the LHAA, it’s the celebrity hairstyling apprentices we’re most excited about – long before he launched his own salon and product line, and became a hairstylist to the stars, John Frieda was a hairdressing apprentice.  So was industry icon Trevor Sorbie, who dropped out of school to apprentice in a barbershop before joining Vidal Sassoon and becoming one of our best loved celebrity hairstylists. And hairdressing guru Nicky Clarke, who didn’t know what he wanted to do for a career until his sister advised him to find a great salon and “just start at the bottom”, also developed his hairstyling skills earning while he learned. “The harder you try, the luckier you get,” Nicky says, and we couldn’t agree more.

But, even though they all began their apprenticeships in very different industries, what else do these household names have in common? They didn’t know the greatness that lay ahead for them until they took their first steps onto the apprenticeship ladder. Apprenticeships change lives, and sometimes in ways nobody could predict.

We hope that National Apprenticeship Week will inspire a lot of new apprentices to begin what is guaranteed to be a very exciting journey.
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