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NAW 2017 - 10 former apprentices who’ve gone on to big things

It's the 10th anniversary of National Apprenticeship Week and to celebrate, we've compiled a list of 10 former apprentices who've made a name for themselves (not to mention a tidy sum!) since their humble beginnings as an apprentice.

  1. Jamie Oliver

After gaining an NVQ in Home Economics at college, Jamie became an apprentice pastry chef at Antonio Carluccio’s Neal Street Restaurant. From there he moved to The River Café as a sous chef, where he was noticed by the BBC during the filming of a documentary about the restaurant.

Fast forward to today and Jamie is the wealthiest chef in the world, with a net value of over £150m thanks to his numerous television series, 22 cook books, kitchen products and a successful chain of Italian restaurants. Not bad for someone that left school with only two GCSEs.


  1. Stella McCartney

Despite her famous parents, the British designer began as an apprentice for Saville Row Tailor, Edward Sexton. She has since worked for Christian Lacroix and Chloe, founded her own fashion house and range of fragrances, as well as designing collections for Adidas, H&M and the Team GB kit for the 2012 Olympics.


  1. George Clarke

The architect and presenter of ‘Restoration Man’ and ‘Amazing Spaces’ began his career aged 16 with an apprenticeship at a firm of architects. He went on to Newcastle University, where he gained a first class degree in Architectural Practice. During which he used the skills he’d learnt as an apprentice to financially support himself by renovating people’s homes in his spare time.

In 2014, George became the youngest person ever to be awarded honorary membership of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. He’s written several books on house renovation and is an adviser to the government on a project to bring empty properties back into use for families in Britain.


  1. John Frieda

The celebrity hairdresser, salon owner and founder of the Frizz Ease brand of hair products, began his career in the 1960s as an apprentice in his father’s London hair salon. From there he opened his first salon in 1979 with fellow stylist Nicky Clarke, and developed the John Frieda Professional Hair Care product line for Boots.

John now owns lavish salons in London, New York and Los Angeles – possibly the only hair salon in the world with a pool and where clients can assess their $400 haircuts on an in-house video monitor system. His products are sold globally, with a bottle from his popular Frizz-Ease range sold every 30 seconds!



  1. Ross Brawn

A huge name in Formula One racing, Ross Brawn started out as a mechanical craft apprentice at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, where he qualified as an instrument mechanic. After his apprenticeship he joined a Formula Three racing team as a mechanic and worked his way up through the ranks, until he was designing F1 cars, including the ones Michael Schumacher drove to win the World Drivers’ Championship in 1994 and 1995.

From 1997 to 2006 he was Technical Director at Ferrari, where his race strategies helped the team win six consecutive Constructors’ Championship titles. In 2009 he founded the Brawn GP team, and won the championship with Jenson Button as driver. He’s now retired, but is rumoured to be worth £100m.


  1. Alan Titchmarsh

The ‘Gardener’s World’ presenter and author was employed as an apprentice gardener by Ikley Council in the 1960s. He completed his apprenticeship at age 18 and went on to study horticulture, before being employed by Kew Gardens.

Alan moved on to build a career in gardening journalism, which led him onto the role as television presenter on shows like ‘Gardener’s World’ and ‘Ground Force’, on which he even landscaped Nelson Mandela’s garden!


  1. Henry Ford

The founder of the Ford Motor Company revolutionised the automobile industry by developing assembly line modes of production and manufacturing the first car that middle class Americans could afford.

Henry started out as an apprentice machinist at a shipbuilding firm in Detroit, where he learned to operate and service steam engines. He became an engineer and set himself the ambitious goal of developing an inexpensive and easy to drive car for the masses, at a time when the car was a luxury only enjoyed by the very wealthy. He succeeded and by 1918, half of all cars in America were the Ford Model T.

By the 1930s, Ford was manufacturing a third of the world’s cars and trucks, putting Henry at number nine on the New York Daily News richest people of all time list.


  1. Sir Ian McKellen

Rather than go to drama school, Ian opted for a three-year apprenticeship at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. During his apprenticeship he trod the boards, performing in plays by Shakespeare, Chekhov and Agatha Christie, which he says gave him a firm grounding to build his acting career on.

Sir Ian is best known to modern audiences for his roles as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, and as Magneto in the X-Men films. In a film career spanning over 30 years, he’s been awarded six Laurence Olivier Awards and a Tony, received two Oscar nominations, four BAFTA nominations and five Emmy nominations.


  1. Laurence Graff

Not exactly a household name, but Mr Graff is certainly a former apprentice of note, with a net worth of £4.6 billion. Commonly known as the ‘Diamond King’, Laurence dropped out of school at 14 and became a jeweller’s apprentice in London’s Hatton Garden.

From there he set up a small shop, from which he designed and created small pieces of jewellery and repaired rings. In 1960 he founded Graff Diamonds and by the 1970s he was selling jewellery to rich buyers in the Middle East such as the Sultan of Brunei.

These days Graff Diamonds has over 50 stores the world over and Laurence is the 10th wealthiest person in the UK. He owns a vineyard, winery and boutique hotel in South Africa, a 150ft yacht, an art collection worth over $600 million and collects vintage cars.


  1. Charlie Mullins

This former plumbing apprentice went on to set up Pimlico Plumbers from a basement, with a second hand van and a bag of tools. The company is now London’s largest independent plumbing and service provider, with a workforce of 200, 160 vehicles and a £20 million turnover.

Charlie has a net worth of £55 million and is strongly focused on hiring apprentices. He’s often known as the plumber to the stars, with clients including Simon Cowell, Daniel Craig, Richard Branson and Keira Knightley.


Inspired by the success of these former apprentices? Find out how you could be following their footsteps with a GC apprenticeship at: or come along to our Apprenticeship Information Evening on 22 March to meet local employers who will be hiring apprentices in the coming months.

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