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Dr Leah Totton On A Decade Since Winning The Apprentice

dr leah totton

A Winning Partnership with Lord Sugar

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The Apprentice Series 9 winner Dr Leah Totton shares what it’s like to work with Essex business partner Lord Alan Sugar as she celebrates 10 years in the cosmetics industry

Over a decade since Dr Leah Totton embarked on a business partnership with Lord Alan Sugar after winning series 9 of the hit BBC show The Apprentice in 2013. Despite having no background in business, the then 25-year-old former NHS A&E doctor, originally from Londonderry in Northern Ireland, impressed the business tycoon with her plans for an accessible cosmetics clinic.

And while many business plans have been laughed out of the boardroom over the years, Lord Sugar embraced Dr Leah’s vision to establish a doctor-led, ethical cosmetic clinic that would redefine safety in the UK cosmetic industry.

Eleven years on, and the somewhat unlikely pair remain in business together (despite the majority of other The Apprentice partnerships ending) and have opened three doctor-led clinics – in Baker Street, Moregate, and Loughton – and launched a skincare brand. Last month they celebrated the 10th anniversary of the opening of their first clinic, just as series 18 of The Apprentice hit our screens.

“I think being one of the early adopters of doctor-led cosmetics certainly helped the brand get off its feet, but we’ve worked really hard to remain at the forefront, and I think that’s a testament to the business’s longevity,” Dr Leah says. “Lord Sugar is wonderful as a business partner, but more so for me as a mentor because I didn’t come from a business background. I think I’m one of only three winners still in business with him: there’s me, Tom (Pellereau, from series seven), and Ricky (Martin, from series eight).”

Navigating the Early Controversies

Not that Dr Leah has had a completely seamless ride. When she won the show, Lord Alan received a lot of criticism for backing a Botox business. “There was a huge backlash in the press,” Dr Leah remembers. “Botox and injectables weren’t mainstream at that time, and there was a real stigma around women and men undergoing cosmetic treatment. The industry was also very polarised – you had these high-end, esteemed plastic surgeons offering a bit of Botox alongside a facelift and then lay people working out of a beautician or doing at-home treatments, and there was nothing in that middle space – a doctor who could offer ethical treatments in a clinical environment at an affordable price.”

Advocating for Patient Safety and Industry Standards

dr leah totton

“Patient education has come on leaps and bounds, but there is still work to be done,” she adds. “One of the reasons I came into this industry in the first place, and my first dealing with this industry, was when my aunt had a dermal filler treatment, and it went badly wrong. Unfortunately, the person who administered the filler wouldn’t help, and because there is no regulation, my aunt couldn’t get any compensation.

“From a legal standpoint, as a layperson with no medical training, you can buy dermal filler online. It’s not a prescription-only drug, which, in my opinion, it should be because of the risks involved with injecting. We’re talking about tissue necrosis and even blindness. Yet it would be perfectly legal for you to inject me with dermal filler without any legal consequence of harm or injury as a result.”

Recognition as the Most Trusted Cosmetic Clinic

Dr. Leah believes it is this commitment to educating patients on how to make informed decisions about cosmetic treatments that have made a huge contribution to her brand’s success and is one of the reasons it was awarded the Most Trusted Cosmetic Clinic in the UK last year.

“That was a real pinch-me moment,” she smiles. “The business has done very well financially, and that’s something I’m extremely grateful for, but what was more important for me was to ensure we delivered on our vision, to bring that medical influence to the mid-range price point, to make safe and ethical cosmetic treatments performed by a doctor accessible and affordable – and that award was really a testament to that.”

Balancing Motherhood and Entrepreneurship

dr leah new skincare range

Achieving the accolade has meant more to her now that she has a daughter, Lilah, 2, who was also the catalyst for ensuring her skincare brand, which she launched with Lord Sugar while pregnant in 2022, was suitable for mums-to-be. The line includes a cleanser and moisturiser with an eye cream in the pipeline, is also vegan-friendly, and comes in recyclable packaging.

“The skincare brand has been in the making for about seven years, but I’m a bit of a perfectionist and just wanted it to be right,” Dr Leah admits. “I was eight months pregnant when we launched, and I found many of the products I used on my skin before I fell pregnant weren’t suitable. I was shocked at how difficult it was to find good skin products that were safe to use during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and IVF; when you’re pregnant, a new mum, or going through fertility treatment, you have enough to worry about, so that was really important to me.”

Now back at work after taking maternity leave for five months and then a phased return, Dr. Leah says she feels privileged to balance motherhood and work and enjoys spending time at all of her clinics each week.

“I’m at the Essex clinic at least once a week – it’s a really busy clinic, and we’ve built an amazingly loyal client base since we opened in Loughton seven years ago,” she says. “Plus, it’s on such a great High Street; I love going for after-work dinners at places like Sheesh and Quindici.”

Reflecting on The Apprentice’s Impact

It feels quite a world away from her introduction to business back on The Apprentice. Now, looking back on that time and how far she has come, is applying for the show something she’d recommend to her daughter if it still exists in the future?

“Absolutely,” she says unequivocally. “For me, it was life-changing. I got a fantastic amount of experience out of it, an amazing business partner, and have had an exceptional career, an exceptional decade.”

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Picture of Rebecca Pitcairn

Rebecca Pitcairn

Rebecca Pitcairn has over 18 years’ experience as a journalist and editor working predominantly in regional media. Having completed the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines, she now also specialises in writing about the wine and vineyards of England and hosts a podcast called The English Wine Diaries.
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