TV & Movies

I had £12 in my bank & turned down Towie before going on The Apprentice – but fame got me in trouble, says Tom Skinner | The Sun

TOM SKINNER ranks alongside Del Boy as the UK’s most famous market trader.

Since the Romford-born wheeler dealer, 32, was fired by Lord Sugar on The Apprentice, he’s turned into a social media superstar known for his massive breakfasts, motivational battle cries and “Bosh!” catchphrase.

And now he’s telling all about his life in his very first memoir, titled Graft: How To Smash Life, out October 12.

It contains some hilarious anecdotes about some of his best, and worst, business deals – plus how his “gift of the gab” has got him out of the trickiest of situations…

Mixing with the Mafia

After impressing on The Apprentice in 2019, Tom was asked by two American businessmen – who were involved in one of the tasks on the show – if he could sell bicycles on their behalf at a trade show in Germany, near the Italian border, and was offered £15,000 for a weekend’s work.

Much to their delight, he sold £1million worth of stock to a sharp-suited Italian gentleman after buttering him up by “taking the mickey out of Italian football.”



I worked 3 jobs on £3 an hour and scrubbed hotel toilets… now I run a £15m empire


The Apprentice rich list revealed including fired star now worth £13million

Later that night, Tom and the Americans headed to a bar to celebrate the deal – the biggest in their history – when they bumped into their flush buyer and the market trader was told of his real identity.

He explains: “The booze was flowing. It all got a bit hazy, but at some point in the evening someone came over to the table, tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to pop outside with him for a cigarette.

“When we were safely away from prying ears he leaned in and said, ‘You do know they’re mafia, right?’

“He was deadly serious and explained that the mafia owned a lot of cycle shops in Italy.

Most read in Reality

bake off air

Bake Off pulled from screens next week in fresh schedule shake-up


Big Brother’s Hallie opens up about being trans – but fans fume at Farida’s question

tough start

Big Brother fans convinced contestant will QUIT show saying ‘he wants to walk’

tough time

Springwatch presenter reveals he had secret heart attack

Wheeler dealer Tom worked on market stalls for yearsCredit: Harper Collins

“They used them to launder money. I made a mental note to ease up on the banter. 

“Luckily the older gentlemen – the dons – couldn’t speak English.

“Then I laughed. ‘I made them an offer they couldn’t refuse,’ I replied.”

'Robin Hood of Romford'

Before finding fame, Tom wasn’t always so squeaky clean.

He bought a money-spinning “magic key” from a local crook for £2,000, which put £50 of electricity on household pre-pay meters.

Tom explains: “I had a plan. I went out and bought a couple of hi-vis jackets and got them printed with a logo for a made-up company.

“There was a big council estate in Romford where 99 per cent of the homes were on top-up meters so that was the target.”

Tom and a pal offered hard-up residents a one-time promotional offer of £50 of electricity for just £10.

“I couldn’t really see what was so wrong,” he says. “Electricity is just there, right? It comes out of clouds in thunderstorms. We were giving people something that comes free in a lightning bolt. 

Electricity is just there, right? It comes out of clouds in thunderstorms. We were giving people something that comes free in a lightning bolt

“They benefited. We benefited. Everyone was happy.”

However, their plan was foiled after the energy company supplying the estate found out.

Tom adds: “One day we knocked on a door and gave our usual spiel and the elderly bloke who opened the door told us he couldn’t speak to us.

‘I had a letter from the energy company. I’m not allowed to accept any offers,’ he said regretfully.

“It was the same story with the next door we knocked. “We realised that the game was up and our scheme providing cheap energy to the good people of Romford was over. It had been a nice little earner while it lasted.”

Monkey business

Tom’s life on the market has come with plenty of ups and downs.

Some of his stock has flown off the shelves, others have flopped, but one particular purchase still gives him a headache.

Tom says: “One of my worst buying decisions involved half a lorry load of laughing monkeys.

“On reflection, I reckon I was blindsided by them because when I bought them I wasn’t a parent, so I didn’t appreciate just how f*****g annoying they were.”

After being told they were from Hamleys and retailed at £29.99, but he could have them for “£3 a pop”, he bought 2,500 for £7,500 just in time for Christmas.

But it didn’t take long for him to realise why the motion sensor toys were being sold so cheaply.

One of my worst buying decisions involved half a lorry load of laughing monkeys… I wasn’t a parent, so I didn’t appreciate just how f*****g annoying they were

He explains: “I lined up about 20 in the front of the stall, pride of place so anyone passing could see them.

“I realised straight away that it didn’t matter where they went, you couldn’t miss them because as soon as someone moved, they started laughing, and it wasn’t a pleasant chuckle.

“I heard a few comments. ‘What’s that f****** awful noise?!’

“They were right. These things sounded demonic. After an hour they were driving us mad.

“I ended up giving them to a charity shop about six months later.

“I can’t remember which one, but it should have been one for the hard of hearing.”

Bosh bubbly

As well as big fry-ups, Tom also enjoys the finer things in life and brought out his own range of sparkling wine.

And he believed “vino” could be his latest Del Boy-style earner after discovering during a trip to France that wine is a fraction of the price compared to the UK.

He purchased hundreds of £1.20 bottles of cheap plonk in a warehouse in Calais, brought them back to the UK and asked his grandmother “Nanny Skinner” to help steam off the labels in her bath.

Tom replaced them with new personalised labels his pal, who owns a printing shop, designed on his behalf.

He then took them into London to sell to posh restaurants, claiming the sparkling wine was high-end champagne.

Tom adds: “I sold them cheap, but the margins still made it worth the trip and the reports I had back from customers were all positive.

“One restaurant owner said it was better than the branded champagne he was selling.

“It was so popular that I got a regular little supply run going and returned to France several times to get stock.”

Turned down Towie

Tom could have got his big break in TV before The Apprentice when the makers of reality show The Only Way Is Essex came calling.

And he was seriously tempted, because at that time he was flat broke. 

He says: “I was going through one of my skint periods at the time and had about £40 on me and some plastic and when I went to the cash point to get some more readies it told me I had £12 left in my account.

“I also had to dodge past the barber because I owed him £20 for a haircut.

“This was not an unusual set of circumstances. Life was often feast or famine. I remembered that I’d run out of aftershave and went into Boots on the way to use one of their testers, so I probably went into the interview stinking of Kouros.”

Towie wanted Tom and his pal Lou, a close friend of Gemma Collins, and the pair downed two bottles of bubbly in London before their meeting to pass the time.

Tom adds: “Despite being drunk I must have made an impression because I got a call a few days later telling me they wanted me on the show.

“I’d only gone up for a laugh and I declined their offer straight away.

“At the time my life involved selling gear from the back of a van, so I had no interest in being involved in the programme.

“And I couldn’t see the Towie production team getting themselves down the market at 5am to film me anyway.”

Holiday from Hell

Tom’s “gift of the gab” hasn’t just boosted his coffers, but also got him out of trouble on more than a few occasions.

And never before has his “banter” been so effective than during a romantic holiday in the Dominican Republic with a former girlfriend when he accidentally ran into Haiti gangsters while looking for a hotel massage hut.

Unbeknown to him, they had stepped foot inside the neighbouring border, a lawless society notorious for kidnapping foreigners for ransom, and entered a compound full of shacks – and Tom was asked to hand over all his money.

He explains: “They had guns and a mad leader with no legs and a whistle round his neck. These boys weren’t messing around. 

“We were being robbed and I knew that if I got away with losing just my money, I would be lucky. But some urge deep inside me refused to let me just stand there and get tucked up.

They had guns and a mad leader with no legs and a whistle round his neck. These boys weren’t messing around

“If he was going to take my money, which he obviously was because he and his mate had guns, I wanted something in return, just to make it seem a bit fairer.

‘I can’t give you that, I need more money for the rest of my holiday,’ I said. Then I suggested, ‘Why don’t we have a trade instead?’

“The leader thought about this for a minute, and I saw a look on his face that I’d seen a million times before. His eyes lit up at the thought of doing a deal. 

“We might have been from different sides of the world and divided by different backgrounds and environments, but he recognised a fellow trader and there was a spark of connection.”

He ended up trading his cash for “five fat cigars” before leaving swiftly, unharmed.

On why he included the story in the book, he says: “Having a laugh and a joke with people gets you a long way in life and can also get you out of all kinds of problems.”

Run-in with gangsters

Another one of Tom’s notorious business deals resulted in scenes echoing something out of Brit gangster flick Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

He sold pots of face cream to a local gangster, nicknamed The Sergeant, whose wife accused them of being “knock off”.

He arranged to meet in a Romford pub and arrived flanked by “heavies” intent on getting his money back.

But Tom had spent the cash on a fresh investment and now had the feeling of a “condemned man”.

Tom and his pal said he would accompany the gangster to Central London and visit a cosmetics shore to check its validity.

He explains: “I asked The Sergeant for the pot and spoke to the lady behind the counter.

“‘Excuse me, I bought this from another store when I was on holiday and my wife reckons it’s fake. You couldn’t check and tell me if I’ve been stitched up could you?’

“She was happy to oblige. She took the lid off. She looked at it carefully, sniffed it, dabbed a bit on her hand and rubbed it in.

‘Of course it’s genuine,’ she said. Even though I knew it was, the relief was instant.

“We walked outside in silence. I wasn’t going to punch the air or anything. I handed The Sergeant back his pot.

‘I owe you a favour,’ he said simply, then got in his car along with his muscle and drove off, leaving me feeling like we’d just been given a reprieve from Death Row.”

Read More on The Sun


Spanish £12-a-night caravan sites that sun-chasing Brits move to over winter


We hate living next to Premier Inn – our kids can see guests having sex

Extracted from Graft: How To Smash Life by Tom Skinner, published by HarperCollins on October 12.

Tom is partnering with The British Dyslexia Association for Dyslexia Awareness Week (October 2 – October 8)For more information contact the British Dyslexia Awareness helpline on 0333 405 4567 or visit

Source: Read Full Article