Kayode Damali’s life changed forever when he walked on to his university campus for the first time aged 18.
“It was the only university that would accept me,” he tells me. “I was 200 miles from home, very much out of my comfort zone, in a different culture and though it was my only choice, I knew I was doing the right thing.”
That campus in Crewe, Cheshire, provided Kayode with a solid grounding in the social change he craved. Not for him the life that faced so many of his contemporaries in Catford, South London – a spiral from petty crime into big time trouble and, for some, prison. He was breaking free.
Those first weeks away from home were a revelation. Kayode was taken under the wing of the student’s union president and struggled to fit in, but eventually found his way.
“Even on Freshers’ Week I was persuaded to join committees, to get involved in uni life. It changed me forever,” Kayode, now 27, recalls. “I wanted to be in on everything.” So swift was his rise, that he was made vice-president and governor of the university and later elected director of the National Union of Students.
Back home in Catford, Kayode’s parents and three siblings saw the change in him. His friends also saw a difference and applauded his drive.
“During my time on the BBC Apprentice, some liked what I was doing, some couldn’t understand it and some were just envious,” Kayode says. “I remember writing to a friend in prison about my new life while I was doing university assessments. It was a crazy time.”
After he graduated with a first class honours BSc in psychology of sport and exercise, Kayode made a big decision about his life. He was going to become an entrepreneur and he was also going to apply for a place on The Apprentice TV show.
Kayode applied for the show in 2017 and was not accepted. “I didn’t even make it past the application stage,” he admits. “However, I wasn’t going to give up, so I re-applied in 2018 and was finally given a chance to appear on the show and come face-to-face with Lord Sugar.” From that moment, he was driven to show the world the kind of individual he was and had become, to show his drive and determination to succeed. Kayode made the team and hit the ground running.
Fans of the show may remember the likeable, cheerful and hardworking candidate. He certainly made an impression with viewers, who lined up on Twitter to voice their shock when he was fired by Lord Sugar. Despite the knock-back, he fondly remembers the experience of living in the Apprentice house for giving him a taste of the high life.
“There was me, a kid from Catford, being chauffeured about in a Mercedes with blacked-out windows, like a celebrity. Although I found it crowded, living alongside the other Apprentices, because I love my own space, it was an experience I’ll always be grateful for.”
Post-Apprentice, life has been incredibly hectic for Kayode. He was voted the UK’s Favourite Reality TV Star at the annual Screen Nation film and television awards and earned the title “Smoothest talker on TV”. He’s constantly in demand as a motivational speaker and has had to get used to being recognised in public. His work off the show, hosting talks at secondary schools, also saw his popularity increase and he was virtually mobbed for selfies when meeting students. “At one school, there were about 100 children asking to have their picture taken with me and for me to sign their text books,” he tells me with a laugh. Kayode has been inspired by his parents, both psychologists and proud of their Caribbean heritage. He is grateful for their guidance and motivation to help him find his way to a successful personal and professional life. He is now working with Qube Learning on a series of motivational educational podcasts aimed at young people aspiring to follow his footsteps and change the route of their lives. Topics include applying for jobs, writing a CV, how to survive an interview, where to find jobs and how to sustain a positive work environment.
He says: “I believe that anyone looking to further their skillset should consider a traineeship or apprenticeship. It’s a great route for those who are unsure about their professional direction. By hosting an educational podcast with Qube Learning, I can offer an insight into my journey, but also help listeners carve out a path that will result in personal and professional success.”
The five-part series, called The Right Route focuses on how to follow your dreams, just like he has. The subscription link to the podcast is on the Qube Learning website.