THERE are some things in life that former PR man and current Countdown presenter Nick Hewer can't stand – and reality TV is one of them. "I watched a bit of Celebrity Big Brother the other day.

Do you know something? I would prefer to eat my leg, parboiled, through fishnet tights, than go into the jungle or any of that.

"It's awful that people do it. Maybe they're hard up and they need the money to pay the tax bill which they ignored, or maybe they want to resuscitate some fading career in showbiz. How can people put themselves at the mercy of looking ridiculous?" he asks incredulously.

In the next breath, he admits: "I did it on The Great Celebrity Bake Off, which was bl**dy terrifying. I nearly had a nervous breakdown because of it. I went home and didn't speak to anyone for four days because I thought I looked such an idiot. The only reason I did it was that it was for a good cause. I'm patron of Pancreatic Cancer Action."

I catch him as he's heading off for a break in south-west France, where he has a rural bolthole, before hitting the literary festival circuit back in the UK with his new memoir, My Alphabet. In it, he charts alphabetically – but not chronologically – his life and times, from A for The Apprentice, to Z for Z-List, the category of celebrity he thinks he might be in as he reaches his twilight years.

Hewer is now 74, but his TV career on The Apprentice started when he was nearing 60 and he did it for ten years. He still watches the show, he reveals, and is still good friends with Lord Sugar, whom he met in 1983 when, as a PR, he was taken on by Amstrad (founded by Sugar) to help with the launch of its home computers.

"He's terrific fun and dangerous and exciting," Hewer says of his friend. "He kicked off The Apprentice thing, which sparked 14 years of an extended career which has been extraordinarily beneficial, enabling me to bank some money when I should have been retired, and it also kept me working in interesting things."

He believes shows like The Apprentice and Dragons' Den demystify business, although he laments that so many youngsters are seeking celebrity status over substance.

"The tragedy is, if I were to do a survey and ask 16 and 17-year-olds what they want to do, they would all say they want to be rich and famous and recognised. They want it quick and they want it now. I would say, forget trying to be famous because only a few get there and most of them disappear after 15 minutes."

He's stayed in touch with Apprentice candidates Saira Khan, Tim Campbell and Miriam Staley, and remains a fan of the show. "I got out of it because I was just too tired," he explains. "It was so exhausting. And I was getting a bit irritable."

Now, of course, he has presenting Countdown to keep him busy, but he recently dropped the after-dinner speaker circuit to make more time for himself and his partner of 20 years, Catherine. He dedicates the book to Catherine, writing that she "righted this old boat, caulked the hull, took the helm and steered me into safer and kinder waters".

Indeed, after he was divorced from his first wife in the Eighties and initially saw less of his two children, James and Katie, he threw himself further into work and bought the house in France with a view that the children could spend holidays there – although that didn't work out.

"It was a seven-days-a-week job. The office became my home. Not seeing my children was a big sadness but that's the way divorced fathers sometimes have to live. The divorce did affect my relationship with my children. It's okay now. But it took a long time."

Retirement may not be on the cards, yet long absences from home suit his relationship, he says. He's done mammoth road trips through Russia, Mongolia and Sierra Leone, partly because he loves adventure and cars, and to raise money for charity.

"I may have turned a corner in terms of age," he muses. "I'm beginning to worry about it. At 70, something goes clunk and you suddenly realise you're not as agile as you were. Mortality certainly is on one's mind and one is more concentrating on how to deal with it when the time comes."

He's about to sign a two-year contract for Countdown, a show he's clearly very proud of, but turns a lot down these days, including an approach from Strictly.

"It's a fantastic show but I'd have a heart attack within the first two minutes," says Hewer. "Nobody's stitching me into a red satin shirt, I can tell you."