Sir Alan Sugar is closer to finding a new business brain to mentor after selecting finalists to go through to the last battle on The Apprentice.

Internet entrepreneur Simon Ambrose, 27, and pharmaceutical manager Kristina Grimes, 36, were the only candidates to remain standing following last night's semi-final of the BBC show and will now go head to head in Wednesday's final programme.

However, in a surprise twist, the pair only emerged as the final two competing for a £100,000-a-year job with Sir Alan after the business veteran was himself fired by one of the show's last remaining candidates.

Amstrad founder Sir Alan, who is used to calling the shots in his boardroom, was ditched by forthright brands consultant Katie Hopkins - despite her being the first person selected to go forward to The Apprentice final.

Questioned about how committed she was to working for him, the 31-year-old initially told Sir Alan that she would move her two children from Exeter to London in order to take a role in his company.

But she later conceded that she would need to talk to her parents, who had been looking after them.

"I haven't got time to wait for you to make a phone call," Sir Alan replied.

Hopkins, dubbed by some in the press as a female version of X Factor judge Simon Cowell, then announced her extraordinary decision to quit.

"I don't want to make a fool of you or me," she told Sir Alan.

"I think it's more important to get the courtesy to have my plans in place, so I'll have to stand down."

Sir Alan has never before been dumped by a contestant on The Apprentice, although the winner of last year's show - Michelle Dewberry  resigned from her job with the entrepreneurial guru after just months in the post in order to launch her own business.

07/06/2007 08:04:52