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an from m y ir a h t, a has a sq u ll e h e e wo r ld ’s h h t t d w n o ie H r f e b naged to a m e A m e r ic a … ir h in s d r r a o t s e g Hert f u 0 0m? e come a h 2 b £ , e f t o li e e n iz u t b r s h ow e rso n al f o p a s s a m a d an Words: Justin Quirk

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esuit priests have a maxim that underpins their views on life and the formation of character: “Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man.” The padres might have found an interesting character study in mid-’60s Hertfordshire, in the exclusive gated community at Radlett. Firstly, when a three-year-old boy eyeballed his mother in her party finery and witheringly informed her that she reminded him of a poodle. Two years later, he decided to disabuse his younger brother of the idea that Father Christmas existed by setting fire to a Santa costume. The blaze got out of hand and almost destroyed the family home. Four years later, the fire brigade were back at the premises after the youngster – while enjoying a crafty gasper and some contraband booze in the back garden – accidentally torched his secret den. Speaking his mind, destroying people’s dreams and seeing his own creation go up in smoke; was there ever a life as predetermined as that of Simon Philip Cowell? When he recently turned 50, Cowell decided to mark the occasion in style. A style that even the Daily Mail (no particular bastion of aesthetic class) described as in ‘riotously poor

taste’. Guests arriving at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire were greeted by a 60-foot high projection of the music impresario’s blockish head shining across the front of the building, as a purple and yellow lightshow played around his features. Waiters circulated wearing masks of Cowell’s own face, while the wallpaper in the venue featured his head sprouting devil horns. His silhouette was printed onto the tablecloths. Guests visiting the bathroom would have seen a constant

mashed potato, before a mildly blue cabaret involving one dancer dressed as a giant vagina cavorting with others dressed as sex toys. Simon watched the spectacle unfold from the top table with his friends including Cheryl Cole, business partner Sir Philip Green and his wife, and Cowell’s mother, Julie. Oh, and two giant porcelain male torsos, complete with leather harnesses and gold wings. Other guests on the 30 tables included Michael Winner, Kelly Brook, Kate

Cowell’s 50 th was described as ‘riotously poor taste’ – waiters even wore masks of his face looping film clip, in which various members of the world’s mildly-talented and megafamous elite (the Beckhams, Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston) paid tribute to the man behind Il Divo, Westlife and The X-Factor. A framed picture of the host beamed down in every stall, while diners gazing upwards would have seen Cowell’s face painted into a Michelangelo-esque ceiling fresco. Looking down, they would have read the word ‘SIMON’ spelled out in Alphabetti Spaghetti. Later courses saw the letters ‘S’ and ‘C’ piped onto their plates in

Moss, The Osbournes, Pete Waterman, Jordan, Piers Morgan, Dannii Minogue and Simon Fuller. Further entertainment came from Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke, Earth, Wind & Fire and a singing hologram of Frank Sinatra. Quite a turn-out for a man who, essentially, just puts records out and does a few TV talent shows. In any previous era, Cowell would have been a typical impresario – like Allan Klein who masterminded The Beatles and Rolling Stones or Simon Napier-Bell who managed Wham! – hugely > 01/10



wealthy and known within his field, but essentially a backroom operator. But Cowell’s fame has eclipsed that of every act he has worked with. American Idol regularly pulls in 35 million viewers at a time when multi-channel broadcasting was thought to have made those kind of figures a thing of the past. “It’s hard to see here, in Britain, just how big he is out there,” says Piers Morgan. “Around 45 million people watched the final of American Idol. He’s the star and he has rights to the artists. All money roads lead to Simon Cowell.” Jeff Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, conceded that “Idol is the most impactful show in the history of television”, as it could lose 50% of its viewers and still be in the top ten most watched shows on any given week. Plus, American Idol is a repeat banker, bringing in viewers over several nights a week, with Cowell crucial to its appeal. In cracking America, this unassuming, hairy little man has succeeded where every other Brit from Oasis to Robbie Williams has fallen flat, pulling in a reported £19.5m from each series of Idol.

for not just selling, but creating pop music. Since then, his success has multiplied, but he is clearly still haunted by his brush with poverty, humiliation and failure. While most attention was paid to his lavish birthday party, Cowell also marked his half century in a way that was perhaps more revealing; by penning an excoriating, 3,000-word open letter to his “shallow, reckless, cocky younger self” in the Daily Mail. “Look at you. You look like a complete idiot. Could you be any worse? You are about as bad an example of ’80s excess as you could possibly be…” Later in the letter he warns his younger self that he will be alone when he hits middle age. “Family life would be a problem now. You never stop thinking about work. Sometimes, when friends are over you want to ask them to leave. You get hit by black moods and you want to be alone. Stuff like that is difficult when you have a wife and kids.”

Briton’s got rally Cowell’s a massive fan of fast cars and owns a $1m Bugatti Veyron

He wrote to his younger self : “Sometimes you get hit by black moods and want to be alone”

Midas touch

Home alone

Cowell’s business nous has seen him convert these shows and his various musical ventures into an estimated fortune of $200m. He purchased Jennifer Lopez’s old house and razed it to the ground to build his dream home (including tanning salon) from scratch. He flies private jets and is currently

Good enough to eat? Immortalised in toast (above); with fellow X-Factor judges (top) and (left) just how he like it – on his tod




The dog’s bollocks With a flourishing wealth and expanding empire, Cowell’s life is anything but mundane

100 million records. If Springsteen got one hundred [million dollars], I should have got five hundred.” His mannerisms have seeped into the wider culture with Neil Gouldson, head of employment law at Rowe Cohen warning that Cowell-esque behaviour at job interviews is seeing a huge spike in industrial tribunals. “Bosses should take care not to follow Cowell’s example, no matter how hilarious.” Cowell is so high profile and polarising of opinion that all American Idol contestants are now scanned for firearms on their way into the studio and one magazine put him on a list of ‘Music’s greatest villains’ alongside John Lennon’s murderer Mark Chapman and Tina Turner’s slap-happy ex-husband Ike. “I’m not going to lose any sleep over it,” he scoffed. Sometimes despite, or maybe because of, his remarkable wealth and success, there’s something inexplicable about Simon. Perhaps to understand why you need to go back in to his past, to what must have been a hugely traumatic incident. One which must have scarred him deeply and, perhaps, permanently.

Stanley Kubrick, while family friends included Roger Moore, Gregory Peck and Bette Davis. However, Cowell left school at 16 with few qualifications and was waiting tables when his father Eric leaned on a contact at EMI to get his son a job in the post room. Cowell worked his way through the ranks with admirable dedication, eventually getting his own label and scoring hits for Sinitta (who also became his girlfriend), Sonia and various other pop acts. Cowell lived the ’80s yuppie, consumerist dream to the full: partying every night, driving to work in a white convertible Porsche, drinking Wallbangers and ploughing his riches into the newly deregulated stock market. The one small problem was that there was nowhere near as much money coming in as Cowell’s lifestyle suggested and when the 1991 recession hit he was half a million pounds in the hole, clinging onto a house in negative equity and facing the end of his record label. Just into his 30s, Cowell was forced to go cap in hand to the bank to negotiate a settlement of his debts; to sell his house and car; and, perhaps most humiliatingly, to move back in with his parents. Kept on at BMG – but as part of the

Big Pictures, Rex, Getty

Cowell is so high profile and polarising Boom and bust Cowell’s childhood was incontestably of opinion that American Idol contestants Simon pleasant. The Cowell family home in the are scanned for firearms on the way in gated community had once been owned by setting up a cross-industry showbusiness and fashion brand with Sir Philip Green that experts are mooting as an eventual rival to Disney. Not everyone is impressed; “I think Simon’s very vain,” sniffs Louis Walsh of his fellow judge on The X-Factor. “He wears platform shoes, has spray tans and dyes his hair all in an attempt to look younger.” Walsh also accused him of furiously doing press-ups before going on air. Cowell presumably couldn’t care less what Louis Walsh thinks. He has an apparently foolproof system in place: Cowell’s company ‘Syco’ owns the formats of programmes who create artists whose releases he then manages through a deal with Sony/BMG. This extends to a dozen or so foreign editions of the show – he is raking it in at a time when the funeral bell is being gonged for the music industry. Not least because rather than individual artists driving sales nowadays, it is the Idol/Factor brands – and by extension, Cowell himself – that people look for. “I sell more records than Bruce Springsteen,” he recently said. “I mean, in the last five years, I’ve probably sold over

club a lot and the girls adore him. He is very generous to them. When he comes through those doors, there will be girls all over him. I know people talk, but he’s is as heterosexual as they come.” One assumes that Stringfellow is a fairly good judge of these things. What seems more likely is that Cowell is an emotionally distant, controlling character who functions better alone (although Sinitta did reveal that he “loved being stroked and petted on his head. ‘Oh, stroke me darling’, he’d say.”) On Desert Island Discs, his luxury item was “a mirror… because I’d miss me”. He clearly loves accumulating vast amounts of money, but doesn’t seem to have any ambitions for it; he’s said he plans to leave his cash to an animal charity, only takes one main holiday a year and seemed unimpressed by his purchase of two Picasso drawings: “One part of me goes, ‘It’s, like, a Picasso.’ And the other part goes, ‘But it is like a child’s drawing’.”

payroll, rather than a high-flying boss – Cowell was in charge of what might be charitably called ‘novelty, cash-in bollocks’. Under his watch, records came out from rasping Big Breakfast puppets Zig & Zag, steroid-crazed WWF meatheads, the Power Rangers and Robson & Jerome. Colleagues sniggeringly asked him if he’d ‘signed any more puppets today?’ when they passed him in the corridor. At one point, Cowell overheard his boss explaining to a new PA that “Whatever is shit in this company, that is what Simon Cowell does.” But shit or otherwise, the humbled, debt-riddled Cowell proved time and time again that he had an unerring ear for a commercial hit record. Time and again, when his colleagues were fretting over whether that month’s indie darlings were trendy enough, Cowell would strike for that sentimental, naff underbelly of Britain and nail it every time. He reportedly got the idea for what song jobbing ITV actors Robson & Jerome should launch their pop careers with by trawling the karaoke bars of Blackpool on Saturday nights noting which standards brought the house down. Unchained Melody subsequently spent seven weeks at Number One, shifted a million copies and outsold every other record released that year. Cowell’s masterstroke was to have realised that television – rather than radio – would be the crucial medium


Cowell’s recent expenditure on his third Roller, a Phantom. It’ll join his Bugatti Veyron, among others…

£21m The amount Cowell pays in income tax each year


Amount in millions of dollars his Beverly Hills home cost

Cowell’s personal life – or lack thereof – has become a subject of increasing interest to the tabloids. It certainly seems unconventional on many levels. He is still close friends with several long-term exes; when he recently split with Terri Seymour he reportedly hired a publicist to manage her side of the split, gave her a £2.3m house and a £3m severance payment. Sinitta told an interviewer that she has a lifesized, cardboard cutout of Cowell in her conservatory and refers to him as her third child. “He’s not Mr Nasty,” she says. “He’s a teddy bear in a strong suit.” Certainly, he seems wary of long-term commitment, once apparently suggesting to a broody Seymour that she should buy a terrapin if she wanted a small creature around the house. “I don’t believe in marriage, not in this business,” says the man himself. “The truth is, you get married and in a year or two they clean you out! We have contracts with artists that are 120 pages long and last five years. Then you go into marriage with no contract and the laws are 1,000 years old. That whole culture just puts you in a weakened position.” The tabloids, meanwhile, have implied that Cowell may be secretly gay. His brother even used his speech at the birthday party to drop merciless innuendos about his brother (his love of Scissor Sisters and Larry Grayson, his favourite record being Rolf Harris’ Two Little Boys etc). However, it seems unlikely that a pop music impresario – a role where every major figure from Brian Epstein to Tom Watkins has been gay – would have anything to gain from staying in the closet. Sharon Osbourne dispelled any rumours about Cowell’s tastes with characteristic vulgarity: “He thinks all women should be like blow-up dolls, have big tits.” Peter Stringfellow concurred: “He’s been to the

As harsh as he is on the talent-free audition hopefuls, he is even harder on those artists who kick against his rule. “Steve [Brookstein] is not a happy bunny…just a bitter man who the public never warmed to,” and “I’m just disappointed with [Journey South] as human beings”, were two of his more damning verdicts passed on his former charges who griped about the vast sums Cowell was making off their labours. “From the way some of the contestants go on, you would think they had been locked up and tortured… instead of voluntarily taking part in a TV show,” he railed. “A few ungrateful whingers still have the nerve to complain that they ‘only’ made £500,000 out of the process – for six weeks of work.” And as he enters middle age, away from the day job Cowell is plotting serious world domination (with billionaire Green as his backer), surrounded by loyal ex-girlfriends and a housekeeper under orders to draw his bath at the same temperature every morning. And, always, the memories of the time when it all fell to pieces and he ended up with nothing. “I get bored very easily. I need to do things that constantly excite me,” says Cowell. But in his letter to his younger self, he hints that this phase of his life may be drawing to a close. “Sometimes you wonder how much longer you will be on television, because you don’t ever want to be unwelcome… If you feel that is happening, you will be off, gone.” There is a theory among TV critics that eight years is the maximum time a repeat format can successfully run for – which would make now a good time for Cowell to bow out. But rest assured: wherever the British public are, with its appetite for middle-of-the-road entertainment, this grinning, permatanned puppet master will be somewhere nearby. 01/10



Simon Cowell