Can Simon Cowell learn from the kind of public drubbing he’s so often meted out to X Factor contestants, asks Anna Burnside
IT HAS been, according to the kind of friends who pop up to provide helpful comments to tabloid newspapers, “the worst week of his life”. Simon Cowell, who is worth £200 million, has properties in London, Beverly Hills and Barbados and created X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, is discovering what it feels like to be the butt of the nation’s jokes. After years of sitting in judgment on overweight torch singers and ill-judged novelty acts, here is a taste of his own medicine.
This hefty spoonful of humiliation has not come from an angry cabal of rejected burlesque dancers or a family of spurned fire-eaters. It has been delivered, via Cowell’s own hubris, by Tom Bower and the Saturday night television viewers of the UK. Bower’s “unofficial” biography of Cowell reveals him to be a sexually incontinent, petty, competitive ego-bot who started X Factor to get his own back on former business partner Simon Fuller. At the same time, the couch potatoes of the nation have decided that, come the weekend, they prefer The Voice, the BBC’s cuddly new talent contest, to queen bitch Cowell on Britain’s Got Talent.
The Bower biography – Sweet Revenge: The Intimate Life Of Simon Cowell – is one lurid read. A week-long serialisation in the Sun has ensured that all the juicy bits are flying round the watercooler before the book is even published. (In brief: he and fellow X Factor judge Dannii Minogue had “a few bonks”; he had the burning hots for another judge, Cheryl Cole, and referred to her as “a new toy”; at one point he was seeing fiancée Mezhgan Hussainy, glamour model Jasmine Lennard and make-up artist Julia Carta simultaneously.)
Now the damage is done, Cowell is reversing away from the book as fast as his Gucci loafers will carry him. Yet when he got wind of Bower’s intentions he invited him into his life, granting him 200 hours of face time as well as unprecedented access to his yacht, private plane, homes and to the X Factor studio in the US. The briefest glance at amazon.com would have warned him that Bowers is a biographer who does not take no for an answer. Richard Branson, Gordon Brown, Mohamed Al-Fayed, Robert Maxwell and Tiny Rowland have all felt the cold edge of his scandal-digging spade.
Cowell claims it was his friend Bernie Ecclestone, another of Bowers’ unwilling subjects, who persuaded him to talk to the former investigative journalist.
He told website TMZ: “If someone is going to write an in-depth book on you, I want him to really understand, you know, how I work… so [he would] have a clear understanding when writing the book.” Now he is expressing surprise that Bowers has stitched him up. Others see the Cowell hubris at work, assuming he would charm-wheedle-steamroller the writer into producing a rose-tinted hagiography.
What he can’t blame on Ecclestone, however, is the fact that people have wearied of spending their Saturday evenings with a man who thinks “bonk” is acceptable in an adult’s vocabulary, and who relishes crumpling the dreams of hapless wannabes in his manicured fist. Suggesting contestants hire a lawyer to sue their singing teacher, or that they look like Mrs Incredible Hulk, is no longer entertaining. Cowell has gone from a pantomime baddie, swishing nasty insults like a long black cloak, to a seedy, graceless egomaniac.
According to TV critic Graeme Virtue, the Cowell who arrived as a breath of fresh air as a judge on Simon Fuller’s show Pop Idol in 2001, has become a victim of his own success.
“By the time he actually appeared on our screens, his character was fully formed. That vain, bulldozing, potentially huffy persona had made him a fortune as a music executive and it was genuinely refreshing, and quite exciting, to see that sort of predator on TV. Here was a real-life villain on Saturday night primetime who wasn’t winking at the camera or sending himself up. He was just taking care of business, and enjoying the spotlight as he did it.”
Having tasted life in front of the camera, and smelled the way the entertainment industry was moving, Cowell set about to crush Fuller and create his own multi-platform products. (Or TV shows and pop stars as we used to call them.)
“The problem is,” says Virtue, “that we now all know he’s the ultimate boss of X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. His machinations behind the scenes get as much media coverage as what happens on screen.
“Year after year, these huge entertainment juggernauts have been feeding his ego and bank balance, and even before the most recent revelations, I think audiences were starting to be turned off by his monomania, that King Midas air about him.
“I don’t think people are that surprised to hear about his shoddy treatment of women but to have it all out there in black and white is incredibly damaging. It’s compounded by the similarly shoddy treatment of past winners on his shows, the acts who go from being demonstrably the most popular thing in the UK to being quietly dropped within a year. After eight years of X Factor, that’s a lot of skeletons.”
Can the man described last week by Sharon Osbourne – a judge on Cowell’s US shows – as having “small penis syndrome” recover from his torrid week? It certainly will take more than a shave, a colonic and a few jags of his beloved Botox.
“To rehabilitate himself now,” says Virtue, “he’ll have to go through his own version of an X Factor contestant narrative. Admitting he’s a bad man might help, but it’s hard to think of him fully owning his mistakes and admitting he’s made poor decisions. He could rope in Piers Morgan to do a soft interview, but I don’t think Cowell would want to be indebted to anyone else. He’s been so successful for so long, I think he genuinely believes he can fix this himself just by tightening his belt a notch and toughing it out, making the whole world come back round to seeing things his way.
“Which to him, probably seems perfectly normal.”
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