How Simon went from rejecting Take That to being worth £225 million
Delivering his verdict, the music exec said: ‘I don’t like the lead singer – he’s too fat. I’d be interested without him.’
That exec was Simon Cowell and he was talking about Gary Barlow in 1990.
Luckily for Gaz, Take That refused to accept the terms and went elsewhere. But this story illustrates just why Simon’s the master of vitriolic criticism. The mogul’s turned honesty into an art form.
For nearly 12 years, he’s had us glued to our TV sets, saying exactly what we’ve all been thinking but are too scared to admit. And that’s what makes him TV’s most lovable bad guy.
Surprise, surprise – Simon Phillip Cowell was a brat as a child!
Born on 7 October 1959 in south London, the star – who has a younger brother, as well as three half-brothers and a half-sister – was raised in relative comfort in Elstree, Hertfordshire.
His father Eric worked for music company EMI and mum Julie was a former ballet dancer and socialite.
Eric had a very relaxed attitude to raising his kids, insisting they had fun. Maybe that explains why little Simon was a tearaway at school, disrupting lessons and clashing with his teachers.
At home he was no different. Living in a permanently messy bedroom, he was always pulling pranks.
He once shaved the top of his younger brother’s head into an inverted mohican and even held a toy gun at a bus driver’s head and said: ‘Take me to Watford.’
It was only after leaving school that Simon found purpose.
Taking his dad’s advice, he accepted a job in the EMI post room for £25 a week and set about trying to get to the top as fast as he could.
‘All my life I had to teach myself,’ he’s said.
‘I didn’t learn anything from school – I was bored and always doing things I shouldn’t be doing. So I promised myself I was going to have fun. I wanted to be in charge of my own life.’
Over the next few years, Simon would rise through the ranks of the company to become a record producer. But unsatisfied with his prospects, he left in the early 80s to form E&S Music, his own independent label.
It collapsed less than a year after its launch and he was forced to swallow his pride and return to EMI.
However, after just a short time, he left again to form Fanfare Records.
The label produced several hits, including Sinitta’s So Macho, which got to No 2 in 1986.
It wasn’t all success, though. When Kylie Minogue needed him to promote her debut single The Loco-Motion, Simon refused to have anything to do with it unless he was given her follow-up tune.
His proposal was rejected and Kylie entered the UK singles chart at No 2 without his help.
In 1989, Fanfare’s mother company folded and eventually drove the label into bankruptcy.
It left Simon in debt. He had to sell his Porsche and move back in with his folks.
Dusting himself off, he landed a job as a consultant to BMG. But his errors in judgment continued – not only did he turn down Take That, he missed out on signing the Spice Girls.
Instead, he pushed similar bands Worlds Apart and Girl Thing, which both flopped.
Yet it wasn’t all bad news.
Simon did manage to sign chart toppers 5ive, Robson & Jerome and Westlife, who bagged 14 No 1 UK singles and sold over 50 million records worldwide.
In 2001, he became a judge on Pop Idol, created by rival Simon Fuller. It later crossed the pond to become the mahoosive reality TV machine that is American Idol.
However, Simon wouldn’t be Simon if he didn’t want to strike out on his own.
He created the Got Talent franchise, which has been licensed to over 50 countries, and The X Factor, which replaced Pop Idol in the UK and has been remade in over 40 countries, including India and Chile. The latter saw him embroiled in a legal battle with Simon Fuller.
But Simon, who’s worth a reported £225 million, says: ‘I genuinely believe that if I like something, other people will like it too.’
Despite romances with countless women, including singer Sinitta, Dannii Minogue, Terri Seymour and make-up artist Mezhgan Hussainy (to whom he was briefly engaged), he’s never been married.
He is, however, a dad to son Eric – named after his father – with his friend Andrew Silverman’s ex-wife Lauren.
The truth is Simon would be hard to live with.
He admits he stays up all night tending to his global businesses, only waking up at noon to enjoy breakfast in bed while watching reruns of cartoon show The Flintstones.
Having bounced back from bankruptcy, you can’t really blame him.