Marry I don't think I ever will: Simon Cowell kebabs the X Factor's judges, declares war on the BBC insists, he'll live to 92…and sends a devastating message to his fiancee
'I sleep well. I am very peaceful, not agitated,' said Simon Cowell, above on a beach in Barbados
Here we are in the lair of the dark lord, deep in the heart of the evil empire, up close and personal with the man they call — depending on your point of view — the scourge of society today, the most evil creature on planet showbiz, the architect of our doom . . . or the saviour of entertainment in this country, a pop genius in Cuban heels.
Love him or hate him — and millions do either way — he is the talent show maestro, a mogul with a legendary chip of ice where his heart should be, a boss who can make or break pop careers with the blink of an eye.
The blood of failed boy bands drips from his fangs. He loves to feast on the carcasses of spent careers. He has no sympathy with ex-X Factor finalists who moan about their lack of subsequent success.
‘If you can’t use the fact that 10 million people know your name to good effect you are stupid,’ he says.
Look at him. SCREECH! He walks past a mirror and I jot down in my notebook ‘no reflection’.
On the walls outside his office in the West London headquarters of his company Syco, there are several posters of 2009 Britain’s Got Talent finalist Susan Boyle.
She is one of his big stars, the one he still worries about most.
‘She is always going to be fragile but I have made a pretty long-term commitment to her. She will be working with me for quite a few years,’ he says.
Once we are inside the inner sanctum, he can’t even remember the names of the acts who were finalists in this year’s X Factor.
‘Thingy The boy band I’ll have to look it up,’ he says.
Whatever the names or the faces, however, he is less than pleased with the performances.
‘We have good years and cr***y years and there just wasn’t enough raw talent and personality in this year’s finals,’ he says.
Yes, ‘Peel me another star’ Simon Cowell is back in town.
He has spent most of the last year in America, launching and appearing in the X Factor there. It was a success in many ways, he has signed six of the final acts — unprecedented, he says — but he admits he ruined everything by boasting that they would get 20 million viewers.
In the end, they got a respectable 12 million, but it still looked as if it had failed — and looked particularly paltry against the 29 million that tuned into the final of rival show American Idol.
'It is quite a complicated relationship. We have had a break from each other, and we are still incredibly close,' said Simon of his relationship with Mezhgan Hussainy
And that is not the only thing he did in America.
Last year, 52-year-old Cowell also had a DNA genome sequencing test. The 150,000 procedure can point to future illness or physical weakness and predict when you might die of natural causes. Guess what Bad news for his critics, I’m afraid.
‘My test said I am going to live until I am 92. My tests were some of the best they had every seen. No stress. I am a great believer that many illnesses come through stress.’
Cowell’s father was 81 when he died of a heart attack. But with a rigorous routine of gym workouts, spinach smoothies and vitamin shots, Simon is determined the same fate will not befall him.
‘It was the result I wanted,’ he says, with one of his glittering smirks.
‘I have no stress or little stress, even in this business. I sleep well. I am very peaceful, not agitated.’
Well, maybe not right now. But there must have been moments in the past year that caused a spike in his blood pressure, to say the least.
While he was off charming America, his British television shows tumbled in popularity. Both the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent lost millions of viewers, while the less said about new game show Red Or Black the better.
Cowell acknowledges the faults. He blames himself — and vows that this year will be different.
‘Certainly the X Factor here felt sub-standard,’ he says. ‘It won’t happen again. The selection process has to be better.’
There was a crust of bitterness among the judges that pervaded the show last year, and Cowell feels that too much focus was on them and not on the contestants.
‘There will be some changes,’ he says, although he would ‘find it difficult’ not to have Louis Walsh on the show.
No one else is safe — and he is muted about Gary Barlow’s stint as judge.
‘Some people loved him, some people didn’t.’
'I did take some pleasure about the Alesha (Dixon) thing, I must admit,' said Simon. She joins him, Amanda Holden and David Walliams as judges on Britain's Got Talent
And now Cowell has plans. Lots of them. Auditions for the new series of Britain’s Got Talent begin this week, where he will be back on the judging panel alongside Amanda Holden, with new judges David Walliams and Alesha Dixon, poached from the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.
New ideas include allowing the winner to perform in space, inside sponsor Sir Richard Branson’s spacecraft.
‘Can you imagine Previously they performed at the Royal Variety, now they can perform in front of the whole world — in space! I can’t make it compulsory. If a dog act wins, I am in trouble. But I think we can give the winner the option.’
The prize money has also gone up from 100,000 to 500,000, with Cowell contributing 250,000 of his own money. He feels this will attract a ‘different calibre’ of contestant.
Never mind the spaceship, Cowell has his own galactic thrusters on full boost. And top of his To Do list seems to be a renewal of hostilities with his old arch enemy, the BBC.
‘What makes me laugh is when the BBC say we are not doing this or that to be competitive. That is bulls***. They are obsessed with ratings.’
He is particularly exercised about the BBC launching their new talent show The Voice this spring — directly scheduled against Britain’s Got Talent.
‘When they put up shows against each other like that, it is not for the good of the viewing audience. It is because they want to beat us and guess what We want to beat them.’
Snatching Alesha Dixon away from Strictly — the X Factor’s great Saturday night rival, which beat Cowell’s team in the ratings for the first time last year — was a piquant triumph.
He says it was the news about the launch of The Voice that spurned him on to sign her.
‘They have put The Voice on to compete with Britain’s Got Talent because the BBC don’t like the fact that it is so successful. I am not going to sit back and say, “OK, fine.” I am going to re-enforce my shows a little bit.’
He takes a sip of tea and snaps a digestive biscuit in half.
‘I did take some pleasure about the Alesha thing, I must admit.’
He gives me a guided tour of his Syco inner sanctum, a creamy haven of expensive neutrals, velvet sofas and pearlised leather chairs. The walls are padded leather, giving the effect of being inside a giant Chanel handbag. Or perhaps a padded cell.
He shows me around his walk-in-shower and bathroom, where bottles of toiletries stand to attention in neat rows. He opens a bottle of the aftershave he always uses and pats some on my arm.
‘Doesn’t that smell lovely’ he says. It is Trumper’s Extract of West Indian Limes. It is divine.
Simon regrets that he said 'she (Mezghan) is the one' on the Piers Morgan show last year
On a sideboard behind his desk, there
is a spread of crudites and dips. He swirls a tiny matchstick of carrot
into a pink sauce and eats it neatly.
to the nibbles stand a clutch of awards; a BAFTA and sundry
serious-looking industry hardware. They don’t bring him much pleasure.
‘In fact they make me depressed,’ he says. ‘It means I can’t win one the next year.’
is such a curious man. Strange in the ways you would expect him to be
normal, odd in the ways you would expect him to be regular.
worries about his health, but still smokes 15 Kools menthol cigarettes a
day. He lets the grey show in his hair, but has Botox twice a year. He
fears getting older and getting ill.
‘Petrified of it. In ten years, I have only missed two days of filming.’
has the disciplined, pared-down look of the high-profile, older
celebrity still in demand. There is the hawser tightness of the jaw
line, not a pound of flesh out of place. You can see it with Madonna, it
is the same discipline. It is not vanity. It is just the practical
reality, the realisation that time is short, business is good, you are
on the telly — so smarten up.
trains every single day, 500 press-ups at every session. His frame is
compact— he is a cuboid of muscle, like a little fridge you might wheel
under the worktop in a small flat.
He is a creature of habit in dress and in manner, and is unfailingly polite.
‘Do you mind if I smoke’ he says, even in his own office.
winter wardrobe seems to consist entirely of jeans, boots and thick
cashmere sweaters, always dark grey in colour. When he gives visitors a
welcoming hug, it is like being embraced by an unusually firm koala bear
who smells lightly of citrus.
He says that the UK he has returned to is different from the one he left last year.
‘The riots. I felt something bad in the air before I left. I kind of predicted bad things happening. I think it showed that a lot of people are p***** off and didn’t know how to vent their frustration.’
Ironically, given the fame-hungry stars he promotes, he despairs of the get-rich-quick society.
‘Young people want everything immediately. You’ve got to be patient. When I was young, I wasn’t aware of designer jeans or designer trainers. We didn’t have mobile phones, I didn’t know what a private jet looked like.
‘When I was 17 I thought that if I was making money in my 40s, that would be good enough for me.’
Even though he gets fed up with being followed by photographers who do not respect his privacy, he has been surprised at the Leveson inquiry into Press intrusion.
‘Sometimes I get p***** off, but the only reason I am sitting here today is because my shows have been popular, and the only reason they are popular is because they have been in the papers. These bleating celebrities…if you don’t like it, don’t get into showbusiness.’
There are areas that are off-limits, however, even for him. He sheds little light on the mystery of his on/off relationship with make-up artist Mezhgan Hussainy, whom he last saw briefly just before Christmas.
‘It is quite a complicated relationship. We have had a break from each other, and we are still incredibly close.’
He won’t be drawn on whether or not they will get back together, but he does express regret that he said ‘she is the one’ on the Piers Morgan show last year. It has made him a hostage to fortune. Like boasting that he would get 20 million viewers for American X Factor.
‘I have been pretty good about not talking about my private stuff, but I got caught up in the moment. I don’t really know where I am at the moment, and that is why I don’t talk about it.’
It is, I say, rather unlike you not to be in charge of a situation.
‘I’m vulnerable,’ he says. ‘It’s not on, it’s not off, it’s somewhere in the middle. I don’t know if I will ever get married, but I am happy.’
Vulnerable Vulnerable to what
He admits that he financially supports some of his former girlfriends because he feels it is not fair to leave them in the lurch after they have become used to a certain lifestyle.
‘I don’t pay them off, but if you have been with someone for long enough, there is a responsibility.
'You can’t say one minute you can live this type of life and then the light goes off. I wouldn’t do it for every girl I have dated because I would be broke.’
But there is a chick budget factored in the finances
‘It is somewhere in the back of my head. You can’t leave them with nothing.’
Meanwhile, the BBC wars are ongoing. Cowell has his beady eye on choirmaster Gareth Malone, whose Military Wives single knocked the X Factor song off the Christmas number one slot.
‘Yes, he should be a Syco target. He is like a stealth missile, he has sort of crept up on everyone. He would be good for us.
‘I wasn’t furious about the Army Wives single beating us, I had two copies of it on pre-order.’
Yet there is someone else he wants even more — to host a new food show. Cowell says he loathes the glossy functionality of BBC’s Masterchef and the ‘yum, yum’ noises made by hosts John Torode and Gregg Wallace and hopes to launch a food show of his own.
The format will be based on a search for the best traditional British recipe, and the winner will get their dish manufactured by Marks & Spencer. His dream host Dawn French.
‘I would love Dawn to do it. I know she has lost a lot of weight, but I am hoping to persuade her to put a tiny bit back on with me. I like home food, I love it. My mum’s roast potatoes. Shepherd’s pie. Cornish pasties. I want stuff like that on the show,’ he says.
He doesn’t strike me as a pasty man.
‘I love them. I love pies, too. But if I have a pasty, I only have,‘ he slices his hand in the air, ‘a third.’
Like I said, he remains a man of curious contradictions. Despite claiming to be stress-free, he takes two sleeping pills every night.
He knows how much he is worth, right down to ‘every penny’, but won’t put a figure on it because it ‘would sound awful’. (The 2011 rich list put him at 200 million).
He constantly decorates his homes because he likes walking into ‘somewhere new’ and his life seems to be always in transit. He owns three properties in Los Angeles, a stucco mansion in West London and now wants a house in the English countryside.
‘I like the idea of weekends in the country. I would like a house with a lake,’ he says. What would you do on your lake ‘Just sit there’, he says, as innocent as a water sprite.
Just sit there and nibble on pasties, and not plot against the Beeb or dream of world domination and just relax in a totally stress-free way