PIERS MOR­GAN

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - THE WEEK AHEAD WITH JONATHAN CAINER -

Si­mon Cow­ell has been awarded the main ‘Per­son­al­ity of the Year’ hon­our at the MIPCOM Tele­vi­sion Fes­ti­val in Cannes. So he flew me in from LA to in­ter­view him on stage in front of 4,000 del­e­gates.

‘ Bet­ter the devil you know,’ he ex­plained. ‘I’ll sharpen my horns,’ I replied.

I found him back­stage, smoking fu­ri­ously and fret­ting.

Peo­ple would be sur­prised to see Si­mon’s pri­vate anx­i­ety be­fore he per­forms in pub­lic. Ev­ery­one as­sumes he’s al­ways the su­per- con­fi­dent per­sona we see on TV. But, one of the rea­sons he’s so suc­cess­ful is be­cause he wor­ries so much about ev­ery tiny de­tail of what he does.

I walked out first. ‘Wow... I haven’t had an au­di­ence this big for months,’ I said, to more laughs than felt com­fort­able. Then I re­told the story of how Si­mon first cre­ated the Got Tal­ent for­mat, the suc­cess of which was one of the main rea­sons for his award.

We had lunch in 2005 and he ca­su­ally an­nounced he was go­ing to bring back an all-round tal­ent show. ‘There used to be loads of them like New Faces and Op­por­tu­nity Knocks in Eng­land and The Gong Show in Amer­ica. Now there’s noth­ing like it air­ing any­where. I’m go­ing to re­vive it with three judges, three buzzers and any act from danc­ing dogs to fire-eaters – and I want you in­volved.’

A month later, we filmed a pi­lot called Paul O’Grady’s Got Tal­ent with Si­mon, me and Fern Brit­ton as judges – and de­lighted ITV bosses green-lit a full se­ries straight away. But O’Grady then de­fected to Chan­nel 4, so ITV shelved it. Si­mon per­sisted.

Six weeks later, he texted me to say he’d sold the rights to NBC in Amer­ica. ‘I can’t be on the panel be­cause of my Amer­i­can Idol con­tract. So I need some­one as ar­ro­gant and ob­nox­ious as me and your name im­me­di­ately sprang to mind.’

I flew out to LA and three months later, Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent launched to stu­pen­dous rat­ings.

‘I feel like Dr Franken­stein,’ Si­mon sighed when he saw me in my trailer on the Paramount movie lot. Bri­tain’s Got Tal­ent fol­lowed, and now, in­cred­i­bly, Got Tal­ent has been sold to 67 coun­tries, mak­ing it of­fi­cially the most suc­cess­ful en­ter­tain­ment pro­gramme ever. (The X Fac­tor is not far be­hind.)

A gi­ant map ap­peared on screen, with ev­ery part of the world where Got Tal­ent airs coloured blue. ‘Most of the re­main­ing white area is ocean,’ I ex­plained, ‘where even Mr Cow­ell’s ten­ta­cles can­not reach.’ ‘Yet,’ he re­sponded. ‘But there is a mas­sive white blob of land amid all the blue – Mon­go­lia. Why have you never sold Got Tal­ent to Mon­go­lia, Si­mon?’

He stared at the screen in hor­ror. ‘I didn’t know that. You’ve just made me very un­happy.’

‘ Does Mon­go­lia not have any tal­ent?’

‘ Ev­ery coun­try has tal­ent. This is not good, I’m go­ing to in­ves­ti­gate the Mon­go­lia sit­u­a­tion as soon as this is over.’

Ev­ery­one laughed, but know­ing how com­pet­i­tive Si­mon is, I could tell he was be­ing deadly se­ri­ous. At the end of an ab­sorb­ing chat, I asked him to sum up his life and ca­reer. He pulled out his phone and read out a text he’d re­ceived that morn­ing from Ella Hen­der­son, the X Fac­tor con­tes­tant whose de­but al­bum has shot to num­ber one in the charts.

‘As a lit­tle girl I had a dream. That was to sing, with my own mu­sic, in my own way. Right now I have just re­leased my very first de­but al­bum and you have no idea how much that means to me. I know I couldn’t have done any more and what­ever hap­pens from here I just have to say I’m so glad to fi­nally share my mu­sic with the world and for you to be a part of this in­cred­i­ble process. It re­ally has felt Tonight, Si­mon re­ceived his award at a glit­ter­ing ball. Ella Hen­der­son sang three songs ( beau­ti­fully), then a video was played pay­ing trib­ute to the guest of hon­our, fea­tur­ing Oprah Win­frey, Ru­pert Mur­doch, Har­vey We­in­stein and Phar­rell Wil­liams.

Si­mon walked up on stage, took a deep breath and to my as­ton­ish­ment choked up with tears.

‘My life has changed so much for the bet­ter this year,’ he sobbed, ‘thanks to Lau­ren and my son Eric.’

He said a few thank yous, then the tears ran freely again. ‘I just wish my dad was here to see this.’

He came back to our ta­ble and hugged Lau­ren – who was also cry­ing. I have never seen him so emo­tional.

We even man­aged a rare mo­ment of sin­cer­ity be­tween the pair of us.

‘I’m very proud of you, Si­mon,’ I said. ‘Thanks Piers,’ he laughed, ‘I can see you might even mean that!’

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