Legendary record producer and X-Factor founder Simon Cowell is worth an estimated £325 million today – yet he wasn’t born into a wealthy family and had to work his way up through the ranks of the music industry, starting out as an office post boy.
The 59-year-old celebrity was born in Lambeth in 1959, the son of music industry executive and estate agent Eric and ballet dancer Julie Cowell. He had a regular upbringing, leaving school after passing his English Language and Literature O-levels and then attending Windsor Technical College, where he gained a further O-Level in Sociology.
Cowell had a few menial jobs on leaving college, but didn’t really enjoy any of them, until his father, an executive at EMI Records, found him employment there as a post boy in 1980.
It was here that Cowell had his first taste of the music industry – he liked it enough to begin “planning and scheming” from day one about how he could work his way to the top, according to his autobiography.
Ambitious and hardworking, he was able to quit his job in 1983, aged 24, co-founding his own record label, Fanfare Records, with friend Iain Burton. His first hit single was Sinitta’s So Macho in 1986.
Change of direction
In the early 1990s, he set up a new label, S Records, releasing novelty hits with acts such as the Power Rangers and the puppets, Zig and Zag. He hit the jackpot in 1995 when he signed the actors Robson Green and Jerome Flynn (famous for their TV drama series, Soldier Soldier) and released Unchained Melody.
It rocketed to the top of the UK singles chart and stayed there for seven weeks, becoming the best-selling single of the year. Robson and Jerome went on to sell seven million albums and five million singles, while Cowell’s meteoric rise to the top continued when he signed the boy band Westlife, pop group Five and even the Teletubbies!
Westlife were one of the biggest boy bands in the world, selling more than 50 million records and firmly cementing Cowell’s place as a major player in the music industry.
Cowell launched his first TV talent show, Pop Idol, in 2001 on ITV, when unsigned singers competed for a record deal. The final in February 2002 saw Will Young, 23, from Berkshire, win the show, narrowly beating Gareth Gates, 17, from Bradford.
Cowell signed them both to S Records and each of them went on to have number one hits and the top two best-selling singles of the 2000s. He also launched the US version of the show, American Idol, and a new company called Syco, with three different arms specialising in music, television and film.
In 2004, his Syco production company launched The X Factor, Cowell’s flagship TV talent show, which is still going strong today. It was an instant hit with viewers, with its panel of judges, including Cowell and other celebrities, delivering no-holds-barred opinions on the hopefuls’ performances.
Cowell has discovered some famous artists through The X Factor, who have become major recording stars, such as series three winner Leona Lewis, boy band One Direction (who signed to Cowell’s record label in 2011) and series 12 winner Louisa Johnson.
He also launched The X Factor USA, and the franchise now operates all over the world.
Britain’s Got Talent
Cowell’s Syco company also launched Britain’s Got Talent, using the tried and trusted The X Factor formula, but broadening the scope of the acts to include everything from dancing dogs and magicians to escapologists and synchro swimmers! He also launched America’s Got Talent using the same format.
He has been executive producer of a number of “search for a star” shows, including Celebrity Duets, a Pop Idol-type show for future Hollywood superstars, and Grease is the Word, looking for actors to play Danny and Sandy in the West End revival of the musical.
In his personal life, Cowell and his partner Lauren Silverman have a four-year-old son, Eric, named after Cowell’s late father.
He’s also one of the biggest charity supporters in the music industry, making substantial personal donations to many different worthy causes and becoming patron of Together for Short Lives, a charity supporting youngsters with life-threatening conditions.
He has also shown himself to be a good sport by participating in the BBC Children in Need fundraiser, permitting a magician to saw him in half on live television in 2003 in return for donations!
Mighty oaks out of tiny acorns grow
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