From Hastings pier to Pop Idol: Fuller named Britain's most successful music manager

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The Independent Culture

He may have started out in the time-honoured fashion of promoting gigs on the pier in his hometown, Hastings. Yet yesterday, Simon Fuller, the man who quit East Sussex to bring the world the commercial glories of the Spice Girls, S Club 7 and Pop Idol – revolutionising the global music industry – was named the most successful British pop music manager of all time.

In the research carried out by Billboard magazine, Fuller easily outstripped his great inspiration, the "fifth Beatle" Brian Epstein, as well as the patron saint of British rock management, Led Zeppelin's Peter Grant, outscoring them both on the number of albums and singles he has sold in his career to date.

According to the magazine, Fuller's artists have dispatched 116 million records, 10 million more than The Beatles' boss before his untimely death in 1967, and six million more than Grant's money-making behemoths Led Zeppelin and Bad Company.

Now he must overtake just two other men to achieve the number one global position – a slot occupied with astonishing regularity by so many of the artists he has discovered – a roll call of stars from Amy Winehouse to Paul Hardcastle.

Only the West Coast music mogul Irving Azoff, the controlling force behind The Eagles, Stevie Nicks and Christina Aguilera, on 122.5 million units, and the grand old daddy of them all, Elvis Presley's legendary manager Colonel Tom Parker, with 148 million sold, stand in his way. Fuller boasts a personal fortune of £450m making him the fourth richest British music star behind the likes of Sir Paul McCartney and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Mark Sutherland, the global editor of Billboard, said the research, certified by the RIAA, revealed the debt of gratitude the music industry owed Fuller as he helped it battle declining sales volumes and rampant digital theft.

"He makes a lot of money but he is very creative in the way he does business. Without Pop Idol and American Idol I don't know what the record business would have done without him. The artists that have come through his programmes have sold so many millions of records," he said.

His critics will claim Fuller's artistic legacy is scarcely on a par with that of the runner-up British managers, among them Steve O'Rourke, who guided the fortunes of Pink Floyd after 1968, and the only other Briton to make it on to the top 10 global list, Tony Smith, who oversaw Genesis and then the solo career of Phil Collins.

But according to Sutherland, Fuller, who was honoured by the industry last week when he picked up the Peter Grant Award at a glitzy London ceremony, has the undisputed knack of taking talented stars and turning them into mega stars.

"Talent will get you a long way but without the right people behind you it is hard to move on to that next level," he said. "Fuller made the Spice Girls a truly global branding phenomenon. It is hard to think of the old school traditional rock manager being able to do that at that time."

The other managers to make the global top 10 include Madonna's manager, Freddy DeMann, with 82.5 million records sold, Barbra Streisand's Martin Ehrlichman, on 76.5 million, and Erv Woolsey (71 million) whose clients include George Strait, Lee Ann Womack and Dierks Bentley. Bruce Springsteen's manager, Jon Landau, came 10th with 66 million records sold.

The top five managers worldwide

Colonel Tom Parker: 148 million records sold

Dutch-born Svengali who masterminded the career of Elvis Presley from 1955 onwards after persuading RCA to buy out the King's record deal with Sun. He was instrumental in every major move in Elvis's career, especially his controversial decision to concentrate on making films rather than music after leaving the army.

Irving Azoff: 122.5 million records sold

Along with David Geffen, Azoff, pictured third from left with The Eagles, was the biggest noise in the West Coast music scene throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s. He began promoting bands while still at the University of Illinois, including The Eagles, Steely Dan, REO Speedwagon, Stevie Nicks, Van Halen, Guns N' Roses and later Christina Aguilera.

Simon Fuller: 116 million records sold

Started out promoting gigs on Hastings Pier before joining Chrysalis where he made his name signing Paul Hardcastle, whose Vietnam-inspired single "19" sold three million copies worldwide. Despite long-time associations with Cathy Dennis and Annie Lennox, it was as manager of the Spice Girls, below left, and then creator of the television talent show Pop Idol and later American Idol for which he is best known.

Bob Doyle: 116 million records sold

Fired by an impassioned belief in the American Dream, the former music business executive mortgaged his home to promote the career of the then unknown country singer Garth Brooks. It was a gamble that paid off handsomely as Brooks became one of the biggest selling US recording artists of all time. Doyle served with the Tennessee Air National Guard during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Peter Grant: 110.5 million records sold

Former sheet metal worker and bit part actor, Grant, pictured left with Led Zeppelin, was shrewd and ruthless in equal measure. His first break came with the Yardbirds, later charting the fortunes of Led Zeppelin. He worked tirelessly to safeguard the financial interests of his charges, retiring from the scene following their split in 1980.