Sharon Osbourne: Judge dread

Ozzy's wife, queen of The X Factor, showbiz phenomenon. And she's not to be crossed
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The Independent Online

Perhaps not even the celebrity-infatuated British public could stomach being so brazenly patronised by a woman who shares an estimated £100m fortune with her husband Ozzy Osbourne. Seven months after joining the Asda payroll, Sharon made her excuses and left, claiming she'd been offered a role in a Hollywood film. Perhaps it had more to do with the fact that Sharon was playing a role which didn't suit her, rather than sticking to her tried and trusted techniques of confrontation and verbal abuse.

For instance, she helped to drive Louis Walsh out of his job as an X Factor judge last week by pouring water over him (though Simon Cowell's observation that "Louis is an idiot, he has been tremendously stupid" played its part). The incident reaffirmed that The X Factor is really about the judges rather than its parade of colourless young "talent". It was Sharon, too, who recently launched a remarkable onslaught against the late Mother Teresa, calling her an "ugly old cunt in sandals".

As the new millennium dawned, the idea of Sharon Osbourne becoming any kind of household name seemed as likely as Guernsey launching the first manned mission to Jupiter. Though notorious among heavy metal fans for her stormy marriage to Ozzy and her take-no-prisoners approach to management, her potential for a mass commercial break-out looked limited. Then early in 2002, Sharon - suddenly 100 pounds slimmer after undergoing "adjustable gastric band" surgery - and her family appeared in MTV's reality show The Osbournes. It immediately became a hit of freakish proportions. Though visitors from another dimension would have wondered why they were watching a rambling saga of a family of spoiled, dysfunctional imbeciles, it scooped the highest ratings in MTV's history and won an Emmy for Best Reality Show.

It transformed Ozzy from a bumbling heavy metal clown barely able to navigate his way through a sentence into a born-again pop culture icon. When Sharon was diagnosed with colon cancer in July 2002, she insisted that filming of the second series should continue, a decision which reinforced a popular conception of her as a powerful matriarch determined to defend her brood at any cost. For the moment at least, it looks as though she has successfully bullied her disease into submission.

Sharon has been criticised for her supposedly outdated Seventies-style approach to pop management, but she'd unerringly caught the crest of a media wave, grasping that a voyeuristic obsession with celebrity lifestyles is now the world's No 1 leisure pursuit. "I just thought 'people love spying on other people', it's human nature," she said. "And on top of that Ozzy was the first celebrity to really open himself up to the public."

She married Ozzy in Hawaii in 1982. The childlike and shambolic singer, notorious for his episodes of drinking, drug-taking and incontinence, has become Sharon's mission in life, as if she was determined to prove that Ozzy had hidden potential that only she was capable of wringing out of him.

You'd have to figure that heredity had a lot to do with it. Sharon, born on 9 October 1952, is the daughter of Don Arden, one of the most prominent figures in the pop business of the Sixties and Seventies. He managed the Small Faces and Black Sabbath (featuring O Osbourne on vocals), and climbed to the top of the slippery showbiz pole by representing Wizzard and the Electric Light Orchestra. Among Arden's protégés were Rolling Stones manager Andrew Oldham and Led Zeppelin's bellicose handler, Peter Grant.

Don, dubbed The Al Capone Of Pop for his coercive business techniques, once took a squad of heavies to visit entrepreneur Robert Stigwood, who had tried to lure the Small Faces away from him. To make Stigwood feel appropriately remorseful, Don's boys grabbed him by the ankles and dangled him out of a third-storey window.

For two decades, mutual hatred separated Sharon and her father. The public version of the story is that they fell out when Sharon and Ozzy had to pay $1.5m to buy Ozzy out of his contract with Don, but the broader truth may be that Sharon and Don were simply too alike to get on. Though she'd worked for her father since her teens, she didn't seem able to express her talents fully until she'd broken away, demolishing dad's dream of establishing an enduring Arden business dynasty. Their poisonous feud lasted until 2001, when a chance meeting in Los Angeles led to a reconciliation. The fact that Sharon's mother Hope, whom she loathed with equal intensity, had died in 1998 probably assisted the rapprochement.

There is a theory that Sharon has had to cultivate skull-fracturing aggression to compensate for the music industry's ingrained chauvinism, though she probably wouldn't hold herself up as a role model. She has admitted to feeling tormented with guilt about not spending enough time with her children, and has submitted to intensive bouts of therapy to disentangle the chaos inside her head.

You do things Sharon's way, or not at all. Billy Corgan, mastermind of rock band Smashing Pumpkins, was briefly managed by Mrs Osbourne before she stormed out declaring that "Billy Corgan is making me sick". This August, it was the turn of Iron Maiden to feel her wrath, when they joined the annual Ozzfest heavy metal travelling festival.

The event was created by Sharon after the Lollapalooza festival turned Ozzy down, and has become the biggest earner in her business portfolio. During their set in San Bernardino, California, Iron Maiden were pelted with eggs and garbage, and their amplification was deliberately turned off several times. Sharon admitted she'd orchestrated it all, after Maiden's vocalist Bruce Dickinson (who she calls "Bruce Dickhead") had criticised Ozzy's reality TV show. Maiden's manager Rod Smallwood denounced her "disgusting and unprofessional" behaviour.

"C'mon, it's rock'n'roll," Sharon told Kerrang! magazine. "No one died. They'll be waiting a long fucking time for an apology from me." Sharon might like to send Rod a copy of her best-selling autobiography for Christmas.