Simon Cowell: You ask the Questions

(Such as: do you script all of your Pop Idol put-downs? And if the Conservative Party put you in charge, could you turn it round?)
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The Independent Online

Simon Cowell was born in London in 1959. He went to school in Hertfordshire and achieved local infamy at the age of 11 when he held up the school bus with a pea- gun. His involvement with pop music began in 1979 at EMI publishing, where he worked his way up from making the tea, and then left to establish his own company, Fanfare. By 1989, he was an A&R consultant for BMG, and signed, among others, Curiosity Killed The Cat, 5ive and Robson & Jerome. His greatest success came with the Irish boy band Westlife, who have had seven consecutive No 1 singles (and 11 in total), breaking a record previously held by The Beatles. Cowell is notorious now for his high waistband and withering put-downs on ITV's Pop Idol, and is set to guest star in an episode of The Simpsons next season as a nursery-school admissions officer. He and his girlfriend Terri Seymour divide their time between London and LA.

What is the worst Christmas record of all time?
Alison Cavendish, London

"The Millennium Prayer" [by Cliff Richard]. I found the whole thing revolting. I couldn't listen to the record. It wound me up. It was so premeditated.

Could Tony Blair have made it as a pop star?
Toby Wilson, Exeter

Yes, because he's one of the most ambitious people in the world. His ambition would outweigh his talent, but he would be able to reason away the fact that he couldn't sing.

Would you accept an honour for services to pop music?
Mia Hutchins, Surbiton

Yes, I would accept anything, but I don't think I'm likely to get one. The Queen once described me as "that dreadful man".

At 17, Gareth Gates was a huge star because of you. What were you doing when you were 17?
Dominic Wright, Henley

I was working as a runner on a TV series called The Return of the Saint at Elstree Studios, earning £15 a week. I loved it. I just wanted to get into the film business or music industry at that age, so I didn't really care what I was doing.

Do you listen to music by any of your acts at home? Is Westlife always on the stereo? Do you sing 5ive songs in the bath?
Pamela Hayton, Colchester

No. If I've just finished a track, I play it in the car, just to listen to the mix. I don't listen to an awful lot of music at home. It's a bit like working in a fish and chip shop: you don't eat fish and chips for dinner.

Do you script all your Pop Idol put-downs?
Judith Burrows, Beaconsfield

No. The only way you can judge the singers is to go in there each time with a blank mind. That's why I don't go to rehearsals, or I'd be tempted to think of something to say in advance. There are occasions when you watch the auditions on TV, and they say that their dog died that morning and that they hope, in memory of their dog, to get through. Then they sing, I tear them to pieces, and they walk out and burst into tears. That's not particularly pleasant, but there's nothing you can do about that. I've never felt guilty. I'd feel guilty about giving people false hope.

Which young solo singer around at the moment do you predict will go on to be as famous as Madonna or Michael Jackson?
Antonia Harris, Shrewsbury

Probably Daniel Bedingfield. He's a very, very good songwriter. He's naturally gifted and a very smart and talented guy. He's a rarity. He can just keep producing these brilliant songs. This year, he wrote one of the best pop songs I've ever heard - "If You're Not The One". I think he could be the next Elton John.

How would you describe your own singing voice?
Paul Archer, Guildford

Absolutely appalling. The last time I sang in public was New Year's Eve, on holiday in Mauritius, and I was thrown off the stage. It was karaoke, I was singing Frank Sinatra's "Something Stupid", and one of the guests complained.

Is there a God?
Chester Tuckey, London

I'm not sure, but I do hope so. I do occasionally pray.

Who is your pop idol?
Peter Dempsey, by e-mail

Frank Sinatra. I love his voice and I love his songs. He, to me, was just the coolest of the lot.

The Pop Idol judges, especially Foxy, are very preoccupied with the contestants' physical appearance as well as their talent. Can a true pop idol be overweight?
Antonia Cripps, Inverness

Yes, providing that they've got charisma, they can be huge. Look at Pavarotti or Meat Loaf - you don't even think about their size. It's just them, great personalities, great voices, great aura. There is a difference, however, between being big and being out of shape. If you're a big person naturally, you're a big person. If you're out of shape, then, yes, I would advise somebody to lose weight. It's probably better to be either very large or slim.

Aren't you being hypocritical when you dismiss Pop Idol singers as "karaoke" when three of your acts - Sonia, 5ive, Robson & Jerome - won record contracts by exhibiting that quality?
Gary Clark, London

I don't think you can sell seven million albums in two years, as Robson & Jerome did, if you're an ordinary karaoke singer.

What was the first pop concert you went to?
Rowena Barnett, Towcester

It was Elton John in Hammersmith. I was probably about 17 or 18. It was brilliant.

Will Gareth Gates and Will Young still be around in five years' time?
Jonty Smith, Banbury

It depends on their records. If I had to pick one of them, on current performance I'd have to say Will. He has the better voice.

Did the joke about your "high trousers" come to bother you?
Lisa Jones, Shrewsbury

It got to the point where I realised, every time I met someone for the first time, that they were staring at my waistband so I thought it was time for the T-shirts to be untucked. I haven't a clue where it came from. I think Ant [the Pop Idol co-presenter] said it once and it just stuck.

If the Conservative Party put you in charge, could you turn it round?
Lee Thurrock, Manchester

Yes. They should stop being pompous and start putting forward issues that the public are in favour of, like banning fox-hunting. I could do a better job than they have.

Is fame better than anonymity?
Jeremy Andrew, Sittingbourne

I'm not famous, I'm well known. Is it better to be well known than not? In my job, yes, because it opens doors. I do get approached, but it's not a bad thing. It shows you that people like the show.

'I Don't Mean To Be Rude, But...' by Simon Cowell is published by Ebury Press (£16.99)