When the historians of tomorrow take out their quill pens and attempt to trace the rise and fall of Barack Hussein Obama, they may very well decide that the first truly significant PR blunder of his reign came two months after taking office, when he carelessly told a scripted joke about Mr Simon Cowell.
Last week, on Jay Leno's late-night chat-show, the 44th President of the United States followed his ill-judged remark about the Special Olympics by comparing the White House to his country's most popular TV show. "Washington," he observed, "is a little bit like American Idol, except everyone is like Simon Cowell."
So far, so hilarious. But TV's famous Mr Nasty didn't get where he is by taking a joke lying down. Cowell used Leno's well-worn sofa on Monday to hit back, suggesting that Obama's remark represented payback – for a diary clash during the President's recent tour of California.
"I was invited to have dinner with him last week, but wasn't available," the music mogul announced. "He wanted to have dinner, but our diaries didn't quite match. He wanted to do eight, I wasn't free until nine. We just didn't quite connect. But I said, 'Any time I'm in Washington...'"
Let us, for the sake of argument, presume that Britain's most famous US export was telling the truth here (the White House has yet to confirm or deny the story). A serious question therefore presents itself: if he's "too busy" to meet with the Most Powerful Man in the World what, exactly, is Simon Cowell doing?
Hit TV shows don't happen on their own, of course, and American Idol is currently in the middle of a new season. This requires Cowell to spend a couple of nights a week in a Hollywood studio, delivering put-downs and treading on people's dreams in front of 25 million viewers – a figure that is, incidentally, down by close to 10 per cent on last year. But, even though Obama's night in Los Angeles on Wednesday coincided with one of Cowell's work-nights, Idol is recorded in Hollywood during the late afternoon so it can go out live to the East Coast, which should have left ample opportunity for him to hit the party circuit by dinner time.
Away from Idol, Cowell doesn't exactly seem to have a hectic schedule. When he's not taking holidays with Sinitta, or getting rub-downs next to the bright blue swimming pool of his Bel Air mansion from whichever well-preserved ladyfriend happens to be on his roster, the 49-year-old pop pundit gives every impression of leading a charmed existence.
The pop empire surely runs itself (he just watches the dollars roll in from whatever starlet he's "discovered"), and he seems to have plenty of time for teeth-whitening sessions, hair appointments and shopping trips to Emporio Armani of Rodeo Drive, where he buys his trousers, presumably after giving the shop assistant his chest size.
His diary-keeper also manages to factor in regular visits to the Botox clinic, which Ryan Seacrest recently complained have become so habit-forming that Cowell has been left unable to deliver his trademark scowl since "the angry face is the same as the happy face".
Snappers often capture Cowell's Bentley being driven to town for dinner dates with the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Posh and Becks, and the occasional mid-level film star. If double-booked, he's even – I am reliably informed – been known to flit between separate tables at the Beverly Hills hotel, effectively managing two power lunches for the price of one.
So Barack Obama is entitled to feel snubbed. Cowell, for his part, is developing a reputation for upsetting world leaders. Yesterday, Buckingham Palace was forced to deny his claim, also made on Jay Leno's show, that Prince Philip had called him a "sponger" at the last Royal Variety Performance.
"At the end, if you are involved in it, you have to stand around for hours and then say hello. [The Queen] ignored me and her husband called me a sponger," Cowell had recalled. "It was a bit embarrassing. It was a bit awkward... I think he was trying to be rude. So I just mumbled something and he walked off."
A Palace spokesman said yesterday: "I have spoken to the Duke of Edinburgh, and he has absolutely no idea what this is about. He told me, 'I did not say anything of that sort. I wouldn't call anyone a sponger. Why would I call him that?'"Reuse content