It is hard for ordinary mortals to fathom what goes on behind the cold eyes and razor-thin smile of Simon Philip Cowell. His achievements are huge, but defy logic. He has contrived to build a transatlantic reputation (and a £225m fortune) on television programmes which, reduced to their basic essence, encourage multitudes of fame-hungry dreamers to stand before him and be judged. He is a considerable power in the global music industry without, it seems, having much interest in actual music. He has a reputation for devastating wisecracks and coruscating wit for which there is, sadly, no available evidence.
His emotional life seems equally inscrutable. Mr Cowell has a reputation for dating glamorous women, breaking up with them because of his chronic aversion to marriage (“It’s a boring routine”) but remaining friends, buying them property and inviting them en masse on yacht or cruise holidays. His biographer Tom Bower described how a “harem” of girlfriends and ex-lovers travels with him, and how Cowell’s “greatest comfort was lying on a couch between [two of them], watching a film and grazing on simple food suitable for kids in a nursery.”
The equilibrium of Cowell’s micro-managed life has now, however, been upset by media reports alleging that his friend Lauren Silverman, estranged wife of a close friend Andrew Silverman, is expecting his child. Reports from the harem suggest a general astonishment that a man who exerts such iron control over his life could “make this kind of mistake”. So – would he be happy to be a father? Has the iron self-discipline mellowed? Or is this alleged major development in his life a grotesque blunder?
A look at Cowell’s family background helps to make sense of it. The family name Cowell is an English version of the Irish patronymic “MacCathmhaoil” meaning “son of the Battle Chief.” Simon Cowell is the chieftain’s son who eclipsed his father (Eric, a music company executive) to become Chief. His life has for years been that of a Roman emperor, whose reign is all-powerful and whose judgemental thumb can mean life or death to ordinary mortals. Did you notice how, lately, in talent shows, he never says “I think you’re a talented singer”, he merely says “Y’know - I like you”? That’s the imperial note, right there - capricious, solipsistic, pitiless. To me the harem strikes a similar note, along with arpeggios of Sultanic self-indulgence
And now, if there’s another Cowell, and (if it’s a boy) another “son of the Battle Chief” on the way, to eclipse the chief in his turn, steal his thunder and acquire his riches, it’s no wonder – with all this fuss – that the potentate of pop must, temporarily, be getting the blues.