Kylie Northover June 09, 2012
Don't expect to find an insightful being underneath the vain exterior of Simon Cowell in this biography.
SWEET REVENGE: THE INTIMATE LIFE OF SIMON COWELL
By Tom Bower
Faber & Faber, $29.99
BRITISH author and journalist Tom Bower has established a career writing unauthorised biographies - among them of Mohamed Fayed, Conrad Black, Richard Branson and Robert Maxwell. His unlikely new biography, Sweet Revenge: The Intimate Life of Simon Co well, reportedly began without the subject's approval until Cowell got wind of it and bafflingly agreed to talk to Bower, who then endured ''hundreds of hours of conversations'' with the conveyer-belt pop Svengali.
That Cowell is sensational biography fodder isn't surprising, but that Bower would squander his investigative skills on a narcissistic television talent-show guru is baffling.
Perhaps he began his task - much like the reader - with hopes of learning some redeeming backstory that could explain Cowell's present-day demeanour. Sweet Revenge opens on Cowell's yacht (chartered at £2 million [$3.2 million] a month) as he sails around the Med with a clutch of sycophantic hangers-on and his staff, who are forced to pander to Cowell's every infantile whim. After a chapter of ghastly scene-setting, Bower explores his inexplicable rise through the ranks of the music business. Even from a young age, Cowell, whose parents seemed to give up trying to connect with him (his childhood nickname was ''Mummy, look at me''), was motivated unashamedly by money and success.
When he lands a job at EMI (thanks to his father's contacts), he finally decides he wants a career in music, despite rarely attending gigs and sneering at those who are passionate about music as ''music snobs''.
Lacking any musical nous or instinct, Cowell earned a reputation as a novelty-song producer - someone once described him as ''that guy who signs all that shit'' - suffering regular financial and reputation setbacks, and being bailed out by his father.
His many failures to recognise talent - he dismissed Britney Spears, saying ''nobody with that name could ever be famous'', and thought Take That would never make it with ''the fat lead singer'' Gary Barlow - earned him many enemies in the industry. Yet, bizarrely, Cowell was spurred on by a desire to prove his ''detractors'' wrong and to ''seek revenge'' - hence the book's histrionic title.
His eventual success as a music producer came from TV tie-in songs, such as with puppets Zig and Zag, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and actors Robson Greene and Jerome Flynn. Soon after, he reached the zenith of manufactured music with the Pop Idol talent show in 2001. The main thrust of Sweet Revenge is his ongoing feud with former Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller, with whom he co-created Pop Idol. The bitter legal battle over whose name appeared on the program's credits, covered in excruciating detail, led to Cowell creating a rival program largely out of spite - X Factor.
Unfathomable amounts of cash (he's rumoured to earn $US75 million a year and ranks his ''ambition'' as ''more money. If it could pour on me every day like a shower I would lie in that shower for hours'') and fame now his, the remainder of the book deals largely with Cowell's nauseatingly conspicuous spending (the world's most expensive car, a Bugatti Veyron, for £750,000, a $US400,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe and two Beverly Hills mansions), his trashy tabloid-fodder affairs (Dannii Minogue, Natalie Imbruglia) and bitching about fellow X Factor judges and contestants.
Oh, and denying that's he's gay - a constant theme throughout - while maintaining a stable of close ex-girlfriends whom he goes through like one of his ubiquitous T-shirts.
It's difficult to believe that Bower takes Cowell seriously, given many of the exchanges verge on This Is Spinal Tap-level parody, but the pair reportedly remain on good terms and are planning a ''sequel'' biography.
One struggles to imagine what ''intimate'' details are left to reveal after Cowell's description of his ''beauty'' regime - Botox injections, intravenous vitamins, colonic irrigation and smoothies made from ''rare exotic fruits'' - and his repugnant treatment of women: those he dates are taken to restaurants on the proviso that ''we'll speak about general matters for the first five minutes and the rest of the time we'll speak about me''.
While there are some vaguely engaging insights into the machinations of the pop-music machine, for the most part Bower's ''tale of revenge'' is a hollow affair, a tawdry story of a vain, insecure man who comes across as completely devoid of any personal insight.