Of all the humiliations visited on Little Mix and Philip Green in their respective careers, being bracketed together is surely up there. Alas, this was their fate in a Sun article this week, which began with the words: “Simon Cowell revealed he axed Sir Philip Green and Little Mix to clear toxic people from his business.”
Well. Two schisms, both alike in dignity. Clearly, Little Mix would have every right to furiously resent the comparison, with the Shout Out to My Ex legends having recently split with Simon’s record label over some perceived arsiness on the part of their management company.
But it is Green who will feel the comparison most woundingly. As the Topshop boss once panted: “Simon is my only outside interest.” Well, that and the non-disclosure agreements. Although we didn’t know about those at the time, it having only been revealed last month that the Arcadia retail magnate is the subject of multiple sexual harassment and bullying allegations.
As for him and Cowell, we shall come to the depth of that bromance shortly. Certainly, you wouldn’t have got a sense of it from any of Cowell’s statements this week. As the X Factor and Syco boss put it affectlessly of Sir Phil: “He was part of the company, but three years ago we just stopped talking.” Right around the time he flogged BHS for a quid (£571m pension deficit included)? “It was six months before that.” But of course. “When it came to severing the ties, I wasn’t arguing about the money. You simply make a decision of who you want in your life and your business and it was my decision.” Does Cowell regret Green having been involved in the company? “This is tricky for me.”
According to the Sun interview, Cowell is unable to say much more because he has just tabled an offer for the 5% in Syco that Green owns. My sympathies. Lost in Showbiz, however, is advantaged by the fact that it hasn’t tabled an offer for any of Phil’s shares, and is thus able to throw open a repository of Cowell and Green esoterica, amassed over the years.
Some of the best material may be gleaned in Tom Bower’s biography of Cowell, Sweet Revenge, for which both Cowell and Green served as the most assiduous of sources. To read it is to watch a relationship develop that you somehow always suspect is going to end in an unfortunate manner.
The pair fall quickly and deeply into friendship, and it isn’t long before Green is flying round the world, for no money, negotiating various deals for Cowell with US TV entertainment power players who find his style an acquired taste. “I’m cheap,” Green tells Cowell. “I charge no fee.” But why not? Apart from being a weapons-grade starfucker, Green suggests he is drawn to a vulnerability in Cowell. “I can look after his back because otherwise he’ll get hurt,” is his rationalisation. “My job is to get all of this cleaned up and tidied.”
Right. At the start, this involves issuing advice such as not to take rival impresario Simon Fuller to court over who got credit for creating Pop Idol. To deliver his homily, Green takes Cowell on to the bridge of his yacht. “I didn’t buy this yacht with a principle,” he recalls saying. “I did it with a cheque. I’ve never gone to court.” Yes. Well, plenty of time for all that.
As time went on, meanwhile, Cowell and Green were pictured very more frequently together. There was a Green statement suggesting they would build a company “bigger than Disney”. Searching for the perfect portmanteau for this notional corporate entity, Green liked “Growl”.
I remember a GQ interview in which the pair effectively suggested they were forming the showbiz equivalent of Spectre. There was to be a permanent residency for The X Factor in Las Vegas. During the interview, a text from a journalist arrived asking if they were buying ITV. “We COULD do it,” cackled Philip. “That’s the difference,” agreed Simon. “A year ago, I think I would have been interested, just out of ego. Now I sit with him and not only COULD we do it, we could make a massive difference.”
All the while, Green grows more convinced of his indispensability to the Karaoke Sauron. “He’s trusted me with his life,” explains Green to Bower at one point. He describes one of Cowell’s meetings with Fox as “the most fascinating moment of my career”, despite the fact it was obviously a moment in Cowell’s career.
For his part, Cowell reciprocates kindly, if not in kind. “He’s been one of my biggest mentors and is one of my closest friends.” Cowell gives Green’s wife, Tina, £3m to organise his 50th birthday party for him. The ceiling of one of the marquees has a vast replica of the Michelangelo ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, only with God’s face replaced by Cowell’s.
Ah well. Just memories now. Cowell’s powers are currently so diminished that he repeatedly has to insist The X Factor isn’t being axed despite its lowest-ever ratings. “ITV have been amazing, actually, this year,” says Cowell gratefully of the network “Growl” once suggested they could buy, but which appears to have kindly overlooked the fact he couldn’t run a phone-vote a couple of weeks ago.
As for Green, he is clearly beset by a number of local difficulties. But as celebrities who were with him for the good times continue to offload their stock, you do increasingly have to think that his own furious revenge memoir would be quite the read.
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