Book Review

23 Dec

When Tom Bower, a supposedly award winning author and biographer wrote an ‘unauthorized’ biography of Simon Cowell, it thrilled fans around the world. Until that is, most of them got their hands on the book.

Sweet revenge: The Intimate Life of Simon Cowell


Remember the charismatically nasty judge on American Idol, Britain’s got Talent and the X-Factor? Many people started watching the shows just to see the put-downs he gave most of the (untalented) contestants.

Unfortunately, over time the media, cottoning on to the public’s fascination made too much out of it. The Cowell factor became a syndrome of its own where judges in similar reality shows across the world tried to emulate him – Sri Lanka being no different.

Before he knew it, Simon Cowell instead of trying to pick stars became THE star, and thus an industry was born in and around him, trying to cash in on his unforeseen mega-celebrity status. The book, Sweet Revenge, is one of the products of that industry.

It is neither a readable nor a particularly informative book. The biographer is no diligent researcher. He has just cobbled together random gossip in all the media out there, concerning Cowell’s private life and personality and come up with an ill-planned and haphazard biography. Anything with the name of Cowell will sell, seems to have been his reasoning and so he hasn’t bothered to make it either good or readable. At the end of the day, he has made his money. And that is all that seems to have counted.

Fans across the world bought the book because, though it was termed ‘unauthorized’, everyone knew that Cowell, an extremely narcissistic personality, had made himself and his friends and relatives widely available to the author. Given that level of access, the fact that 98 percent of the book is just a rehashing of already published tabloid gossip, leaves much to be desired.

And whatever little ‘new’ information the author has come up with is not really relevant or insightful, though he presents it with unnecessary emphasis and gloating. Take for example, his discovery (through a genealogist he had hired) that Cowell’s father had Jewish roots –something Cowell had been unaware of himself. He makes much fanfare of the fact that Cowell’s Anglican great grandfather Joseph had married Nancy Levy, a Jew and their son was brought up in his mother’s religion.

Cowell’s father had not apparently been a practicing Jew and Bower gleefully inferences that he was ashamed of his roots and tried to hide it, even pointing out that he had a ‘Christian’ funeral – as if that were of any concern to anyone but the Cowell family.

Catty inferences and innuendoes like these might be what makes cheap tabloids sell, but one would expect better from an entire biography. Without anything really solid to go on, the writer resorts to tantalizing hints that leaves the discerning reader thinking, “Who do you think you are kidding?”

In the first half of the book for example, he makes out that Simon Cowell and his brother Nicholas, shared an unhealthily close bond where they even swapped girlfriends. Switch to the second half and we see Simon celebrating his 50th birthday party. He had apparently been unnecessarily rude in his best man’s speeches at both of his brother’s weddings (Nick has married twice), and on his birthday, his brother paid it back with interest – or so Bower in his narrator’s voice tells us.

Except that the quotes he gives of what both brothers actually said are only funny ones – he just goes on to hint that they took it too far and left guests shocked with their ‘venom’ but where are the venomous quotes so that we can decide for ourselves?

Here are the relevant extracts:

At Nick’s first wedding to Kim, Cowell during his best man speech had quoted from Nick’s teenage ‘diary’: ‘Off to Paris to meet a nice boy; went off with him. Met a nice donkey in the bedroom.’ Next Cowell read a ‘letter for a job application’ explaining why, as a boy scout, Nick had been found giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to another scout in a dark room….

At Nick’s second marriage to Kate, Cowell had again read a series of ‘letters’ sent by a dating agency during their worldwide search for a bride, which climaxed in finally unearthing Kate in Eastern Europe….

Nick’s body language as he mounted the stage was combative. ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold,’ he started. ‘At my wedding Simon made a dreadful speech, and I was going to wait until his wedding to make this speech. But until they make a law that you can marry yourself, I won’t get the chance, so I’ll make it now.’
His theme was not only his brother’s vanity but also his homosexuality. “Simon’s favourite animals as a child were elves, goblins and fairies and he still likes fairies today,’ he began, ‘and his favourite group was the Pet Shop Boys.’ Then he added, ‘Simon couldn’t believe that Terri could be a girl’s name as well.’
The side splitting laughter amongst the insiders was mixed with bewilderment from the likes of Philip Green, who was stunned by the brother’s venom.  Sitting next to Green, Cheryl Cole was left open-mouthed…

Yes well… two heterosexual brothers’ innuendoes that the other was a homosexual may be immature at best but hardly venomous. The above extract is typical of the whole book – making something out of nothing, which is what the author excels at. Despite Cowell’s long string of girlfriends, there have been aspersions in the media from time to time that he is a closet homosexual; something every celebrity is subjected to, when it is a rainy day at tabloid offices. Bower admits that he has been unable to unearth any evidence of this himself – but caters to the gossip-hungry fans who for whatever reason of their own would want to believe it, by speculating if it could be true, given Cowell’s ‘camp’ mannerisms.

So ultimately what does this book tell you?

1 – Simon Cowell is a narcissist, addicted to his self-image.

2 –  Simon Cowell is a commitment phobe who has a string of girlfriends but is unlikely to ever marry.

3 – Simon Cowell hates Simon Fuller, the producer of American Idol and wants to out-do him.

4- Simon Cowell is a manipulative TV mogul who engineers rifts in his reality shows just to up the ratings.

Learned anything at all about Simon Cowell that you didn’t know already? No? Neither did I!

Oh wait… I learnt something. You think Simon Cowell is interesting? Read this book. You’ll find him dead boring!

Yep, that's what it feels like, after you've read the book

Yep, that’s what it feels like, after you’ve read the book


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