Simon Cowell claims Cheryl Cole is ‘going to kill’ him when she sees his new X Factor musical.
In an interview with The Sunday Times Culture supplement, Simon: “We had lots of people trying to do really serious versions of the show, but we just turned them down.
“When Harry used to take the p*** out of us on TV Burp, we all wanted to be the one he parodied.
“He knew we had banned the word ‘journey’ – they’re not on a journey, they’re on a talent show for a couple of weeks, so we fined anyone who used the word ‘journey’.
“Then we banned the word ‘dream’ because it was getting out of control.
“Of course, when he pitched it to me, the first song they played was called Journey to a Dream. It made me laugh and I was in.”
Speaking before the birth of his son Eric on February 14, Simon added: “The deal I made with Harry was, ‘I’m not going to change a word’.
“It is what it is. If it looks like I had an influence, it won’t work.”
Harman explained that while he imitates classic Cowell mannerisms such as the way he stands and uses his hands, the performance delves into “a whole new realm of farce”.
“People will sit in the audience and go ‘I can’t believe he’s allowed this to happen,”‘ said Harman.
Harry Hill chuckles as he recalls the moment he knew he was on to a winner with his idea for a West End musical based on Simon Cowell and The X Factor.
In a Soho club he’s telling a Daily Mail reporter the story of his bizarre preliminary meeting with Simon Cowell, one of the project’s initial backers. Hill and his co-writer Steve Brown had been in Simon’s offices for half an hour and Simon still hasn’t showed up.
‘His right-hand man, Nigel Hall, is with us,’ says Hill.
‘Nigel tells us that Simon is held up in traffic. So we both nod, and smile politely. Then Nigel gets up and we can see he is in contact with someone else who is relaying information back to him.
‘He then goes into this running commentary, “Simon is a few minutes away. Simon is outside in the road. He’s getting into the lift. He’s in the lift.” We actually see Simon coming out of the lift and then we hear, “Simon is here.” ’
In that moment of showbiz madness, Hill and Brown knew they had the right subject for a musical comedy about big egos, small heroes, celebrity, reality TV and singing – the much-anticipated I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical, which makes its West End debut this Thursday.
Hill and composer Brown held a series of meetings with Cowell, who is listed as one of the show’s co-producers, though he acted neither as advisor nor editor.
Nothing was out of bounds, although a joke about his relationships – ‘you can’t call him a cheater coz at the end of the day he goes back to Sinitta’ – was cut once news broke of Cowell’s baby, Eric, with fiancée Lauren Silverman.
Cowell did, however, give the project the green light and his behaviour at their meetings always provided a rich source of material.
‘At that first meeting, Simon lit up a cigarette. Of course that’s not something you see these days, not even in the music industry.
‘He told us that he’d said to Sony if he couldn’t smoke at work he wouldn’t come in, he didn’t care what the laws were.
‘So they fitted some incredible ventilation system in his office so he could smoke. It’s so state of the art that even if you are standing right next to him you can’t smell the smoke.
‘As he was telling us I knew something of that had to go into one of the songs [‘Yeah, take a hike. Look! I can smoke wherever I like’ is in the song Fabulous].
‘It just says a lot about him; he does what he wants, he’s a one-off and even though you laugh about it, you can’t help liking him for it.’
At the end of each meeting, Cowell would greet Hill and Brown with the words: ‘Congratulations – you’re through to the next round.’
The idea for I Can’t Sing! was initially just a ‘one-line concept’ Hill batted off his friend, Brown, who did all the music for Hill’s comedy clips show TV Burp.
At their first meeting with Cowell, all he had were a few vague ideas. By the time a second meeting was arranged, Hill had hammered out characters, plot and sketched out scenes for a surreal, tongue-in-cheek take on reality-TV shows based around a love story between two star-struck contestants on The X Factor. It features a pop queen called Jordy, a boy band manager called Louis and host Liam O’Deary.
‘I called Steve the weekend before we were due to meet Cowell again and he told me he was going away and did he really need to come up with a song? He then played me something that didn’t sound great,’ says Hill.
How did that make him feel?
‘Terrified. But by the time we met Simon, he’d turned it into something incredible – and they loved it.’
Hill mistakenly believed that securing Cowell’s approval was not essential for the project to get off the ground.
‘It never occurred to me until someone said it later that if Simon didn’t like it, it wasn’t going to go ahead. I sort of assumed we’d do it anyway,’ he says.
In fact, as Cowell owns the copyright to the X Factor he could have stopped the project from going ahead. And he did not immediately give the musical his blessing.
When I catch up with him later, he says he was more than happy to be mocked in the show, but was concerned about whether the music would be good enough.
‘Harry and Steve pitched the idea to me in my office and I agreed to give them some development money.
‘I never thought it was going to be made. I remember thinking, if the songs aren’t great, we just can’t do it.
‘I was always nervous about making a musical and promised myself I wouldn’t do it, but when I saw the workshop and felt the buzz around everyone that day, I decided to go ahead.
‘I get it in the neck throughout – but I don’t care. It’s the craziest musical I’ve ever seen in my life.
‘It’s very bizarre, very grand and colourful. The songs are great and it has one of the weirdest endings I have ever seen.
‘One thing I always tell people in this industry is get yourself a thick skin and don’t take yourself too seriously.
‘I have a very thick skin and I’m actually more excited about this than a lot of things.
‘If I had to describe the show in one word, it would be “Bonkers.”’
He is not a close personal friend of Cowell. His acquaintance has been limited to three meetings and a press conference and that’s exactly how he wanted it.
Similarly, Downton Abbey actor Nigel Harman, who plays Cowell in the musical, was invited to hang out with the music mogul but opted not to, preferring to stick with his own perception of the man.
Hill says, ‘I wasn’t going to be doing a Citizen Kane on him. It’s better sometimes to keep your distance so you can keep that edge.
‘You know there could be things someone is going to take objection to, so you can’t get too close.
‘When I did TV Burp it was always difficult turning up to awards shows. You know at some point you’d be standing in a line with someone you’d taken the p*** out of and that could be awkward.
‘What was bizarre but brilliant about Simon was that the worse the thing I’d written about him, the more he liked it. The more extreme, the more he laughed. I really like that about him and I’m fascinated by it. I’m fascinated by him.
Plus, he is someone I never could be. He absolutely loves being this huge celebrity figure. And he has charisma.’
I Can’t Sing! is no gooey paean to all things Cowell.
More importantly, it got the final rubber stamp from Cowell, who arrived at the low-key event with an entourage of female friends including Amanda Holden, Sinitta and Alexandra Burke, and insisted on sitting in the seat nearest the exit in case he wanted to leave.
‘It’s the only time I’ve seen Harry nervous,’ says Cowell. ‘If it wasn’t good, I was just going to leave because I couldn’t face the cast. But it was great.
‘The songs are really, really good – there was a singing dog, a hunchback doing an Eminem number… it was crazy and funny. That’s when I got really excited.’
Hill’s memories are slightly different.
‘It started at 3.30 in the afternoon. We were told Simon hadn’t been up at 3.30 since he was 16. So he was late. I sat behind him because I didn’t want to see his face. And then all you could hear was laughter. He was delighted.’
Cowell is clearly impressed by Hill.
‘Only Harry could have written this show. I always thought what he did with TV Burp was very funny. I have absolutely left him to it. The worst thing would be if it was some puff piece.’
In the Sunday Times magazine this week Simon Cowell claims Cheryl Cole is ‘going to kill’ him when she sees his new X Factor musical.
One of the characters in I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical, which stars Nigel Harman, is based on the Newcastle-born former X Factor judge and Simon Cowell is convinced it’s going to fire up her temper.
Cheryl sat her tattooed posterior on The X Factor judging panel back in 2010, a particularly turbulent series that saw Ms Cole battle malaria.
Commenting on the show’s thinly-veiled portrayal of Cole as a character called Jordy, Cowell said: “Cheryl is going to kill me when she sees it.”
“I mean, seriously, I’m going to get it in the neck.”
Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical, was written by TV Burp’s Harry Hill, has received Cowell’s financial backing despite its savage ridiculing of the ITV talent show.
For authenticity’s sake, Lauren Silverman’s baby daddy advised leading man Nigel Harman, who has previously played roles in EastEnders and Downton Abbey, to play up his trademark abrupt rudeness.
The ‘I Can’t Sing’ Musical opens at The Palladium with preview performances this Thursday 27th February. The Premiere will be held on 26th March 2014.
Full details and link for tickets are on our I CAN’T SING page.