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  • Writer's pictureCK GOLDIING


Updated: Sep 9, 2020

Simon Cowell / Image by Charlie Gray
Image by: Charlie Gray

My relationship with Simon Cowell is an awkward one. His TV shows do nothing for me. But his ability to repeatedly make shows that have mass appeal is a skill I respect. Why? Because as a writer/creator myself, it's in my job description to make stuff people enjoy watching. The fact I find Cowell's shows overly-scripted, hideously orchestrated and numbingly repetitive is irrelevant - as a TV producer, he gives people what they want, often before they even know they want it. Impressive!

So, Cowell's TV shows aren't for me, but as a human being, nothing about him pisses me off. In fact, mostly, I find him profound. I'll never forget the first time I heard his talk on Oprah Winfrey's Masterclass. The story he revealed about being thrown out of an American TV boss' office will always stick with me. It's a delicious anecdote, and perfectly illustrates the hazards of having too much ego. Then yesterday, I heard his recent interview with Paul McKenna. Again, he brims with poetic wisdom.

CAUTION: The below list is not exhaustive, it's basically the best bits from just two inspiring Simon Cowell interviews. I've shamelessly cherry-picked the quotes that speak to me personally. If you want a more comprehensive display, then compile your own damn list.


"You should never force an idea, they should come to you!"

Boasting over 40 members of staff, Cowell's TV production company is tasked with developing ideas for TV shows. He compares the development process to a jigsaw puzzle - with elements of a new idea appearing at different times. He stresses the importance of not panicking as you stare at the unfinished puzzle, because eventually, if you relax and believe in your talent, the full masterpiece (a brand new TV show) will almost always present itself. From a creative standpoint, I 100% agree.

As I sit here, two weeks since the idea for a new reality show/gameshow hybrid came to me, I'm not even slightly annoyed that the idea is in need of extensive refinement. Yes, the format is in its infancy, but history has shown me that my best ideas come when I least expect them... so while I wait, I'll happily just eat quiche. God, I love quiche.


"Think with your heart, not your head."

Cowell's creative compass is beautifully simple. As far as he's concerned, if he likes something, everyone else will, too That might sound arrogant to you, but I think his intentions are pure. Wealth aside, Cowell sees himself as a mostly regular dude with unremarkable tastes. When he hears someone sing beautifully, for example, if he is moved by the performance, he assumes everyone else will be moved, too.

I confess, putting my heart before my head is a habit I struggle with. 97.8% of my day is spent in my head. I'm a huge overthinker, we've discussed this before. It makes no sense really, because the best experiences of my life have come from listening to my heart and ignoring my head. Mostly, my head tells me to avoid reckless madness, but every time I've ignored it and listened to my heart, the rewards have been stunning. Yeap, I'm definitely still a work-in-progress re: this quote. You?


"Talk 10% of the time, listen 90%."

Don't get me wrong, this quote isn't Cowell's, it's a an age-old gem, but he often drops it into interviews, and I never tire of hearing it.

It's amazing the crazy shit people will tell you if you simply ask them a question, shut your cakehole and listen. Alas, most people struggle with the first part of this equation: asking a question.

It's my guilty pleasure to watch people who, during a conversation, can't wait to chime in with some me-me-me bullshit. Natural behaviour I guess, after all, everyone's favourite topic is themselves. I, however, find the most memorable exchanges happen when you ask someone a question... shut the fuck up... and continue shutting the fuck up until the silence becomes unbearable. I'm convinced most people are so unsettled by silence, that they'll do all they can to fill it up. If you're lucky, they'll fill it up with insightful, smart or plain hilarious goodies... goodies you'll always miss if you buy a one-way ticket to Yousville.


"I'm confident in what I do. If you asked me how to cure world debt, I wouldn't have a clue."

You know how I feel about creative people down-playing their talent. Remember this instagram rant? it's very British to underestimate our gifts, but I've never been a fan of that self-effacing dog shit. If you're good, you're good. Stand proud. Obviously, 'good' is subjective, but please, in case you're ever unlucky enough to find a list of people who think you're shit, try to avoid putting your own name on it.

I'm below-average at football, garbage at drawing and can't hold a note, but for as long as I can remember, people find it very easy to like me. Strangers feel comfortable in my presence. My point is, I'm good with people - always have been. So when I develop unthinkable concepts that require me to engage with strangers in an unusual way, I'm 99.6% sure it won't be a disaster. For example, dialling random phone numbers and having full conversations with people I didn't know, made episode 027 of my podcast beautiful.

Know your gifts, then lean into them!


"You must never live in fear. If you become afraid, you become too safe... you don't take risks, and life becomes boring. I just can't live like that."

Just like quote 2, this is one where I'm woefully inadequate. I've always been very risk averse. Hand on heart, I'm the kind of guy who doesn't only like comfort zones, but I actively wallow in them. Some of you might find this surprising, but you shouldn't. Yes, if I have to step out of my comfort zone to make a new video, then I'll usually jump willingly into the unknown, but as far as day-to-day life is concerned, the force of a typhoon can't shift me sometimes. Truth is, some days, I'm so bored with the 'sameness' I see around me, that I fantasise about just pissing-off to another country and starting life from scratch.... you know, new friends, new surroundings, new quiche shops.

If I'm honest, I think my latest short documentary 'OUT THERE' was me testing the waters. Maybe I should just sod off permanently to that ridiculously hot beach town.


"Everyone has a sign above their head that says 'MAKE ME FEEL IMPORTANT'"

This is actually a quote Cowell's dad passed down to him. In Cowell's world, even the people who's job it is to hold doors open for him (hotel staff etc) deserve the same respect and courtesy as everyone else. According to Cowell, "I hate rudeness."

This reminded me of a recent supermarket encounter. My preferred 6-pint bottle of milk was nowhere to be seen, so I approached a member of staff. The guy I approached was 'in the zone', busily restocking shelves. Now, I spent enough time working in retail as a kid to know that the last thing he needed was to be interrupted with my dairy problems, but approach him I did... with a massive smile. I first asked him how he was and if he was available (for all I knew, he was dealing with another customer). I then outlined my milk probs.

I shit you not, the guy couldn't have been more willing - as he disappeared into the back to search the store's inventory. He returned 5-minutes later with a satisfied smile... and my 6-pint beast!

I think we both got something from our courteous exchange.

Of course, cynics will argue that he acted purely as he's been trained to act, but again, I've spent enough time in retail to know that had my approach lacked a smile, a "hello" or a dash of humanity, he'd have either said the classic "Everything we have is already out" (usually bullshit), or even worse, he'd have gone into the back and returned with my milk... laced with his phlegm.


"I like people to have an opinion... black, white, whatever... I can't bear anything in-between. I can't stand grey.

Although I've never understood everyone's obsession with Cowell's supposed 'telling it how it is' (from what I can see, he's pretty tame in his condemnation of fools), I agree with the spirit of speaking your mind. Grey is a horrible place to be. It's never suited me. Remember episode 14 of my podcast where I discussed my inability to 'play the game'? Christ, I even admitted that my inability to play the game likely jeopardises my progress in the short-term. But as outlined in quote 4, I know I can write.... I know I can produce, I know I'm an above-average content creator, so while I try to figure-out how to do this full time, I'll play my game.




Oprah Winfrey Masterclass

Paul McKenna interview

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