Cowell & Son: meet the literary world's latest sensation

Marina Hyde

I honestly don’t know how it can have been so long since we checked back in with the entertainment empire of Simon Cowell, 60, and his business partner and frequent creative collaborator, Eric Cowell, six. But let’s remedy that today, as the pair of international multihyphenates have announced a major new literary endeavour – a series of seven jointly authored children’s books.

I am slightly disappointed the first one won’t be called The Son Also Rises – but it seems Eric and Simon have gone instead for Wishfits, and the idea is based on a conversational game the father and son liked playing. Drilling down into the detail, the concept is one of hybrid animals, and takes in characters such as the Peep, a cross between a pig and a sheep, the Dat, a cross between a dog and a cat, the Polarbat, a cross between a polar bear and a bat, and the Hipporoo, a cross between – but no. No, I can’t do this any more. Perhaps later.

Anyhow, the Karaoke Sauron – and Eric – were on hand to unveil this new venture with the publishing house Hachette on Monday. Taking the stage at the Cambridge Theatre in London, Cowell confirmed that some of the profits would go to charity, and explained of Wishfits: “The books will tell how these unique friendships are formed and will celebrate individuality and positivity. We will see how the strengths of these animals are in their differences and make the point we live in a world where inclusivity is so important.” I don’t think non-celebrity authors are feeling particularly included by yet more of this sort of publishing news – but do go on. “And of course,” promised Cowell, “these animals will all have lots of fun on their magical adventures together!”

Of course. You will note that now he is specifically selling something, Cowell has somewhat changed his tune from when he first raised the idea of writing the book. Back in 2016, he told a US TV show: “It will be about animals … I’ve had to read a lot of these children’s books and they’re quite boring. I think I could do it better.”

Well quite. Just as Cowell would always prefer some 16-year-old stage-school kid’s Auto-Tuned cover of Feeling Good than the Nina Simone version, so he will always prefer his authortuned version of a book to anything some boring real writer has turned out.

Either way, it’s good to know a settled pathway has been established within the House of Cowell. For there was a time, not so many years ago, when Simon was petrified Eric would one day want to do something grim and awful. Specifically, audition as a contestant for one of his TV shows. As Simon put it: “I’m kind of dreading that moment. ‘Daddy, can I go on one of your shows?’” Yes, what a total shudder. Can you imagine? At the time, I recall noting that it would be like Rupert Murdoch’s daughters saying they wanted to be on page 3, or Tony Blair’s boys joining the army. Don’t be ridiculous, darlings – that’s for OTHER people’s children.

But two years later, happily, Simon was more satisfied by the already ineluctable logic of Eric’s career path. The then four-year-old had already made a guest appearance on Britain’s Got Talent, where he was asked what his father’s job was and replied – spontaneously, no doubt – “I am Daddy’s job now.”

Encouraged by this affinity for the business of ruthlessly unscripted reality, Simon announced a few months later: “I’m sort of training him up.” Did he want Eric to follow in his stack-heeled footsteps? “Oh, a million per cent,” replied Cowell, who had by now had him appear on The X Factor, too. “I think about that all the time. I would love him to take over. He’s really confident. When he comes down here, he knows what everybody does. He likes being in the gallery. That will be my dream.”

Looked at this way, this latest joint books venture was simply an inevitability. For my money, the whole creative process of Wishfits has strong Michael Ovitz energy to it. The legendary Hollywood agent was essentially incapable of spending so much as a minute a day doing something he couldn’t somehow package and monetise. In the mid-80s, even his dawn aikido sessions got him thinking: “Hang on, could I turn my aikido instructor into a movie star?” And don’t for a minute think I’m knocking that approach – because the instructor was a guy by the name of Steven Seagal. The rest is world cinema history.

There is something of this restless commercial energy to Cowell, who, it appears, couldn’t leave the typical sort of game a parent might play with their child where it belongs: at home, as part of family life. Instead, it is to become an entertainment property. No moment wasted. God knows we have all drifted elsewhere during the 417th nightly reading of a children’s classic. But, at that moment, the only acceptable questions one should be silently asking oneself in one’s head are things such as: “What is the true meaning of this ‘tiger’ who comes to ‘tea’? Is it a real tiger? Did I read once that it was the Gestapo but then Judith Kerr said it wasn’t? Is the mother just shattered and she’s forgotten to get the food in, like you sometimes do, and so she’s desperately making up the story to distract from the fact that it’s hard out here at home on your own? Is it bad that Daddy gets to be the saviour of Mummy and Sophie’s tea, or would you frankly just take anything at that point if you don’t have to do the supper yourself, and hopefully won’t burst into grateful tears in the cafe …?”

Sorry, where the hell were we? Ah yes. Those are the sorts of questions all normal people are asking themselves during the bedtime story sessions. Not: “Seriously, HOW much better could I do than THIS?” Still, congratulations to Simon and Eric, the newest stars of the children’s literary firmament. And I am sure parents will be making all sorts of silent inquiries when they come to impart the Wishfits magic to their own offspring in due course.

Eamonn proves he’s no one’s slave, so he does

And so to the case of Eamonn Holmes, yet another extremely highly paid career TV presenter who believes their situation is so peculiarly precarious that they can’t possibly pay tax in the same way as normies.

This week, Holmes was hit with a £250,000 back tax bill, after failing to persuade a court that his long-term employment by ITV was not “employment” at all, and therefore permitted him to pay himself through his own limited company, taxed at a lower rate. Or, as he put it: “There is nobody more freelance than me”, and his jobs “could go at any moment”. Oh Eamonn, please. PLEASE. You didn’t even lose your job when you called Meghan Markle “uppity” recently – so I’m pretty sure HMRC is entirely right to take a cockroach-in-nuclear-winter approach to your various contracts.

There was certainly much to enjoy in Eamonn’s court submission in which he attempted to quantify the inimitable Holmes magic. Standout lines included:“best live presenter in the country”; “gun for hire – on my own terms”; “not there to follow other people’s rules”; “entertainer who brings a maverick element to the show”; and “I am not anybody’s slave on This Morning”.

Having said that, I was struck by the less punchy: “If you stop, you fall off the conveyor belt and someone else takes your place.” Surely that was a HUGE opportunity for this cutthroat Holmes to quote the bit in Showgirls where Gina Gershon knows it was Elisabeth Berkley who pushed her down the stairs so she could take her place in the topless dance revue? As Gina philosophises: “There’s always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you.”

So yes, I’d have gone with that. If nothing else, I am sure Holmes would be pleased at the suggestion other people are hungrier than him. He once sent a legal letter to the BBC over a Jon Culshaw sketch that portrayed him as a TV presenter given to eating everything in sight, from the studio sofa to celebrity guest Frankie Dettori. At the end of each episode of the recurring sketch, the Culshaw version of Eamonn Holmes would deploy the catchphrase: “I was fierce hungry, so I was.”

It’s not clear if Holmes will be appealing against this week’s decision, but if he does, let’s hope that’s the top line of his submission. “There’s always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you – and it’s them that eats the entire staircase, so it is.”