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How 'X Factor' judge Simon Cowell wound up broke and living with his parents at 30 — then became a music mogul and TV star

Theron Mohamed   

How 'X Factor' judge Simon Cowell wound up broke and living with his parents at 30 — then became a music mogul and TV star
  • Simon Cowell ended up broke at the age of 30, but rebounded to become a TV star and music tycoon.
  • The "America's Got Talent" and "The X Factor" celebrity told the story on a new podcast.

Simon Cowell went from a broke 30-year-old living with his parents to a music mogul and TV star. He shared his comeback story, compared smartphones to toasters, and revealed his only One Direction regret on the latest episode of "The Diary of a CEO" podcast.

Long before "American Idol," "The X Factor," and "America's Got Talent," Cowell's first big break was signing Sinitta to his fledgling label, Fanfare Records, in the 1980s.

He helped make the singer's "So Macho" single a smash hit, kickstarting his career as a starmaker.

"I thought everything was just going to be wonderful, so I bought a house, I bought a Porsche of course, I had a gold credit card," Cowell told host Steven Bartlett.

"So I'm living it up, and when it all came crashing down, I owed the bank nearly £500,000," he added, referring to the sudden collapse of Fanfare's parent company in 1989.

Cowell, who later turned Westlife and Fifth Harmony into superstars, recalled telling his bank that he didn't care if they made him a bankrupt as he didn't have a job or income — just debt.

"I was on paper bankrupt, yes, so I moved back in with my mum and dad," he said.

The music industry heavyweight recalled that he was once trying to travel from London's West End to his parents' place, but only had £5 in his pocket.

"I remember thinking it's literally all the money I've got left in the world, and I'm not sure that five quid's going to cover the taxi ride home," he said.

Cowell escaped the tough situation by convincing a friendly banker to lend him the money he needed to repay his debt. A lawyer friend also helped him land a job at BMG Records, telling Cowell he could pay him back later, which he did.

Cowell parlayed that role into setting up his own record label, and launching popular TV talent competitions that have been licensed worldwide.

The talent spotter and TV judge made several other colorful comments on the podcast, which we've edited for length and clarity:

  • On smartphones: "I hate them so much — I think they're boring. It's like having a toaster with you all the time. Toast is nice, and occasionally a telephone call's nice, but not all the bloody time."
  • On work ethic: "If somebody comes to work for me at, say, 21 years old and says, '5:30, right, I'm off and don't bother calling me on the weekend' I'm going to go, 'Well, I'm not going to bet the house on you.'"
  • On celebrity: "The truth is it's worth it. It's not even a price to pay, it just comes with it. It's hard work, you are going to become well known, and you are going to lose a lot of your privacy. If you want to be an accountant, you're not going to have any of those issues — it just won't be as much fun."
  • On the rights to the "One Direction" name: "The one thing I regret is I should have kept the name. Could have made an animation or whatever. If one of the band members says they don't want to tour, it can stop the others touring. If I owned the name, it wouldn't be a problem. I can be very naive at times, and that was me being very, very naive. So next time, that will be part of the deal."

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