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Saturday 11 December 2004 Early Afternoon
‘Who the fuck do you think you are?’ Sharon screamed. ‘I’m giving you a fucking compliment.’
But I was now well trained in the mind games that went on in rehearsal.
‘I said it was a nice performance, Steve,’ she came for me again.
I just didn’t want to engage.
This was only a dummy run – albeit the final walk-through before the live show tonight.
The judges were in situ, not on this occasion replaced by some runner or assistant producer, but their words were only for the purposes of microphone level. It wasn’t meant to mean anything.
That’s why I wasn’t engaging with Sharon and her initial compliment had brushed over me after a dry run of one of my songs for the night.
I was focussing on the lighting guy, the camera angles and where I needed to be in relation to Kate Thornton.
It was the performances later that counted and everybody knew that. It was the same for the judges as it was for the artistes.
Then she let rip.
Even though she had begun by saying it was a nice performance, it was hardly the latest earth-shattering compliment. The fact that I ignored it revealed her true colours and weeks of pent-up frustration.
It brought back the comment she had thrown at Eileen backstage a couple of weeks previously when Sharon asked her why it didn’t bother her if her boyfriend called her a Volvo. Eileen just laughed it off as I had already told her.
Sharon was referring to a conversation I had with the other contestants. We had all just met and were meeting lawyers to go through the legal. There was time to kill and the conversation went on to partners. Somehow we were comparing them to cars and to be different, I replied Volvo. It’s obvious to describe your partner as a Porsche or Ferrari, but a Volvo is solid, safe and reliable. I think these traits are important. I got a laugh in the room and the day continued. I didn’t expect weeks later it would get back to Sharon and be used against me.
‘Who do you think you are? I’m giving you a fucking compliment, you fucking cunt.’
Kate didn’t know where to look.
I just looked at her smiling, as I knew it would annoy her. Bring it on, Sharon, I thought. I wasn’t in the mood. The greatest moment of my life stood before me, but the last few days had been ruined by Louis Walsh’s comments comparing me to serial killer Fred West on This Morning and Simon’s farcical meal.
And it was just beginning. ‘You shouldn’t even be onstage,’ she ranted. You could hear a pin drop in the studio. The scurry of activity and constant murmur of background noise fell silent. The last-chance rehearsal had come to a screeching halt.
‘You’re nothing but a cab driver. You’re shit. You shouldn’t even be on the stage.’
Now, I did want to say something. Instead, I just looked at her again and smiled and the more I did so, the angrier she got. I knew my expression irritated her.
I could feel sympathetic warmth from Kate – caught in the middle. Only Simon could really intervene.
‘Not now,’ he urged, only for them to continue to fight it out in an ongoing war of words.
I felt Simon was genuine when he urged her to stop – a contrast to the manipulative filming of the dinner. Now, despite the exchanges that we had all witnessed over the previous few weeks, this was him being real.
Simon once again got firm with Sharon, and Kate led me away. Showtime was around five hours away.
I couldn’t get off that stage quick enough. I didn’t see Sharon again until we went live.
I found out after that my friend Alan, who had been amongst the rehearsal audience, had gone to see Sharon in her dressing room to tell her she had me all wrong and that I was a nice guy with a credible track record. He left short-changed. There was no moving her. ‘He’s an arrogant fucking prick,’ she told him.
By mid-afternoon my manager Tim Byrne came to my dressing room to see me. His advice was to just keep being nice, and he reminded me that I was winning on two counts – because I had rattled her and because week after week, the numbers said so.
But that wasn’t the essence of our conversation.
With my dressing room empty and open, whilst Sharon had been tearing into me, I had returned to find the newspaper open at an article slating me. It was a double-page spread. G4 were odds-on to win and I was nothing more than a slimy lounge room lizard.
Why were they doing this to me?
Tim implied it had come from Louis’s camp. He was backing G4 all the way.
‘What are they doing, coming into my dressing room?’ I asked.
It didn’t matter. What Tim was to tell me next shook me to the core.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the News of the World were about to turn my life upside down.
Win or lose, tomorrow’s front page should have been about tonight’s result. The whole nation expected. We were box office.
‘They’re running a story,’ I learned. ‘You are adopted.’
I could take a mild tabloid insult or a full-on mouthful from Sharon, but this was something else.
It was one thing to label me a crooner or cheesy, but to attack innocent people who didn’t ask to be under the spotlight was a new low.
‘This is bollocks,’ I replied, laughing. But Tim was unmoved. Only through his lack of reaction did I start to realise the severity of what was coming. In seconds I went from laughing it off to doubting myself and my whole existence.
I know this was a by-product of the whole make-believe world of the show.
They made telly, they held out dreams. It all looked so achievable and there were so many crew working on the show to a template of how to make that telly that some people had crossed a line into fantasy world. Your sense of reality can change when you are on the show. These are important people. People with power, people with money. I was from a working- class family. Anything is possible.
I had to ring Mum.
Questioning your whole identity was not where tonight was meant to begin and end. I was supposed to be running through a few drills with my vocal coach Annie Skates, well aware that I still hadn’t learned the words to “Against All Odds”.
My throat was drying with tension as the clock ticked towards the moment of no return, and yet here I was trying to work out if my whole life was a fake.
Mum had the same reaction as me.
She answered all bubbly and I could hear Dad in the background saying ‘What’s he want, what’s he want?’
She laughed in the same way I had moments before.
Then she, too, fell silent as I batted it back to her as Tim had done to me.
‘They’re running a story that I am from Birmingham and my parents are ex-cons and crackheads.’
It was true that I didn’t really look too much like my dark- skinned dad and more like my mum’s side, but in my head I could replay all the family pictures from years gone by and I knew they were all of me and that was my family.
As Mum’s smile dropped from her voice, I felt embarrassed even asking, putting them through this when this was their night as much as mine.
Those images of me as a baby that now came to mind definitely showed me with my sister, the same sister I have now! I know it’s me deep down, I kept telling myself, but I had to hear it from Mum herself.
What was I even thinking? They couldn’t have kept a secret like that from me for 35 years. It was rubbish. But I had had a wobble.
I told Mum I loved her and said goodbye then turned to Tim.
‘These are the games,’ I said, alluding to what had been brewing.
I didn’t dislike Tim, though I never wholly warmed to him. After all, it was Simon’s people who paired him with me during the competition, and Tim was very keen to be in with them long-term, too.
This time, I suspected Sharon’s camp were to blame because of what had just happened at rehearsal.
I was now a far cry from that affable, blasé bloke who had sauntered through the competition. I had remained pretty relaxed throughout despite obvious moments and forged friendships which meant that I shared their emotions when new friends also left the show. Now it was just me versus G4. It had become this serious.
But these last few days and these final hours told me there was increasingly a third battle to overcome.
I ate tea and was trying to calm myself. I liked to remain in my casuals until as close to going live as possible. I was vaguely aware that the audience would be coming in by now and that the warm-up man would probably be doing his thing. I passed the odd celebrity in the ITV corridors, but all I really wanted to do was get it over.
I still couldn’t be sure of nailing the lyrics to the Phil Collins track and I am sure the snail-like speed with which it was coming together was a huge indication that my gut feeling was right. I shouldn’t even be touching that song.
I needed to find a zone – there were less than 90 minutes to go. I killed the time trying to make my vocal warm-ups count. My phone was going into meltdown from friends at home
and family who had arrived in the audience. I was beginning to calm myself for the first time since early afternoon.
Then I got the call. ‘Simon wants to see you in his dressing room.’ I was quietly out of the way upstairs; Simon was beneath, just a stone’s throw from the stage. I had still to change properly and do make-up. Time was now running out for learning those lyrics. I was expecting it was the usual drill about what I would be wearing. I had changed in his dressing room a few times while he would sit there with a stylist and pick from the three or four suits hanging up and decide on my outfit. For a 35-year-old man, I always found this humiliating. Perhaps it was something last-minute to do with the song or just the night in general. I wasn’t even thinking it would be anything to do with Sharon from earlier.
None of these reasons were at the forefront of his mind as I knocked on his dressing room door.
‘Come in,’ he announced.
Simon was on the left, the former Page Three model and ex-girlfriend Jackie St Clair stood in the middle, and to her left as I saw it was another of Simon’s former women – Sinitta completed the trio.
Simon just sat there smoking and grinning.
What happened next has caused me much reflection over the years. Was it harmless banter or was it manipulation?
Jackie St Clair opened her long coat. That left just a little thong and her high heels. It was impossible to avoid her breasts as she strutted towards me. Then Sinitta followed behind.
I admit it was a turn-on and I was tempted.
They really didn’t know me. I was like a drug addict in rehab. This was taking me back to a period in my life that I had left behind.
Both had me up against the dressing room door. Sinitta undid her top and they began to touch me. I started to laugh. Simon just sat there beaming, puffing on his cigarette.
‘I can’t do this,’ I laughed. It was a nervous laugh. But still they continued. They began to stroke my chest, reaching for my buttons, working their hands up my legs and touching me up full-on. I guess for most single men this was just harmless adult fun that you either go with or laugh off, but for me this was more. Yes, Eileen was in the audience waiting to hear me sing, yes I considered the door wasn’t locked and someone could walk in, but this was really about something that Simon could not have been aware of. This was about the fourteen-year-old me standing up to an unspoken incident I should have addressed 30 years ago. This to me was control and manipulation that was going to leave me carrying a dark secret that could stay with me for a long time.
‘No, no, I can’t do this,’ I repeated. It didn’t stop them. ‘I think you’re beautiful and lovely but I can’t do this,’ I said again as finally Jackie backed away. Simon was still smoking and still smiling. His ex-girlfriends began to do themselves up. Then I tore into him. ‘What are you doing?’ I was firm. It was the first time my tone had ever been disrespectful to him yet as he sat there and I towered above, I felt an equal, too. ‘I thought it might relax you,’ he grinned. ‘This ain’t gonna relax me,’ I thundered back at him. ‘I’ve gotta go onstage and sing “Against All Odds” and I don’t even know the words.’
The girls left the room.
It had lasted no more than thirty seconds but left me fuming. It had been a crazy day with one thing after the other and the show hadn’t even started.
‘You’ve been stressed lately,’ he replied. ‘Look, I gotta go,’ I stormed off. ‘I’ve gotta get dressed.’ My heart was beating fast all the way back to the dressing room. Over and over in my mind were his words that he was trying to relax me, but for me this was the beginning of the end and I hadn’t even won.
Ten years later, I weigh up whether I did take it the wrong way or not. Was Simon really trying to get me to unwind from the stress after my breakdown at dinner? Or was it anything to do with Sharon’s outrageous attack that should have made major news but didn’t?
One thing has played on my mind since.
I had come to watch Louis Theroux’s documentary with Max Clifford in which Theroux interviewed Simon Cowell. Clifford took them to Stringfellows, and despite Louis Theroux saying he didn’t want to be filmed, Max Clifford was still able to farm out pictures trying to implicate the interviewer with strippers.
Max Clifford had been on the Simon Cowell payroll for some time.
I could see the element of control. With such control comes planning. As I opened Simon’s dressing room door on the way in, his two girlfriends had been waiting for me and didn’t hesitate.
Intended as innocent or not, this, too, bore the hallmarks of control.
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