High School Dropout: Simon Cowell’s Early Years

“I don’t mean to be rude, but…”

His signature catch phrase, Simon Cowell has become one of the most recognized faces in the television industry by not only being rude but more importantly by listening to what he was at heart – a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur. A music producer and executive, TV personality and businessman all rolled into one, Cowell has been steadily climbing to success for almost four decades. Love him or hate him, Cowell is now worth over $100 million and continues to leave his mark in the entertainment industry.

Born on October 7, 1959 in Brighton, England, Simon Philip Cowell grew up in Elstree, Hertfordshire with his three half-brothers, a half-sister, as well as a brother and a sister. His father, Eric, was a successful real estate agent as well as an executive in the music industry, while his mother, Julie, was known throughout town as a socialite. “I had a quiet, nice childhood,” recalls Cowell. “We had no McDonald's, no color television, and luckily no Paula Abdul.” Largely raised by nannies, Cowell and his brother were sent off to boarding school and were frequently transferred for their misconduct. By the time Cowell was just 16 years old, he had already been a registered student at 16 schools.

To some, Cowell was an opinionated and troublesome child; to others, he was funny and outspoken; but, he was nevertheless the same Cowell the world has come to know today. Cowell recalls the first time he made an honest criticism – when his mother was wearing a fur coat and matching hat for a special occasion. She asked her son, “Does Mommy look pretty?” Cowell replied, “No, Mommy looks like a poodle.” Similarly, in one of his music classes, Cowell told the teacher she was wasting her time in trying to teach the students musical instruments because they all sounded dreadful. Cowell was subsequently kicked out of that class.

Cowell would never graduate from any of those 16 schools he attended over the years. In 1979, he got his first job working as a mail room clerk for EMI Music Publishing, thanks to his father’s connections. “In many ways, I was glad that I had started my career on the very low rung of the business,” Cowell recalls. “It was there that I learned how to deal with people.” Over the next few years, Cowell would work his way up within the ranks of the company to eventually become a record producer. Unsatisfied with his prospects, Cowell left EMI in the early 1980s to form E&S Music, his own independent music company.

The success Cowell has achieved today would be hard won; E&S Music collapsed less than one year after its launch. Cowell swallowed his pride and returned to EMI. But, Cowell’s entrepreneurial instincts would not rest for too long. After just a short time, Cowell again left EMI to form Fanfare Records along with fellow former EMI mail clerk Iain Burton. Cowell’s attempt at creating his own independent music label would prove to be far more successful the second time around.

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