Cowell often makes blunt and controversial comments as a television show judge, including insults and wisecracks about contestants and their singing abilities. He combines activities in both the television and music industries. Cowell has produced and promoted singles and albums for various singers whom he has taken under his wing. He is popularly known for signing successful boybands such as Westlife, One Direction and CNCO.
In 2004 and 2010, Time named Cowell one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2008, The Daily Telegraph ranked him sixth in their list of the "100 most powerful people in British culture".
Simon Phillip Cowell was born on 7 October 1959 in Lambeth, London, and raised in Elstree, Hertfordshire. His mother, Julie Brett (née Josie Dalglish; 1925–2015), was a ballet dancer and socialite, and his father, Eric Selig Phillip Cowell (1918–1999), was an estate agent, property developer, and music industry executive. Cowell's paternal grandmother was a Polish immigrant. His father was from a mostly Jewish family, though he did not discuss his background with his children, and his mother was from a Christian background. He has a younger brother, Nicholas Cowell, three half-brothers, John, Tony, and Michael Cowell, and a half-sister, June Cowell.
Cowell attended Radlett Preparatory School and the independent Dover College, as did his brother, but left after taking GCE O levels. He passed English Language and Literature, and then attended Windsor Technical College, where he gained another GCE in Sociology. Cowell took a few menial jobs—including, according to his brother Tony, working as a runner on Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror film The Shining—but did not get along well with colleagues and bosses, until his father, who was an executive at EMI Music Publishing, managed to get him a job in the mail room. However, after failing to get a promotion, he left to try out other jobs before returning to EMI.
In the early 1980s, he left EMI to form E&S Music with his former boss at EMI, but quit in 1983. He then formed Fanfare Records with Iain Burton, initially selling exercise videos, and music from acts such as the Italian orchestra Rondò Veneziano. He had his first hit song in 1986 with "So Macho" by Sinitta. Some of Cowell's early success came through Stock Aitken Waterman, who produced a number of hits in the 1980s. However, in 1989, the company went under and he nearly became bankrupt.