ALISON BOSHOFF: Why Simon Cowell is done with being David Walliams’ fall guy
During his ten years on the jury of Britain’s Got Talent – one of ITV’s most successful Saturday night shows – David Walliams played a variation on the same joke.
In this joke he was a gay man, desperately in love with head judge Simon Cowell – or ‘My Simon’ as he would call him.
It was a high-quality piece of theater that Walliams seemed to enjoy. Sometimes he would sneak up behind Cowell when they arrived at auditions and secretly kiss him on the cheek. Other times he tried to lay on Cowell on the judge’s desk.
Cowell laughed along, and viewers could be forgiven for thinking the two men were good friends off and on screen.
However, with Walliams now suing BGT’s production company FremantleMedia for leaking a transcript of the derogatory abuse that led to him leaving the show in 2022, the situation looks very different.
Walliams is suing BGT’s production company FremantleMedia over leaking a transcript of the derogatory abuse that led to him leaving the show in 2022
And of course, Cowell has now given Walliams’ job on the show to his real-life gay best friend, Bruno Tonioli.
Speaking to sources close to the mogul, it appears Cowell has been keeping Walliams at arm’s length for some time.
“Simon was obsessed with David when he was first hired and couldn’t get enough of him,” says a senior source at the broadcaster. “They saw each other socially and seemed close. But things went wrong quite quickly and eventually they were no longer on good terms.’
This week, as news broke of Walliams’ legal action, Cowell was in Los Angeles preparing for the finals of America’s Got Talent.
Employees said Cowell had not been told the legal action was coming and had not been kept informed by Fremantle.
In fact, they said, he hadn’t thought about Walliams for a long time. Ouch.
So how – and even more interestingly why – did this schism arise? Some are blaming the “My Simon” act, saying what started as a joke became something that seemed almost deliberately embarrassing for Cowell, especially after he got engaged to partner Lauren Silverman in 2021.
Walliams shouted in a radio broadcast last year: ‘Simon is getting married to a woman! Who would have thought that!’ A well-placed source said: ‘Simon found it funny at times, but annoying at others. I think it would be fair to say that the jokes didn’t always land well.’
He added: ‘David always seemed excited around Simon, off camera it wasn’t so different. Sometimes Simon was flattered and amused, but other times he thought, “What the hell are you doing?”
‘One time we were filming auditions in Hammersmith and David got over-excited and threw a pen at Simon’s head and hit him in the face.
Walliams was a judge on the talent show for more than ten years, together with Amanda Holden, Simon Cowell and Alisha Dixon
‘Simon wasn’t happy about it as it could have injured him or delayed the show. It was so childish. David apologized backstage afterwards. It wasn’t what you would expect from a grown man.’
Others say Walliams made the fatal mistake of trying to hog the spotlight. Amanda Holden and Alesha Dixon, whatever you may think of their presenting talents, always rely on Simon.
When Walliams won Best TV Judge at the National Television Awards in 2018, he rejoiced: “I don’t consider this a win for me. I consider this a humiliation for Simon Cowell. All he does is judge. He can’t sing, he can’t dance, he doesn’t tell jokes. He just sits there and tells everyone ‘no’. Anyone can do that.’
Walliams won the award three years in a row, and the last time he won, he crawled past the judges’ table to kiss Cowell on the lips.
A source close to the show tells me: ‘The way David responded to the NTAs always seemed telling, because I felt like he was deeply jealous of Simon on some levels. Although David was enormously successful with his books, his fame and fortune were of a different order than that of Simon, who cracked America.’ For the record, Walliams is worth £17 million, compared to Cowell’s £400 million.
An insider adds that the two men were divided due to their different personalities, noting that Cowell’s experience with fatherhood has changed him immensely.
Walliams was hired in 2012 and Cowell’s son Eric was born in 2014. The pregnancy took him by surprise and Silverman was married to a friend of his at the time.
Defying the doubters, the couple have since built a long and happy relationship and Cowell is even talking about having another child with Lauren.
Walliams was hired as a judge in 2012. Sources reveal that Cowell has been keeping Walliams at arm’s length for some time.
Walliams, on the other hand, has been divorced since 2015 and has shown no inclination to settle down again.
‘In the early years they moved around a lot, went to parties and dinners. Simon changed completely when Eric was born, his life, his priorities and his views changed – he was no longer on stage,” says the source.
Ultimately, Cowell is very different from Walliams in that he has a small circle of close friends to whom he is fiercely loyal. He was persuaded against his better judgment to throw a grand 50th birthday party, hosted by his then friends Sir Philip and Lady Green, and grumbled to me afterwards that he couldn’t enjoy big formal parties.
For his 60th birthday, he had a small dinner at home in Malibu after canceling a dinner for friends at a restaurant in Chelsea.
Walliams is a show business extrovert, as evidenced by the stellar turnout at his 52nd birthday party earlier this month.
Actors Michael Caine, Rob Brydon, David Schwimmer and Steve Coogan were there, as were BGT’s Ant and Dec, Alesha and Amanda (but not Simon).
As a boy who struggled to make friends at school, Walliams loathes loneliness. In February 2009, he admitted on Desert Island Discs that he had persistent thoughts of suicide. He stated that he would take a gun with him as his luxury on the fantasy-inhabited island, and that he would shoot himself if he got too lonely.
“I can’t stand being alone,” he told Kirsty Young. ‘I detest it. When I’m with my own thoughts, I start to unravel and think dark, self-destructive thoughts.”
As he revealed in his candid autobiography, he first attempted suicide in the scout camp at the age of twelve. There followed at least three other attempts and a stay in Priory Hospital, followed by medication and therapy. But he later achieved fame and BGT was probably the pinnacle of public recognition.
Walliams is a show business extrovert, as evidenced by the stellar turnout at his 52nd birthday party earlier this month. Actors Michael Caine, Rob Brydon, David Schwimmer and Steve Coogan were there, as were BGT’s Ant and Dec, Alesha and Amanda (but not Simon)
Initially, Walliams’ recruitment – at £250,000 a year for two years – was seen as a triumph and Cowell couldn’t have been happier. The show was in crisis after a lackluster run with Michael McIntyre and David Hasselhoff, and Cowell wanted to freshen up the show.
Walliams’ brief was ‘to embrace the more eccentric side of the show’. And by the time he left last year, his salary had risen to £1.5 million a year. His cod-gay banter had also been toned down, with one source saying that making fun of homosexuality was outdated and at odds with the show’s family-friendly, supportive ethos.
But his ‘private comments’, picked up on a hot microphone, showed he had a dismissive attitude towards some participants.
A transcript showed Walliams describing a pensioner who had auditioned three times as a ‘c***’. He also said of an outgoing female contestant: “She’s like the slightly boring girl you meet in the pub and think you want to fuck them, but you don’t.”
When the comments became public, Cowell’s close friend Piers Morgan wrote on Twitter: ‘Tip of the iceberg. Walliams is one of the nastiest fraudsters on TV.’ Morgan has declined to comment further.
Although Walliams publicly glories in his camp image and has admitted to homosexual awkwardness as a boy, he insists he is not gay. ‘Sometimes I think it would be easier if I were (gay), because everyone thinks I am. I love women. I like being around women. I find them intoxicating. I’ve never had that feeling for a man before.’
There were awkward laughs at the first dance at his 2010 wedding to model Lara Stone, to the theme tune from Disney’s Beauty And The Beast.
He suffers from thoughts that he is physically repulsive. As Walliams told an interviewer: ‘The great thing about beauty is that it is very attractive, because you hope that it will affect you in some way.’
Did he feel the same way about Simon Cowell’s fame and money?