By BEN TODD and PAUL REVOIR
Open neck: Simon Cowell - baring his hairy chest - returned to Britain's Got Talent last night but made no mention of the Cheryl Cole controversy
Only a month ago Simon Cowell told the world Cheryl Cole was ‘special’.
Last night, however, the TV mogul and the pop star were at war – through their ‘people’ – amid claims her advisers demanded £2.5million for her to return to the UK X Factor after her shock axing from the U.S. version of the show.
It came after ITV issued a statement confirming that the Girls Aloud star will not feature in its judging panel for the TV talent contest.
Holed up: Cheryl has not been seen since returning from America
Cowell himself has remained unusually silent on the issue – other than a subtle reference on last night’s Britain’s Got Talent, where he also raised eyebrows by arriving for a turn as guest judge in a suit and unbuttoned shirt which bared his hairy chest.
But according to senior sources at both his production company Syco, and ITV, associates of Mrs Cole believed to be led by pop star William Adams – known as Will.i.am and who became her manager a month ago – wanted the broadcaster to agree to the huge fee.
Happier times: Cheryl and Simon smile together on the judging panel of the X Factor in December 2009
The friend said: ‘Will.i.am doesn’t want her to have anything to do with Cowell anymore. Cowell thought she would come running back and take the UK job – but why would she when she’s been hung out to dry in the U.S..’
Since her humiliating sacking, Mrs Cole has been uncontactable – with sources suggesting she did not even know of the demands allegedly being made on her behalf.
She has refused to take telephone calls from TV executives, including Cowell.
Allies: Cheryl with her new manager Will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas who is believed to have demanded the huge fee for her to return to X Factor
Within hours, it was confirmed that Tulisa Contostavlos – from pop band N-Dubz – was joining the show alongside Louis Walsh, U.S. pop star Kelly Rowland and Take That singer Gary Barlow.
An X Factor source revealed: ‘There was a Plan A we already had which we’re happy with and is a great team. It got to a point with Cheryl where we had to move on.
New panel: Tulisa Contostavlos and Kelly Rowland will join Gary Barlow and Louis Walsh on the judging panel
That public statement also signalled the end of Cowell and Mrs Cole’s professional relationship, which began when she joined the X Factor in 2008.
Even a month ago, he said of Mrs Cole: ‘She’s got a great ability to communicate. She’s a great judge. She’s smart. You meet someone special a few times in your life and this girl is special.’
Within days of that comment, Mrs Cole had surprisingly axed Hilary Shaw – her manager since 2005 – to hand control to Mr Adams, who has found worldwide fame with the Black Eyed Peas.
Lost her 'mojo': A TV source said Cheryl seemed to have completely 'lost her mojo' after arriving in America