By Sara Nathan
Still friends? Simon Cowell said he has not yet spoken to Cheryl Cole following her exit from the X Factor USA
Simon Cowell last night apologised to Cheryl Cole as he admitted he had helped shatter her American dreams – but insisted: ‘I’m not a monster.’
The under-fire music mogul revealed he had still not talked to the 27-year-old star – whom he called a ‘close friend’ - following a tense 10-day stand-off prompted by her exit from the X Factor USA.
The situation was finally resolved on Monday when Mrs Cole turned down an 11th hour offer to return to the U.S. with singer Nicole Scherzinger replacing her on the judging panel.
Breaking his silence, Cowell said the star had clearly been ‘uncomfortable’ while filming auditions for the talent show in America – and blamed her quiet demeanour on her troubled personal life, following her divorce from footballer Ashley Cole, and her malaria battle.
He said Mrs Cole had previously been offered £2.5 million to return to the UK X Factor, but had shut down negotiations.
She will now receive her £1.2 million X Factor USA salary in full.
The multi-millionaire admitted he had received a message from Mrs Cole saying she felt ‘let down’ by him, adding: ‘A hundred per cent I have to take full responsibility, because I do have a lot of sway.
‘This has been a rough two weeks. The hardest thing to accept is that everyone has painted me as a monster because I embarrassed her. But the truth was I was protecting her.
‘I apologise that all this has become public and I understand the stress she is under, and I hate that. But we have all been under a lot of stress.
Out with the old: Only one face from last year's UK X Factor panel remains for this year's show - Louis Walsh. Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole and Dannii Minogue will not appear
In with the new: Gary Barlow, Tulisa Contostavlos, Kelly Rowland and Louis Walsh will rule over this year's UK X Factor hopefuls
‘When things like this happen I look at the contestants on our shows, they must think this is crazy. All the attention is on us.
‘I am sorry this has caused so much anguish and embarrassment, but I stand by what I believe was the right intention. And I would say that to her face right now.’
Speaking about Mrs Cole’s American debut, Cowell said the decision was taken to remove her from the judging panel after the Chicago auditions last month.
He said: ‘Knowing Cheryl like I know her, we noticed she was quieter than normal, looked a bit uncomfortable, but I put some of this down to nerves.
‘The overall feeling was that she was slightly out her comfort zone in America, compared to what she was in the UK. It was nothing to do with her accent.’
Short lived: The original X Factor USA panel, before Cheryl Cole was axed
He added: ‘I last heard from Cheryl last Wednesday by text. She said she felt let down but at the time she understood that it was a professional decision. I replied saying ‘this was never personal or saying you were terrible’.
‘And it wasn't that she was terrible - she was good - I just thought she'd be happier in the UK. America is a bearpit and it’s tough to crack when no one knows you.
‘After the year she'd had with her ex-husband Ashley and the whole malaria thing, you either shut it down and go for it or you have to be with your friends and family to deal with it.’
Mrs Cole was told the news by X Factor executive producer Richard Holloway.
Cowell admitted: 'I didn't tell her in person. It was very difficult.
‘Cheryl has a very good relationship with Richard. I wasn't the right person. I felt she would be more comfortable to hear it from him. I felt she would be more embarrassed if she heard it from me. She would be able to look at things clearer.’
Mrs Cole was quietly offered a judging role back on the UK X Factor after just four days on the American show, and representatives opened negotiations with ITV and co-producers TalkbackThames and Syco TV.
However, one of the singer’s conditions for rejoining the ITV show was to keep the situation completely private - until she could make a big comeback on stage at the UK auditions.
But the news of her departure – and apparent sacking – was leaked before the deal could be struck, leaving negotiations in jeopardy.
New line-up: N-Dubz's Tulisa Contostavlos (left) and Take That's Gary Barlow (right) will form half of this year's UK X Factor judging panel
Cowell said: ‘So we made a decision. The intention was to do it quietly and simply say to her that you have an option to rejoin the UK show.
‘At the end of the day we were saying move to another show for even more money. There was an offer of around £2.5 million on the table including bonuses.
‘So how is that sacking someone? If that's being horrible to someone then I would be quite happy someone doing that to me.’
He added: ‘She was certainly interested in coming back to the UK as we exchanged a few texts and she asked if she could have my dressing room at the studio and I said "of course".
‘Her management even asked for a legal waiver to her contract on the U.S. show allowing her to open discussions with ITV. So we genuinely thought it was going to happen.
‘But the big condition was that it was to be kept under wraps and she would make a big entrance last week at the Birmingham auditions and everyone would have loved it.
‘But when the story got out it changed everything. There was no more communication and we had set a deadline of Sunday, giving her six days to make a decision.
‘That passed and we still had not heard anything. So we announced our UK judges – people don’t always make the best decisions for themselves.’
All change: Cheryl wore a series of different outfits during her ill-fated spell as judge on the X Factor USA
After turning down the UK offer Mrs Cole was then offered her job back on the X Factor USA – which meant she would have had to fly back to the States to attend auditions in New Jersey on Wednesday.
However, negotiations ended late on Monday, with no deal being struck - and Cowell said he had had some ‘heated’ exchanges with Mrs Cole’s new manager Will.I.am.
Speaking at his offices in Kensington, West London, Cowell continued: ‘When Cheryl turned down the UK show, we got back in touch and said "ok well she is still under contract with the U.S. show", so we invited her back. Her position was still there.
‘We had some heated conversations with Will.I.am and he inferred this wasn't a genuine offer. They thought that if she didn't turn up on Wednesday then we wouldn't pay her.
‘We made it clear that she was always going to be paid in full.’
He added: ’We got to the point on Saturday when we genuinely thought she was going to accept the offer but again neither she nor they returned any calls.’
Manager: Will.I.Am is now in charge of Cheryl Cole's music affairs
Cowell called the situation a ‘high-class problem’, adding: ‘I genuinely thought she could return to the UK show and be triumphant. Louis Walsh knows. He was actually fired from the show but then he came back to a triumphant return.
‘If she had accepted my original offer, she would have made a sensational return and would have understood she was more comfortable in the UK than the U.S.'
When asked if they would remain friends, Cowell insisted: ‘I hope we're still close friends. Will I work with her again? Definitely.
'As far as I'm concerned, she's still a star. It was never vindictive, it wasn't personal. It was meant with best intentions. I was always going to honour the contract. I apologise that this has been made public.’
The UK X Factor panel is now Gary Barlow, Louis Walsh, Tulisa Contostavlos and Kelly Rowland.
The U.S. panel is Cowell, Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid, and Nicole Scherzinger, while Welsh TV presenter Steve Jones will host.
Cowell has also spoken of his rage at an internet blog posted last week which claimed that Syco scouts had found 12-year-old Britain’s Got Talent finalist Ronan Parke two years ago – and had fixed it for him to win.
He said: ‘I’m used to people attacking me, I’m fair game – but to attack a 12-year-old boy and to spread sick lies – some of which could not be printed - about him is totally uncalled for.
‘That is why I took this matter to the police and they are taking the matter seriously. We have to stop people who think they can hide behind these walls of anonymity on the internet and make up this nonsense.'
Reel thing: Destiny's Child star Kelly Rowland, pictured here trying her hand at the Highland Fling at the Glasgow X Factor auditions, completes the judging line-up