By Simon Cowell
Last updated at 1:31 AM on 20th June 2009
Breaking the habit of a lifetime: Reality TV ringmaster Simon Cowell admits he's made mistakes along the way
After eight years of being a judge on talent shows on both sides of the Atlantic, few things surprise me any more. Least of all, the flak that has been directed my way.
If, like me, you make a living from criticising people on television, then you can't complain when people turn the tables and criticise you. And I don't.
But this year has been exceptional in many ways. Not least because there has never been a spectacle quite like the latest series of Britain's Got Talent.
This year's final attracted a live UK audience of 20.1million people, but also caught the attention of the whole world via new outlets such as YouTube. It truly became a global phenomenon.
However, as you might have noticed, the show has not been without controversies.
Chief among them, of course, were the difficulties experienced by runner-up Susan Boyle, and the children who broke down in tears in front of millions on the live show. That has provided a field day for the armchair pundits.
The show has been accused of being a cruel circus that sets out to exploit the vulnerable in a cynical bid to boost ratings. And I, of course, am inevitably portrayed as the evil ringmaster.
So love the shows or hate them, the time has finally come for me to set a few things straight. And I'm the first to hold my hands up and admit I've made mistakes.
I didn't get into showbusiness to make little children cry or upset a nice lady like Susan Boyle.
ON THE CRYING CHILDREN:
'You can't imagine how awful it was watching little Hollie break down'
Making little children cry: Simon faced criticism after Hollie Steel forgot the words and broke down
Let's deal with the children first. You just can't imagine how awful it was, sitting in my judge's chair, watching ten-year-old Hollie Steel start to cry in front of millions as she struggled to remember the lines of her song.
Oh God, it was terrible. Poor child. So I decided to let her come back later in the show to sing again.
I was acting on instinct, thinking on my feet, just as I've always tried to do throughout my 30-odd years in the entertainment industry.
In this instance, I thought giving Hollie a second chance was the right thing to do. Yet, ironically, I have had more complaints about Hollie being allowed to perform twice than anything else on the show.
Isn't that incredible? It's certainly very confusing. Sometimes, you are damned if you do and damned if you don't.
Yet, perhaps my biggest regret of this year was not to do with Hollie, but with Aidan Davis, the 11-year-old street dancer from Birmingham.
In the final, I made him cry, too, by describing his performance as lacklustre compared to his appearance the night before, and that made me feel worse than anything else.
It was a huge, huge mistake. It almost ruined the whole evening for everybody. Looking back, I know I could have been kinder.
ON SUSAN BOYLE:
'I suddenly realised she didn't know how to cope with losing. We didn't handle it well.'
In the heat of the moment, I had treated him as I would an adult, forgetting that he was only an 11-year-old child with a dream.
I apologised to him afterwards, but it didn't make me feel any better about it. Moral of the story? I don't always get it right.
Sometimes I go too far, I admit it. And sometimes you just can't predict how events will unfold. Which brings us to Susan Boyle.
Looking back on it all, it has become clear to me that we didn't handle the situation with Susan as well as we could have.
Yet to be honest, when I analyse exactly what happened, I don't know that I could have done it any differently.
I had never met Susan Boyle before she walked on to the stage in the Glasgow auditions. I remember vaguely thinking 'I hope she is not another singer', as we'd had so many that day.
Then after she sang, I thought she had come over well, but not sensationally.
I certainly didn't think: 'Here comes a phenomenon who is going to become the most famous woman in the world, I wonder if she can mentally cope with it?'
I thought she looked a bit eccentric and certainly a character, but that was all.
Then, several weeks later, after Susan had become a global sensation, we were on a satellite link to the Oprah show together.
In the spotlight: Susan looked comfortable performing in the final - but afterwards, it was a different story
She seemed fine with all the attention - I thought she was utterly charming and really thrilled with what had happened. I thought - perhaps naively - that she was in control.
When I asked her if she was enjoying herself, she replied: 'Simon, I am having the time of my life.' I was pleased. I thought whatever happens, we have changed this lady's life.
Then, in the semi-finals, the pressure and her nerves were beginning to get the better of her. As the final approached, I started getting calls from the production team.
It had become clear that Susan was finding the experience difficult to cope with. So I said 'make sure she has a friend with her all the time. Make sure she has any help that she needs'.
Just before the final, I went to see her. She looked tired, but had one of her closest friends with her who was being a great support.
After her defeat: A downcast Susan scowls into a bunch of flowers
I said: 'Susan, are you sure this is still all OK?' And again she said, yes, she was fine. I told her the most important thing was that she enjoyed the experience; that it had to be the best night of her life.
Even then, I didn't pick up on any unduly troubling signs. She was nervous, yes, but no more nervous than Paul Potts had been before his live final two years previously. She understood the significance of the night.
Then, during the final show, at the crucial point when the dance group Diversity won, I looked over at her face and thought: 'Christ, she doesn't know how to deal with not winning.'
It was a bad moment. Afterwards, I went over and gave her a hug and tried to reassure her. 'Susan,' I said, 'my offer to record an album with you still stands.' And we agreed that we would work together; that it wasn't the end of the road for her.
After that, I left the studio. I remember having a drink that night and trying to relax, but still feeling a bit strange. Something just didn't feel right. And sure enough, it wasn't.
No need to repeat the details here - that wouldn't be fair to Susan.
On a practical level, the question was whether she wanted to go ahead with the Britain's Got Talent live tour.
I wasn't sure, so we gave her the opportunity of not taking part. But, after a few days at home in Scotland, Susan was determined that she wanted to do at least some of the dates.
It was agreed that it would be under her terms, and whenever she felt it was too tiring she could choose not to participate. The nights she has performed have been incredible.
She has had some fantastic reviews and I think it was a huge boost for her when she did the live dates in Glasgow and Edinburgh and had thousands of her own Scottish fans cheering her on.
Ups and downs: Susan, pictured here in Liverpool this week, chooses which nights to perform in the X Factor tour
There are still ups and downs, yes. She didn't make the final line up at Liverpool on Thursday or Cardiff last night.
But, when she does perform I am thrilled by the reception she gets. Suffice it to say that whatever happens in the weeks ahead, I will continue to support her.
But the question remains: should we have done things differently? Perhaps the ones who can best answer that are Susan Boyle's family.
Last week, I met them in my London office and I asked them: 'Tell me honestly; did we do right or did we do wrong?'
What I meant was, was it right to allow Susan to carry on performing in the show once it became clear that she was finding it stressful?
And they said, unanimously, that we did the right thing.
They said that Susan has always wanted to sing and had sat at home for years, wishing that she had a chance.
We had given her that opportunity. Even so, all this has raised some serious issues about the show, primarily about who should be on it and who should not.
Should children be on it? Should someone like Susan Boyle, a woman who was naive dealing with fame and that kind of exposure, be on it?
Should we impose a minimum entry age and introduce some form of stricter psychological screening for applicants?
I'm not so sure. How could that work? There is no easy way of achieving fame, and no guaranteed or trusted way of dealing with it.
Facing a series of public votes on a talent show is psychologically tough. Yet who has the right to ban Susan Boyle, or anyone like her, from trying to sing her way out of one life and into another?
She is one of those people - and there are millions of them in this country - who simply need a break. Nobody pays them any attention.
Now, for the first time in her life, people are looking at Susan Boyle.
Yes, there have been problems, but overall I think it is a positive experience for her. I'm glad we gave her this opportunity and - more importantly - I think Susan is as well.
Then there are the children. We have to go through a ton of regulatory bodies and red tape to get them to appear.
It would be far easier not to have them, but I like having youngsters on the show. Why shouldn't they have a chance to show off a talent if they've got one? And win or lose, I want it to be a fun experience for them.
We take as many precautions as we can. They have minders or their parents with them at all times, and we take great care of them, too.
Yes, on stage things can go wrong, as it can with any live broadcast.
I suppose we could have pre-recorded the Britain's Got Talent final, then edited the whole sequence to cut out the crying, but that feels like censorship to me and would open up accusations of hiding the truth from the public.
I also don't like rules on my shows. Whatever you want to do, within reason, you can have a go at taking part. We are not racist, sexist, sizeist or ageist. Anything goes.
The only thing I insist upon - and always have done - is that all my shows are family entertainment. People of all ages can sit down and watch them together, so I will not tolerate swearing. At all.
Why? First, because I don't like it. And, secondly, there is no place for it on prime-time television.