The Story Of When Simon Cowell Fingerbowled Barry Manilow

Back in the glory days of the 80s music industry, things were different. And there was this one night when Simon Cowell proved he wasn't, in fact, the devil incarnate...
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Back in the glory days of popular music, pre digital downloads, computer games and social networking; successful record companies were a very, very fun place to work…. The music business, like TV, film or other media type professions, fed on a heady brew of excess and bitchy gossip.  Everyone was shagging everyone, the luxury buses we’d all travel to Glastonbury in were filled to the brim with party drugs….and, well, frankly we were all loving it.

During the 1980s and ‘90s The Blue Elephant in Fulham Broadway, a tropically themed Thai restaurant complete with bubbling brook and banana trees, was a regular hang-out of chatty music executives with large egos, runny noses and lavish expense accounts.  You’d frequently see Publicists (of which I was one) Directors or Radio/TV pluggers from RCA, Arista, Polyldor, A&M, Mushroom etc holding court to big names and their entourage or else hidden in a dark corner entertaining somebody who may not have been their wife, husband, partner. All the big names of the age would have rolled up at one time or another. Prince, Madonna, Bowie, U2, I even saw Des O’Connor there once…

Barry, chatting enthusiastically to Simon, absently picked up his fingerbowl and to everyone’s surprise began sipping greedily from it

Simon Cowell worked out of BMG records, a witty, entertaining character who was liked by everybody despite the perpetual stream of utterly shite (but profitable!) records he insisted on releasing. It was very much the short straw, credibility-wise, to end up working one of  Simon’s records but at the same time always a lot of fun. I still have a picture of me and Frank Bruno in my loo after I managed the global release of his epic version of Eye of the Tiger…you must remember it…no?

I can’t be sure of the year but the powers that be at BMG took Barry Manilow and his minions for dinner at the Blue Elephant.  Legendary TV plugger Joggs Camfield arrived early and convinced the Thai piano player to play a medley of Bazzer songs.  When Barry arrived ‘Mandy’ was being sung in far Eastern accent and Mr Manilow loved it – although the pianist was slightly embarrassed. Barry started the obligatory glad-handing.  Sixteen people were sat around one of the large tables at the back of the restaurant, the MD and Mr Manilow were seated at Head & Tail of the table and Simon was directly next to Barry.  Drinks arrived, starters were ordered and a few minutes’ later finger bowls with dainty lemon wedges were arranged on the table.  Barry, chatting enthusiastically to Simon, absently picked up his fingerbowl and to everyone’s surprise began sipping greedily from it… Was he joking…?  A few seconds pause told the assembled crowd that no, this wasn’t a joke, he really was drinking the finger bowl (I love the euphemistic flavour of that).  Simon to the rescue grabs his own finger bowl, raises it in a toast to Barry encouraging the entire table to lift up their lemon water and drink from it…. “A toast to Barry!”

You see…Simon Cowell, human after all! I’m not quite ready to draft up the “Barry, what's that on your trousers?” story..  Plus, I worry myself that this innocent little intro might yet open the flood-gates to an avalanche of much darker stories from the vaults… I’ll have to control myself…

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