Entertainment entrepreneur and television producer
B orn May 17, 1960, in Hastings, England; son ofa teacher.
Addresses: Contact—19 Entertainment Ltd., 33 Ran-somes Dock, 35-37 Parkgate Rd., London, SW11 4NP, England. Home—London, England; France; Beverly Hills, CA. Web site—http://www.19.co.uk/ .
B egan career managing British bands and discohalls, c. 1970s; talent scout for Chrysalis Records, early 1980s; founded and ran own entertainment management group, 19 Entertainment, 1985—; created highly successful British reality television show Pop Idol, 2001, and American Idol, 2002; director at CKX Entertainment, 2005—.
Awards: Named to Time magazine’s Top 100 list of the world’s most influential people, 2007.
B ritish entertainment mogul Simon Fuller is themastermind behind the outrageously popular Idol franchise, the most successful television format in entertainment history. Fuller launched Pop Idol in Britain in 2001 and has since seen spin-offs reach into 30 countries. American Idol, as the series is called in the United States, draws more than 40 million viewers during its season finale each year. Fuller began his career more than 20 years ago as a record producer and manager and has overseen such acts as Annie Lennox, Carrie Underwood, and the Spice Girls. He has collected more No. 1 hits than any other manager in music history. In 2007, Time magazine named Fuller to its “Top 100” list of the most influential people in the world. According to the Guardian, in 2007, Fuller was worth an estimated 450 million British pounds—or about $900 million.
Fuller was born on May 17, 1960, in Hastings, England. His ties to the entertainment industry reach back to his grandfather, who worked as a stand-up comic and acrobat. For a time, Fuller’s father was a member of the Royal Air Force. Later, he worked as an overseas schoolteacher, and the young Fuller spent a portion of his childhood living on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus and also in the West African country of Ghana. Speaking to the Observer’s Caspar Llewellyn Smith, Fuller acknowledged that living abroad in unfamiliar territories helped him develop an ease and grace with new people and new situations, which has helped in his people-oriented career. “It made me very open-minded and ready to accept new experiences.”
Eventually, Fuller’s family settled back in Hastings, England. During his teen years, Fuller ran his school’s music club and managed a band for some classmates. Fuller’s interest in music prompted him into an early career running local discos, a job he worked in lieu of attending college. This was during the highly popular punk-rock era, a movement that exploded in England during the late 1970s. Fuller found himself listening to bands such as the Clash, the Buzzcocks, and the Jam.
In time, Fuller landed a job as a talent scout for Chrysalis Records, the British label behind the Grammy Award-winning British rockers Jethro Tull. In 1985, Fuller quit Chrysalis Records and set out on his own as manager of synthesizer master Paul Hardcastle, a British musician who was launching a solo music career after playing keyboards for other bands. In 1985, Hardcastle released “19,” an entranc-ing anti-Vietnam war anthem that hit No. 1 on the British charts. Energized by the success of his client, Fuller named his management company 19 Entertainment in honor of Hardcastle’s hit single. The next big name Fuller signed was singer-songwriter Cathy Dennis, who composed several early 1990s pop hits. After the Eurythmics split in 1990, Fuller began managing Annie Lennox’s highly successful solo career. With a handful of flourishing clients, Fuller was a millionaire by the age of 30.
In the mid1990s, Fuller made a name for himself as manager of the British female pop group the Spice Girls. Fuller cannot claim credit for putting the group together; he simply took over the reins and embarked on a strategic marketing campaign that kept the Spice Girls in the media spotlight, which in turn made their albums sell. With the Spice Girls, Fuller ushered in a new management style. Rather than concentrate on their music, Fuller focused on their commercial possibilities, turning the band into a brand and landing the Spice Girls lucrative sponsorship deals with Pepsi, Polaroid, Sony, and Impulse deodorant. Under Fuller’s guidance, the Spice Girls became an international brand with their “girl power” catchphrase. Each member of the quintet adopted a charming alias that matched her personality. These nicknames were used as a marketing ploy, played up in interviews, videos, and press releases. Geri Halliwell thus became “Ginger Spice,” Melanie Brown was dubbed “Scary Spice,” Victoria Adams was “Posh Spice,” Melanie Chisholm became “Sporty Spice,” and Emma Bunton was christened “Baby Spice.” The nicknames helped boost the group’s appeal by offering a range of personalities with which fans identified.
As per Fuller’s suggestion, the Spice Girls made appearances at music industry events long before they released their first song. As a result, hype surrounding the Spice Girls was running high when they released their 1996 debut single “Wannabe,” which hit No. 1 in the United Kingdom and went on to top the charts in more than 30 countries. Under Fuller’s watchful eye, the group sold about 40 million albums worldwide, though some critics derided their music as bubblegum pop. “Simon Fuller’s great skill is to turn people into brands,” one market analyst told the Observer’s Oliver Marre. “And for that, it doesn’t really matter who the people are, as long as they’re willing and there’s a platform around.”
The Spice Girls were willing to do whatever Fuller said—for a while. In time, their careers took off, but their relationship with Fuller soured. There were rumors he kept tabs on them with private detectives and also allegedly harped on the women about their diets. There was also tension surrounding his relationship with Baby Spice. Some analysts say, however, that what really upset the Spice Girls was the fact that under Fuller’s management deal, he was bringing in more money than any individual Spice Girl. As their manager, Fuller took a 20 percent cut on all Spice Girls merchandise. Despite their international success, the singers fired Fuller in 1997 then struggled to manage their own affairs. Less than two years later, the group had split.
Undaunted, Fuller moved on to his next project— the creation of S Club 7, also known as the S Club. Fuller launched the mixed-gender pop group after auditioning thousands of British twenty-something hopefuls and choosing seven finalists based on their talents, personalities, and potential public appeal. Fuller created S Club 7 with the intention of marketing it in various entertainment media. Fuller or-chestrated the group’s career so members would appear as television personalities before releasing any songs. In 1999, the S Club 7 series aired on British television. Working behind the scenes, Fuller sold the TV program to dozens of countries before the group released its first single. In time, the S Club notched four No. 1 singles in the United Kingdom. Fuller used the successful format for an offshoot called S Club Juniors, which released an album in 2002.
Not all of Fuller’s plans have worked out as successfully. In 1999, he tried to launch a punk-girl group called 21st Century Girls, but it never made much impact on the music world. Some critics were happy. They say Fuller is spoiling the music industry with his manufactured stars. “He’s not really in the music business at all,” one insider told the Observer’s Jamie Doward. “He’s in the TV business. And the things he’s involved with clog up the music industry’s arteries. There are only so many spots on radio station play lists, there’s only so much space in magazines. His TV-driven projects relegate music to be a spinoff, not a core product.”
In the early 2000s, Fuller carved out a lucrative niche in reality-television programming when he created the Idol concept. Pop Idol hit the British air-waves in 2001. The show featured contestant auditions from across Britain, including talented performers as well as the poorest singers, giving the judges the opportunity to mock them. In the final stage, the singers performed on live television, allowing viewers to cast their votes. Fuller’s company, 19 Entertainment, developed the show and sold versions of it to 30 countries, from Norway to China. Australian Idol, Latin American Idol, and Vietnam Idol have all hit the airwaves. Fuller’s company takes a share of the profit from each offshoot.
In the United States, American Idol debuted in the summer of 2002 to instant success, becoming one of the most-watched shows on prime-time television. While viewers ultimately get to cast their votes for the best young idol, the show is overseen by a trio of judges who comment on each performer. These judges include former pop star Paula Abdul, music producer Randy Jackson, and music executive Simon Cowell, who has since become infamous for his rants. At the conclusion of the first season, Kelly Clarkson was named the winner. The former cocktail waitress from small-town Texas signed a record deal. Initially, she was managed by Fuller, as part of the deal. Fuller’s management company gets first dibs at signing any winner, taking a 15 to 20 percent cut of the winner’s income. In the years that followed her win, Clarkson recorded several hit singles and in 2006 won two Grammy Awards.
Besides earning money managing the winners from each Idol offshoot, Fuller’s company also earns revenue from merchandise like T-shirts and the arena-filling Idol concert tours. In addition, Fuller also hires the songwriters whom he manages to write songs for the new talent. As such, Fuller perpetually creates more work—and more money—for himself. As a multimillionaire, Fuller owns several houses, including a five-bedroom, eight-bath beauty in Beverly Hills. He also has a hand-built Mercedes Maybach that cost upwards of $700,000 and a Das-sault Falcon jet. Revenues from American Idol should continue to roll in for years to come. Fox-TV pays a seven-figure licensing fee for each episode. In addition, Sony BMG pays $5 million a season to 19 Entertainment, as well as a percentage of sales, just for the opportunity to record the winners. The show is set to stay on the airwaves through at least 2009. If the show hits preset ratings benchmarks, there is an automatic renewal option through 2011.
In 2003, Fuller bested Beatles manager Brian Epstein for the most top hits in circulation at once when his artists held the top three slots on the U.S. singles chart and the No. 1 position on the album chart. Over the course of his career, Fuller has been responsible for more than 100 No. 1 hits on charts around the globe. In 2005, Fuller sold 19 Entertainment for about $190 million to U.S. billionaire Robert Sillerman, who in turn named Fuller a director of his CKX entertainment empire. Fuller, however, still retained autonomy with 19, and CKX became its parent company.
In the early 2000s, Fuller became manager to British soccer star David Beckham and his wife, Victoria, who was formerly managed by Fuller as Posh Spice back when she was Victoria Adams. Fuller negotiated Beckham’s 2007 move from England to play for the U.S.based Los Angeles Galaxy. It was one of the biggest sports deals in history, worth an estimated $250 million. Besides an annual salary, the package included merchandise and endorsement contracts. Fuller created hype by getting Beckham on the cover of Sports Illustrated in conjunction with his American debut. In addition, Fuller orchestrated a reality television program following Beckham’s career move to play soccer on U.S. soil. At the same time, Fuller was promoting Victoria Beckham, branding the Beckham name. She accepted a deal to appear in an episode of ABC TV’s Ugly Betty. Insiders wonder if Fuller was trying to launch a movie career for her. In addition, Fuller also snagged a management contract in 2006 to oversee the interests of the players on England’s national football team.
As for the future, Fuller would like to launch another reality show, possibly called The Greatest Show on Earth, which would take winners of the various Idol shows and pit them against each other in a contest to become the “world’s pop idol.” Fuller was also tinkering with the idea of launching a program called Second Chance Idol, which would feature past former stars competing to revive their careers.
While critics try to paint a picture of Fuller as a selfish and domineering manager, those who know him say he is polite—and even boring. Fuller regularly turns down interviews, preferring to stay quietly behind the scenes. This reclusiveness has turned him into somewhat of an enigma. One thing that is certain, however, is that Fuller knows he is good at what he does. “My business is creating fame and celebrity and I’m one of the best in the world,” he told Peter Sheridan of the Express. “I reflect what’s out there and if there’s a demand for something I recognize it. I don’t think I’m crass. I stand by everything I do.”
BusinessWeek, May 30, 2005, p. 63.
Express (United Kingdom), August 2, 2007, p. 20.
Hollywood Reporter, November 30, 2005, p. 4.
Independent (London, England), November 2, 2003, p. 23.
Los Angeles Times, August 7, 2006, p. E1.
National Post (Toronto, Canada), October 7, 2002, p. AL5.
Observer (United Kingdom), July 27, 2003, p. 25; April 18, 2004, p. 5; January 14, 2007, p. 33.
Time, January 27, 2003, p. A14.
“Simon Fuller,” Guardian,http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2007/jul/09/mediatop1002007.mondaymediasection36 (November 18, 2007).
“Simon Fuller: Guiding Pop Culture,” BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/music/2999872.stm (November 18, 2007).