SIMON Cowell doesn’t change.
He still walks into the room, shakes your hand and asks if you’d like a drink.
Despite the multi-millions and enough global fame to turn anyone’s head, Simon hasn’t forgotten good old fashioned English politeness.
At least off screen.
The launch of The X Factor 2008 had plenty of highlights.
Around 150 journalists plus camera crews crowded into a screening room to watch the first episode – on ITV1 at 7.30pm tomorrow night.
That was followed by the usual general Q&A with all four judges.
And then small round table interviews.
Mine began with Simon paired with Cheryl Cole, then presenters Dermot O’Leary and Holly Willoughby and finally Louis Walsh and Dannii Minogue.
Check out the short audio clips at the bottom of this blog – and also today’s MEN news story here about Simon’s rematch with Emma Chawner.
Show one is the usual mix of crazy no-hopers and potential stars.
First up in Manchester is Dreamtime – good friends Nathan Miah and Elizabeth Solverson, both 17.
Before their truly awful performance of Mariah Carey’s We Belong Together, Nathan presents Simon with a CD.
He later interrupts the music supremo in full critical flow, protesting: “I haven’t sold 180 copies for no reason, Simon.”
Simon replies: “And no-one’s returned them?”
The undoubted star of show one is young mum Rachel Hylton, 26, who has five children.
She gave birth to the eldest at the age of 13, got involved in drugs, went to prison and had her first three children taken into care.
Appearing at the London auditions, she blows the judges away with her version of Amy Winehouse’s No Good.
Simon said later: “This girl is phenomenal.
“There are seven, eight, nine people who I’m fairly sure I know are going to make the finals now.
“It’s incredibly open and it will feel different, I think, to other years.”
The audition shows were recorded earlier this year with the Bootcamp stage also now completed.
“We had the most gruelling bootcamp last week,” Louis told me.
“It finished at midnight.”
Louis maintained he was still on good terms with Simon.
“He can be a right ****** but he’s great fun.”
And what of first show star Rachel?
“She has an incredible vocal, but I think she’d be a nightmare to work with.”
Dannii added: “I think Rachel is incredible. She really is unpredictable but I think she’s very current.
“And for the girls, look out for Joseph. He’s gorgeous.”
Both Dannii and Cheryl were at pains to dismiss manufactured tabloid stories from those desperate to paint them as sworn enemies.
Some of today’s press coverage, for example, continues the theme with stories bearing little relation to the facts.
“I think she’s fantastic for the show,” Dannii said of the Girls Aloud star.
“She’s a great judge. She knows what she’s looking for. She’s really good at it and we’re having a good time.
“And I just love it when she sticks it to Simon.
“I’m always like, ‘Hit him, hit him!’”
Cheryl said: “I find the whole stuff about me and Dannii not getting on and Dannii being older and all of that really quite insulting to both of us, to be honest.
As I’ve said before, The X Factor audition programmes are edited to within an inch of their lives.
But the results on screen make it one of the best produced shows on television.
If you’re hoping to escape the emotional manipulation of the tears of sadness and joy background music, you’ll have a long wait.
But Dermot did say something interesting about the lessons learned last year.
The X Factor has always been about “The Journey” of those taking part, with public votes assured for those with talent and a sad story to tell.
“I think it’s a talent show, first and foremost,” Dermot told me.
“And I think last year we probably had too many emotional stories on there and we probably ended up with maybe not as strong a 12 in the final as we could have.
“I think that’s perceived knowledge. I don’t think I’m saying anything particularly controversial.”
Cowell: Emma Won’t Give In
Simon Cowell on his rematch with Emma Chawner (Audio File)
Simon Cowell on Cheryl Cole (Audio File)
Simon Cowell on the new panel (Audio File)
Simon Cowell on the future (Audio File)