Some celebrities devote themselves to a single cause. But the list of charities that Simon Cowell has supported is lengthy indeed. He’s lent his considerable power to help those from local hospitals to breast cancer research, from Save the Children and Make-a-Wish foundations to the RSPCA and other animal welfare charities, from the Elton John AIDS Foundation to disaster relief.
Last year, he orchestrated the star-studded “Bridge Over Troubled Water” cover to raise funds for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire in London, which killed nearly 80 people and left hundreds homeless. He recruited 50 musicians, including Liam Payne, Robbie Williams, James Blunt, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. The record quickly topped the charts, and became the U.K.’s second fastest-selling single of the year.
For all his charity work, he was honored with Variety Intl.’s Humanitarian Award in 2010.
“I think things come to you, interestingly enough — that’s the way it’s happened for me,” Cowell says, explaining his broad approach to philanthropy. “It’s frustrating because there’s always something more you can and should do, but hopefully what we end up doing will make a difference to some of these charities.”
For him, it’s not just about giving money, but also about raising awareness. That’s one of the benefits of his fame. “When you’re well-known, you can make a bit of a difference,” he says. “Most of the charity work we do are with the smaller charities, who actually do need the cash, but they also need the awareness.”
That translates into not just educating others, but himself as well. “I got to know about a lot of things I didn’t know before, and then you think, ‘In my position, I must be able to do more to get more people to know about it.’”
One of the causes that’s become especially important to him, particularly since the birth of his son, Eric, is working with children’s hospices for such causes as Together for Short Lives.
Cowell admits that at first, he dreaded visiting the hospice. “I just had this image in my mind, it was going to be gray and dark, and it’s like, ‘Oh god, I’m not sure I can do this.’”
But once he went, he found it to be quite the opposite. “How they managed to make this place happy is quite unbelievable. I can’t imagine how these families cope with that, I genuinely don’t.”
He was also hit particularly hard by the Grenfell fire, which happened less than two miles from where he lives in London.
“When things happen, you don’t have much time to think about it. You just think, well, you ought to do something, and part of why we did that was awareness apart from anything else. I saw more, I learned more about my company at that time than any other time, because I saw people who literally were sleeping in the street for three days, because they wanted to, not because they were told to, because they wanted to. It’s quite incredible.”
And while he used his connections to line up the performers, some simply showed up on their own. “Nile Rodgers just turned up out of the blue, asking, ‘Can I play bass?’ What, am I going to say no?” he recalls with a laugh.
Working with charities, he says, has helped him find balance in his life. “Stuff that used to bother me, you now go, ‘What am I even worried about? I don’t have to deal with what these people have to deal with everyday.’”
He’s open to all ideas — from simply to writing a check to producing blockbuster concerts. He recently teamed up his staff at Syco with one of the charities he works with to brainstorm potential partnerships.
“It was actually quite amazing what they managed in literally 12 hours just by coming up with great ideas, and sometimes it’s as basic as that,” he says. “It really is.”