1 Series one begins (2004) The first day, nobody knew who I was. I was scared senseless. I was so unprepared for how big the show was going to be. So many times I thought, I can’t face it. This show’s too big. Simon would always have a laugh and say, ‘Listen. I want you here, you’re a catalyst of fun on the show.’ So I’d say, OK. I’m a catalyst, whatever that is. Right before the show started, I’d been on one of those Radio 1 shows where you review music, and I’d said Kelly Osbourne’s Papa Don’t Preach was the worst pop record in history: ‘What is she doing? Why is she capitalising on her family’s name?’ I’d never met Sharon. On day one she walked in and gave me that Glenn Close look. ‘I know who you are.’ It took two seasons to win her around.
2 Sharon drenches Louis with water live on air (2005) I said, ‘Are you taking Ozzy’s drugs?’ or something, and she went crazy. It was a terrible thing to do. A live show, all these wires and electricity, and water?! I could’ve been electrocuted! But that’s Sharon. She’s good TV. You never know what she’s going to say or do. I wouldn’t provoke her now, no. I know the no-go areas. Her family are her number one priority. And I like her too much. Even when she wasn’t on the show, we kept in touch all the time, we talk every few weeks. She calls me at three o’clock in the morning. She’ll know I’m up watching TV.
3 Shayne Ward wins series two (2005) That was a good moment. He was a really good guy. Of all the people on the show who didn’t get a good deal afterwards, it has to be Shane. I thought he had everything to be a worldwide star. Still does. He made two or three albums, and then the record company lost interest. He worked hard, he went touring around the world, in Asia and South Africa he had big hits, but they dropped him. I tried everything. But when a record company loses interest, there’s nothing you can do.
4 Louis is replaced with Brian Friedman but soon brought back (2007) Big mistake. I was gutted. I couldn’t believe I was off the show – me and Kate Thornton. I was sure I was safe. But somebody in ITV got into Cowell’s ear, and told him to make it younger and fresher. It was an age thing. They gave Brian Friedman the job, who was brilliant as a choreographer, but he wears these silly clothes all the time. Sharon sent me a text on day one saying, ‘It’s not working. You could get your job back.’ Then I had to wait. Simon rang me, and he said, ‘There is a possibility that you could come back,’ but then he said, ‘You cannot tell anybody.’ You can’t tell me not to tell anybody. I like to tell! I’ve got to ring somebody! I was ready. I was on the plane.
5 JLS finish second (2008) Oh, they were brilliant. We’d never had a very good group before that. But they had a great attitude. It’s all about attitude. Everybody knew their role in that group. If you don’t work hard, you don’t last in this game. It’s dog eat dog. I gave them confidence, because I knew they could get through. They were up against Alexandra Burke in the final and they should have won. Beyoncé won it for Alexandra with their duet, that’s what happened. But I knew it wasn’t gonna matter. I knew they were gonna make it. And when Olly Murs didn’t win, I said, ‘Olly, you’re going to be the star, don’t worry, just give it time.’
6 Jedward sing Britney Spears in red PVC (2009) We threw the kitchen sink at them, and they were great kids, they didn’t care, as long as they were on TV. They didn’t listen to all the negativity. Young kids absolutely loved them. That was the secret – kids kept them in the show. I saw that. And Simon has this gut instinct about acts people are going to love to hate. I didn’t want Jedward at the start. I’ll always remember, we were at Lake Como [for judges’ houses] and I took a chance. How stupid am I going to look? Are people going to hate me? But I did it. They’re still working and they make millions. Can I remember who the act was who missed out? No. No I can’t.
7 Wagner sings She Bangs/Love Shack (2010) I thought: he’s got a great name, he’s got a great story, and he thinks he’s fabulous, which is probably the most important thing. He thought he was going to win the show. Do I worry about the difference between how novelty acts see themselves and how we see them? No. I just go with them. Listen, The X Factor is an entertainment show. It’s not just about people trying to be good singers, that’s The Voice. That’s a less entertaining show. The whole family sit down. They think, ‘What’s he going to do this week,?’ Cowell secretly loves all this. He pretends he doesn’t. This is the man who brought us Robson and Jerome.
8 Jade Richards reduces Louis to tears at the auditions (2011) This girl just walked out and sang from her heart. It was amazing. It was one of those moments where you think, ‘Oh my God, look at her. She doesn’t really look like a pop star.’ Then she sang. I was like, ‘My god, this girl is nobody, she’s working in a shop somewhere, but she’s got this amazing voice.’ That’s the most exciting thing about X Factor. Why don’t these people always make the live shows? Sometimes they have one song. They know every word, then when they’re given different songs to learn overnight, they can’t put the same passion into it, they can’t deliver it in the same way as their showstopper.
9 Claims of a fix as Louis sends Carolynne Poole home (2012) It’s never fixed. The producer came to talk to me to say I was up last, because they always tell us who’s up 1, 2, 3, 4. I didn’t know which way I was going to go. Carolynne was just a good singer. They’re the worst kind of people to have on the show. There’s not a lot you can say. Rylan [Clark] was a character. I knew it would be controversial, but I did go with my head rather than heart. I said the wrong name initially, yes. I fluffed, it was my mistake. The floor manager was saying to me, string it out. He’s counting it down on his fingers. And you’re trying to make something up, there and then, and we never have a script. That’s tricky for somebody like me. I’m not like the other judges on the panel: they’re performing. I have never been coached. I’m a rabbit in the headlights.
10 Robbie Williams gives Louis a lapdance (2012) That’s what makes Robbie interesting. He goes out there, and he has no fear, and he’ll do whatever he has to do with the audience to get them going. That’s what he has, that’s why he fills out stadiums. I didn’t look. I was like, oh my god, what am I going to do? What do you do? The whole country is watching. You just sit there and enjoy it, it’s the only thing you can do. All the great artists are a bit crazy. And that’s good. I like that. Crazy’s good.