Simon Cowell isn’t a man who likes to say sorry, but sacking Cheryl Fernandez-Versini (then Cole) from the US X Factor in 2011 is one thing he holds his hands up to.
“If I could go back in time I would have kept her on the show,” Cowell tells Radio Times as the duo return side by side for series 11 of the UK version this Saturday night.
“It was stupid doing what I did. I didn’t sack her personally. That was the second-biggest mistake I made. When you’re under pressure you make stupid mistakes.”
On the now infamous orange and purple outfit that Cheryl wore for her US debut, Cowell remains blunt in his analysis. “I haven’t a clue why she turned up like that. I asked her manager, ‘What’s she wearing, what’s happened to her hair?’ She was nervous, shy, not in her comfort zone. She’d put on a bit of weight, but not loads. The only way I can describe it is that it wasn’t Cheryl sitting in that seat.”
After her swift departure, Cheryl was offered a better deal to stay with the UK version of series, but she turned it down.
“The worst it got between us was when she sent me a text message. It was like when you get a really horrible letter from an ex-girlfriend. The general tone was something along the lines of “F*** you, you’ve hurt me, you’ve let me down, I can never forgive you.’ I shrank.”
But it did prompt a response from Mr Cowell. “I replied, apologising. I accepted that I had made a mistake.”
Now, four years and some groveling later, the pair are back on the panel with long-standing judge Louis Walsh and new addition Mel B.
But a Simon/Cheryl reunion doesn’t mean it’s going to be all rosy on the panel. He’s still ready and willing to push her buttons.
Avoid a question that might get him into trouble? Pah. “Is she a better singer than judge? Whatever I say I’m going to get into trouble. But I’ve got to be honest – as a singer, she’s very good, but she’s a better judge.”
The X Factor returns Saturday and Sunday at 8:00pm on ITV
Read the full interview with Simon and Cheryl in this week's Radio Times magazine, on sale here now