Unbreakable: My New Autobiography, page 1
Published by Sphere
Copyright © Sharon Osbourne 2013
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
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London, EC4Y 0DY
Table of Contents
1: The Exit Factor
4: No Rest for the Wicked
5: In My Opinion
6: Talking with Friends
7: Back on Top
8: Testing Times
9: Pearly Princess
10: Stronger than Me
11: Body and Soul
12: Here We Go Again
13: Something Old, Something New
14: Hell with Chandeliers
16: The Wild Card
The title of this book is Unbreakable and Ozzy, you and I are.
Pearl: a precious jewel whose luminous sheen lights up everything around it. Nature’s way of dealing with an imperfection – a piece of grit – in an oyster.
It’s said that pearls benefit from being worn as regularly as possible, their lustre improving as they take on the warmth of the skin. I’ve had pearl earrings and necklaces by the dozen in my time – presents from my father, from my husband, some I’ve bought myself – but the most precious arrived courtesy of my son. The most valuable pearls, it seems, occur spontaneously in the wild: there is nothing planned or premeditated about them. And the Pearl that came into our lives in April 2012 did exactly that, and she was more precious than anything that emerged from the sea. At first sight of her incandescent beauty my heart soared. All the pain, deception and betrayals of the past few years seemed to evaporate in a single glance from those tiny eyes, those quizzical eyebrows.
Over the last sixty years I have fulfilled various family roles – daughter, sister, wife, mother – all of which, to a greater or lesser extent, I’ve managed to fuck up. But this is different. The role of grandmother is one that involves no stress, no compromise and no rehearsal. Loving this little scrap of humanity is as natural to me as breathing. I don’t think about it, but I can’t live without it. At a time in my life when I felt I no longer knew what I was here for, what my role was, this precious Pearl gave me new hope.
While Jackie Boy and his wife Lisa are talking with Ozzy, I sneak into their daughter’s bedroom – the one I’ve made for her in our new house in LA – and stand there mesmerised, gazing down at her tiny body encased in a baby grow, one small hand flung out towards a bar of the cot, miniature fingers curled around it. She stirs slightly, her eyelids flutter and I hold my breath, anxious not to wake her by my presence. But she simply lets out a contented sigh and drifts back to sleep.
Leaning over the cot to kiss her goodnight, my head spins, my senses overwhelmed at the perfection of her tiny ears, as intricate as shells, at each tiny nail, the curve of her neck, and above all, her soft, downy head, cheeks flushed from her goodnight bottle, and that indefinable baby smell of talcum powder that takes me back to my own days as a new mother.
I sit down quietly in the adjacent armchair and glance around the room. It was the first one I had decorated in the new house and it is predominantly pink – what else? No crucifixes and no rubber bats in here… Instead, there’s a fresco of butterflies painted on the wall above the cot, and framed photographs of dancing ladies in flamboyant gowns. This room, and this little girl dreaming quietly in her cot, represent innocence to me, a brand-new start for all of us.
It’s the strangest feeling, becoming a grandmother. You love them as if they’re your own but now you have the time to play with them, just to have fun. And you have the wisdom of experience – all those hard lessons you learn over the years as a mother.
Pearl’s arrival in our lives has reminded me of all the good times I shared with Aimee, Jack and Kelly. There was a lot of fun – a lot of laughter. But I’ve also found myself reflecting more upon my mistakes as well. Looking back, it’s hardly surprising that motherhood didn’t come easily to me. My role models were not only negative, they were positively destructive. A mother who couldn’t be arsed to get out of bed to give us breakfast; a father who lied and cheated all his life and for whom I was a useful fall guy – whose word had no more substance to it than a drug addict’s promise. Only Sally, my paternal grandmother, could have shown what it meant to be a good parent, but she died before any of the children were born. And then there was Rachel, our housekeeper in LA during the years I got to know Ozzy, a truly wonderful woman who – for as long as I was lucky enough to know her – acted as a surrogate mother to me. And then she was killed in a stupid accident, as unnecessary as it was tragic, a plane crash that also killed Ozzy’s best friend and business partner, Randy Rhoads. After that, I buried myself in my work – in Ozzy’s career – just keeping the show on the road and, once Aimee, Kelly and Jack came along, keeping the Osbourne family in funds.
As a mother, I failed. This isn’t a statement soliciting a pantomime response, Oh no you didn’t! I did. The kids said it themselves the first time we all went to a family session when Ozzy was in rehab for the nth time. ‘Our father was a drunk and our mother wasn’t there for us.’ When I look at cine films and later video footage of Aimee, Kelly and Jack when they were young, they bring me a lot of happiness, but they also make me sad because I want to turn back the clock. I want them the way they were then so I can do it all again, now that we’ve all learnt by our mistakes. Things we should have done, things we could have done, but didn’t.
Somewhere within that perfect little person are traces of all of us, the good and the bad. I hope at least that Pearl will inherit the long legs and the beauty of her mother. That she’ll inherit Jack’s happy nature and intelligence. From Lisa’s family I hope she has the security of a close-knit community – they all live within a few short miles of each other in Louisiana, and Lisa’s parents, and her three sisters, are all happily married. From my father’s family, the capacity for survival that brought my grandparents from the ghettos of Eastern Europe. And from my mother’s side, the musicality of generations of dancers and entertainers.
And from me? That’s a hard one. Not my legs, not my body, for sure. Perhaps my refusal to give up. My unbreakability. But not, I hope, the tendency to take everyone else’s problems on my shoulders. To work myself into the ground for all the wrong reasons.
I’m sixty now, and the last decade of my life has been more like the manic schedule of an athletic twenty-three-year-old than a fiftysomething who has survived cancer and years of struggle. It began with The Osbournes TV show. I’d always been happy working as Ozzy’s manager, hiding in the background. Now I was thrust into the limelight. And after a failed talk show in the US, Simon Cowell offered me a judging role on The X Factor. Suddenly – and quite unexpectedly – I had begun a career in television. I was proud of that – I liked the fact that this was my work. And for the first time in my career I was actually doing something for me, something
The trouble was, I could never reach the point where I could sit back and say, ‘Enough. You’ve proved you can do it, now sit back. Relax. Just enjoy life.’ I just couldn’t stop – jumping on and off planes, taking on more and more work and weeping with exhaustion as I made late-night calls to my family on the other side of the world.
I convinced myself that my kids were all grown up and independent – that they didn’t really need me any more. So however much they begged me to stop – not for their benefit, but for my own health – I carried on with the same crazy schedule, burning myself out in the process. There was always a small voice whispering in the back of my mind – that if I just worked a bit harder, carried on for a little bit longer, I would somehow be a better person. That people would value me and love me more. That I would respect myself more. And so it went on, year after year.
Until now. As I sit here, the rhythmic ebb and flow of my granddaughter’s breathing calms me like nothing else, and I know that she will prove to be my line in the sand. I have survived colon cancer and had a double mastectomy to thwart potential breast cancer, my precious son has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and here, right in front of me, is his brand-new little daughter with all the vulnerability, promise and hope she brings. How many more signs do I need before I accept that it’s time to stand still, take stock and appreciate what I have in front of me rather than haring around the world, ceaselessly chasing some mythical ideal of what I misguidedly think is the ‘perfect’ life?
My defining moment came in June this year, 2013, in the early hours of the morning in a hotel somewhere in the UK. I woke up with a start, my heart thumping, my neck clammy with sweat, and I genuinely hadn’t the faintest clue where I was. I lay there for what felt like hours, but was probably just a few seconds, scrabbling for clues. Had I been on a plane? If so, where had I flown in from? Was I filming in this unknown place? If so, which show? Where was Ozzy? Where were the kids? Were any of the dogs with me? Eventually, by retracing the conversations and events of the past few days, I worked out that I was in Birmingham for the audition stages of this year’s X Factor.
I peered at the bedside clock: 3 a.m. That meant 7 p.m. LA time, just as my gorgeous ‘Pearly girl’, as I like to call her, would be going to bed. Firing my laptop into life, I clicked on Facetime and dialled Jack.
‘It’s Nana,’ I croaked, my voice suffering as it always does when I’m run down. ‘Can I speak to my scrumptious granddaughter, please?’
And suddenly, there she was, blinking incomprehensibly at the screen, wondering why she could see Nana but not touch her. She’d just had a bath and her wisps of hair were damp, slicked to one side. The urge to reach into the screen and hug her overwhelmed me. I felt the familiar prick of impending tears. What was I doing, sitting in a hotel room thousands of miles away from my family, when real life, in all its Technicolor, unpredictable glory, was going on at home? What was I trying to prove?
I loved doing The X Factor when it started in 2004 and, after leaving under a cloud in 2007, I was thrilled when they asked me to return for the current, tenth-anniversary series. For me, it was a chance to complete the circle. But after much thought, I’ve decided it will be the last one I ever do. Don’t get me wrong – when I’m there, in the moment, I love every minute. And I don’t want to stop working completely. But I do want to slow down.
More than anything, I want to play with my granddaughter, right here in this beautiful house that I hope will be the heart of our family life, the perfect meeting place for all our children, their children, dogs, friends, whenever they’re in town. And with Pearly girl as my guiding light, I think I’m getting there.
She lets out a small sigh and turns over again, her breathing shallower now. In a few seconds, she will wake up and we’ll have playtime together. I gently stroke her hair and she opens her hazel eyes, blinking in the half-light, uncertain for a moment of where she is. I know that feeling.
‘It’s Nana, my darling girl.’ I lift her out of the cot and press her soft, warm body to mine. ‘Shall we go and find the doggies?’
I take her through to the kitchen where my faithful Pomeranian, Bella, is waiting for us. Using my free hand, I scoop her up and she nestles in the crook of my arm, purring with pleasure. With her short, soft fur, her diminutive size and her fondness for doing fuck-all squared, she’s a cat by any other name.
‘Come on, my darlings,’ I say softly, heading out towards a shaded corner of the garden. ‘Let’s see what the day brings us, shall we?’
The Exit Factor
My final series of The X Factor did have a few fun moments.
On 20 October 2007, I stepped out on to the X Factor stage for the first live show of the fourth series. For three great years I’d had so much fun, helped some really talented people get their first break, thrown a few gallons of water over Louis Walsh and had a spat or three with Simon Cowell. I hadn’t laughed so much in a job in my life, or felt more comfortable.
I had spent a lifetime riding a roller-coaster, barely clinging on with my fingernails, from my chaotic childhood and confused adolescence to the adrenalin-fuelled years of life on the road, managing my husband’s career. Finally things seemed to be slowing down. I’d beaten cancer. My children were all doing well. Ozzy and I had moved into our new home a long way from the madhouse that became familiar to millions of viewers in The Osbournes, and we were looking forward to spending more time together and considering the possibility that we might even grow old.
The summer of 2007 had been a watershed. At the end of July, I lost my father. Don Arden was a legend in the industry, the Al Capone of rock promoters, famed and feared from LA to London. We’d spent half our lives at loggerheads – for twenty years we didn’t even speak – but he was still my dad, a man I looked up to, who taught me all I knew and whom, for all his many, many faults, I loved. For the past few years he had been suffering from Alzheimer’s, and the control freak who would happily have seen me dead a decade earlier was replaced by a sad old man who didn’t know where or who he was, let alone anyone else. To be honest, his death came as a relief – at the end, he was just an empty shell and life held no more enjoyment for him. At least now the suffering was over.
That evening at Wembley should have felt like a homecoming, but as the audience roared us to our seats at the judges’ table, I had a tight knot like a fist in my stomach. I knew before the show got started that this year was going to be very different. In fact, that’s an understatement. It would prove to be a nightmare.
Looking back now, the signs were there from the start. I was just too busy and too tired to spot them. The success of a show like The X Factor depends not only on the quality of the contestants, but also on the chemistry that exists between the judges. And for some reason, the mix of Simon, Louis and myself had worked. We sparked off each other; there was a healthy rivalry, and we each brought something subtly different to the mix. Simon had strength of character and he was opinionated and outspoken. I was also very direct but delivered the message with more heart. In addition, Simon and I never agreed about anything, which made for good television. As for Louis, not only does he have a great knowledge of music and the business, he also has a fantastic sense of humour and he loved to egg us on. He was the one with the spoon stirring it all up. We weren’t in competition with each other, not outside of the terms of the format of the show.
The first I knew that something was up was when I had a call from the producer, Richard Holloway, who told me that Louis had been fired. I was shocked.
Simon is someone who can’t stand still; he likes change. And as the owner and executive producer of the show, he could do whatever he liked. It was his prerogative. But I never for one minute thought it would happen. There was no personal
We soon learnt that getting shot of Louis wasn’t the last of the changes Simon had in mind. A fourth judge would be joining us, Dannii Minogue. I knew nothing about Dannii beyond her being Kylie’s sister, and I have always had a great respect for Kylie. But in one of those strange coincidences it turned out that my then PA, Silvana, who herself hailed from Down Under, actually knew Dannii personally. Silvana’s sister Tina, also a singer, had been at school with her, and in fact she and Dannii had started off in TV together. ‘You’ll love her,’ Silvana said. And I had no reason not to believe her.
So on day one, there were four of us. Simon and me, then Dannii and Brian Friedman, an American choreographer drafted in to replace Louis. On day two Simon took me to one side.
‘It’s not working, is it?’
‘No, it’s not,’ I said. ‘It’s terrible.’
‘I’ll get rid of Brian,’ he said.
‘Bring back Louis while you’re at it.’
And so it came to pass.
If I’m honest, I’d expected Dannii to be a bit flossy and sweet. She looked like a little doll! But I quickly realised she was sharp, smart and ambitious. I respected that and thought she could bring something new to the show.
And that was about the extent of my thoughts on Dannii during the early audition stages. She had seemed fine at that point. But then again, I hadn’t really had much to do with her. The audition stages can be quite a slog, travelling up and down the country. On top of that, I was making the journey over from LA. It was Birmingham one week, Manchester the next, Glasgow another, Cardiff another… So by the time I’d finished a long day of filming and given it my va-va-voom all, I’d invariably just retire to my room, have a bath, snuggle up in my favourite pink, fluffy dressing gown that goes everywhere with me, then call Ozzy and the kids to see how their day had been.