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Simon Cowell: A force for good? (illustration by Michael Daley)

It's fairly safe to assume that if there's one person who doesn't underrate Simon Cowell, it's Simon Cowell. The undoubted, pre-eminent impresario of television entertainment today — a sort of modern age Lew Grade — he takes an unashamed, almost artless pleasure in his influence, his public popularity and the extraordinary wealth it has brought him. As a judge on talent shows The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, this music executive and talent-spotter now has one of the best-known faces on both sides of the Atlantic, and he obviously loves every minute of it.

Millions of viewers are happy to bask along with him, while the haute bourgeoisie hold their noses and tut-tut at the sheer ghastly vulgarity of it all. Smart aleck commentators joke about his Botox and his obvious pride in his "moobs" (man-boobs, for the uninitiated). They miss the point and not just because of the dreary snobbery they exhibit. For Cowell deserves a good deal of credit for a number of quite unconnected developments, not all of them immediately apparent.

First, and most recent, was the support he showed for Israel when he donated around £100,000 to the Friends of the Israeli Defence Forces. Cowell's father was Jewish, as is Lauren Silverman, his partner and mother of their recently-born son Eric. He is hard to read politically, although that might be because he appears to share with the public a general lack of interest in politics. But on this issue, he stuck his neck out, departed from the usual showbiz line on the conflict and put his money where his sympathies lie.

Cowell experienced some blowback in the form of nasty and overwrought attacks from the Twitterati ("blood on his hands", etc). The same happened to the comedian Joan Rivers, who in her characteristically trenchant way spoke up for Israel only weeks before her recent sudden death and in doing so made herself enemy number one in many liberal eyes.

Stands such as Rivers's and Cowell's are significant because they are brave; if you depart from the usual bien pensant line in the creative industries, you can quickly find yourself behind enemy lines. We can pretty much set our watches by the predictability of celebrities' views; we know exactly what to expect from Stephen Fry or, heaven help us, Russell Brand. But a TV researcher trying to find somebody on the British cultural landscape — whether actor, singer or writer — who will voice support for Israel will find his or her work seriously cut out.

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