Men's Style

Simon Fuller: The Man Who Makes the Stars Shine Brighter

Wimbledon delivered a convincing winner last Sunday, and it’s hard to argue that he didn’t deserve the acclaim. Opponents had been crushed, sceptics silenced, setbacks smoothly overcome, until, by the end of Sunday afternoon, Simon Fuller could bask in the glow of a job well done. “It’s very exciting,” admitted the 53-year-old ‘‘Svengali to the Stars’’, as his client Andy Murray lobbed him another bumper payday.

With Andy the toast of the nation and a knighthood likely in the bag, it is easy to forget that for a long time after he first emerged, slab-chopped and scowling, our new tennis hero specialised in frightening not only his opponents but much of the British public, too.

He lacked the middle-class niceness of a Tim Henman or a Laura Robson, and appeared not so much averse to smiling as unfamiliar with the technique. “The real problem with Andy,” recalled one of his early handlers, “was that all he wanted to do was play tennis.”

For Fuller, the impresario behind the Spice Girls, Lewis Hamilton, Pop Idol and David Beckham, this was an irresistible challenge. Fuller felt that sport was essentially entertainment, and that entertainment was about making money.

Shortly after 2009, when Fuller took charge of the player’s off-court management, a new Andy began to emerge. Out went the grungy sweatshirts and greasy hair. In came Gatsby-esque cable knits, skin treatments and eye contact with the cameras. The close-to-finished product was on view last week, as Murray engaged confidently with everyone from David Cameron and Holly Willoughby to a class of schoolchildren in south London.

Seven years ago, when Fuller took control of the England football team’s commercial and merchandising operations, he sat the senior players down and talked them through the possibilities for increasing their collective earnings. Carefully avoiding corporate robo-speak, he explained that they were short-changing themselves, and that he knew how to fix the problem. “Fuller’s great skill is to turn people into brands,” says one market analyst, “and for that it doesn’t really matter who the people are, as long as there’s a platform around.”

Last week the platform was only nominally Wimbledon’s Centre Court, where Andy, 26, was pummelling Novak Djokovic. The real Fuller effect could be seen arrayed in the VIP seats, where Andy’s girlfriend, Kim Sears (also advised by Fuller) was wearing a dress designed by Victoria Beckham – another Fuller client – who was sitting in the Royal Box, just across from Andy’s mother Judy, yet another beneficiary of Fuller’s guidance, whose remarkable transformation from fist-shaking tennis harpie into style queen has been winning widespread reviews.

The last Englishman to win Wimbledon, Fred Perry, was a handsome, multi-lingual sophisticate who romanced Marlene Dietrich, but when he turned professional he blew his PR potential by falling out with the tennis authorities and eventually renouncing his British citizenship. The lesson will not have been lost on Fuller.

Born in Cyprus, where his father had been an RAF pilot, young Simon spent part of his early life in Africa, before the family returned to settle in Hastings, East Sussex. He started out running local discos, later landing what he called his “dream job” as a talent scout at Chrysalis records. It became dreamier still after he took over the management of Paul Hardcastle, whose song 19, about the Vietnam War, became a global hit. To this day, his master company is called 19.

Strictly speaking, Fuller can’t claim credit for creating the Spice Girls. The fivesome had been assembled by Chris and Bob Herbert, father-and-son showbiz entrepreneurs who had hit on the idea of creating an all-girl band in the style of the successful boy bands of the time such as Take That and New Kids on the Block. But it was Simon who developed the Spice Girls as a world-conquering brand that soon encompassed everything from dolls to soft drinks.

Pop fascinated him, although he wasn’t on a quest for musical virtuosity. Everything Fuller had learnt about the business told him that the fans were fickle, the trends temporary and the talent questionable. What mattered was how much you could achieve before the next big thing came along. The TV talent show Pop Idol, his most enduring creation, has remarkably little to do with music, and lots to do with selling the idea of fame to unknowns.

So it has been with his hitherto best-known sports client, David Beckham. The enormously lucrative deal that saw the ageing mid-fielder sign for Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007 was – as the magazine Marketing Week described it – a pure case of ‘‘Becksploitation’’. The footballer was there to lend his name and sell shirts.

Beckham is understandably generous in his praise: “It’s no surprise to me that Simon’s so successful,” he has said, “because despite being a nice guy and a modest character, he’s also a real fighter for what he believes in.”

Above all, Fuller – married with a young daughter, and cosseted by a £350 million-plus fortune – believes that too many people undersell themselves. Usually because they have no idea of what they’re really worth. “My business is creating fame and celebrity,” he has said. “I’m one of the best in the world at what I do.”

Which is why he and Andy Murray currently have so much in common.