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Simon Cowell reaches for the stars

The Karaoke Sauron wants to send the winner of Britain’s Got Talent into space – and Richard Branson is paying for it

It was science-fiction author Isaac Asimov who described space travel as: “the only chance of escaping the destruction of all that humanity has struggled to achieve for the last 50,000 years”. And it was endtimes impresario Simon Cowell who revealed this week: “We are trying to work out a way so that the winner of Britain’s Got Talent gets to go up in [Richard Branson's] spacecraft and will be the first person to perform in space.”

GAME OVER, ASIMOV. As the late professor would surely attest, the first commercial spaceflight to leave this earthly sphere is freighted not merely with passengers, but with humankind’s loftiest dreams for itself. Using it to showcase whatever maladjusted novelty act makes it through an increasingly non-representative public vote and on to the Karaoke Sauron’s books would be the planet’s most horrifyingly self-parodic admission of failure yet. It is the equivalent of transmitting the binary code for “THIS CIVILISATION IS REVERSING” into the further reaches of the universe. Come, friendly alien death rays, and fall on Earth! A wand’ring star with no self-worth, Where Simon Cowell has murdered mirth.

Anyhoo. The plan appears to be a real possibility, as long as you accept that Branson’s Virgin Galactic has been scheduled to make its maiden voyage “next year” since about 2005. But according to Richard’s most recent communique on the subject, it really is going to blast off into the thermosphere “hopefully by next Christmas”. As for the BGT plan, Cowell insists Branson – who sponsors the show – is firmly on board. (Most encouraging, considering that a few years ago Virgin Galactic turned down an offer of m to allow a a zero-gravity porn film to be made in one of its craft.) “This is worth tens of millions of pounds,” Cowell goes on, “but Richard genuinely is up for doing it. I’m not winding you up, Richard would pay for it.”

“I will make it happen,” Simon promises, about 12% believably. “If it had been a few years ago, it could have been Susan Boyle singing Unchained Melody in front of the whole planet.” Mm. If it had been my fantasy, it could have been Cowell himself singing Space Oddity. Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong. Can you hear me Major Cowell? … Ah well, no use crying over spilt milk – let’s cut our losses and set about rebuilding light entertainment television.

But back to reality, or rather reality TV, with Simon expanding on the space mission in an interview with the Sun. “Of course we have to think about the details,” he conceded. “I mean, if you’re a juggler then we’ll need to make heavier balls.”

Thanks, Science Boy.

Meanwhile, all this forces us to re-examine the whole issue of celebrities in space. Branson has been hyping this venture for years now, and passengers confirmed to have shelled out 0,000 for a seat include former Dallas star Victoria Principal, while the rumoured travellers include everyone from Paris Hilton to Tom Hanks.

Latest to join the list of speculative astronauts is Kate Winslet, whom you may recall is dating Branson’s nephew Ned Rocknroll … forgive me for breaking off, but every time I type that moniker I am convinced it is literally the most punchable name in human history. Sorry. Where was I? As a faux-breathless Winslet would say: gather, gather! Ah yes. Rocknroll works at his uncle’s spaceport in New Mexico, and naturally I imagine Richard is forever fighting off approaches from headhunters desperate to poach Ned and make use of his skillset. Incidentally, if anyone has any more information about what promises to be an intriguing CV – I know Ned recently got divorced from an heiress – then I should be amused if they would care to get in touch. Rocknroll is becoming an idle fixation of mine, and as part of the Lost in Showbiz Winter Collection it is high time we knew more about him.

In the meantime, let’s remind ourselves that Branson is not the only option for the celebrity wishing to journey into space, and that there are some entertainers who would regard flying commercial as infra dig. Do recall that during a tour in Russia a few years ago, Madonna voiced an interest in making a trip upwards. Not for madam some crappy aisle seat next to Pam Ewing, however – according to various reports, Madonna “expressed a desire to go into space and board the International Space Station”.

Was she laughed at politely? Don’t be stupid. SHE’S A CELEBRITY. Some barking nationalist Russian MP promptly took up her cause and put the request before a plenary session of the Duma, which spent actual legislative time discussing it. Furthermore, the Russian Space Agency promptly released a statement. “We are aware of today’s debates in the State Duma as to the proposed flight by Madonna to the International Space Station,” this ran. “Madonna’s request will not meet any objections, and her representatives can approach us even now.” Eventually, in an outbreak of sanity, the Duma voted against the proposal to fund Madge’s trip, although the offer to fly commercial with the Russian Space Agency is presumably still open.

As for Virgin Galactic’s starry cargo, no doubt the first passenger manifests will be released soon enough, while senior executives have claimed that the experience will give these travellers “a more philosophical view of our place in the universe”. Which feels about the time to mention that the celebrities will have to wear adult nappies when they’re on board. Apparently, takeoff can cause a certain … loss of control.

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