Half past three in the morning. The supposedly direct line to Sharon Osbourne’s suite leads me a merry dance around London’s Dorchester Hotel. Nothing but the best for Shaz. Finally: “She’s running very late. Could you phone back in half an hour?”
Plenty of time, then, to contemplate questions raised by the implacable rise of Sharon Osbourne. Such as “How?” And “For the love of God, why?” The facts are easy enough. She is the wife of Ozzy Osbourne, sometime lead singer of Black Sabbath and self-styled Prince of Darkness. To a new generation, he’s the amiable, quaking wreck who made the compulsively dotty reality show The Osbournes an Emmy winner for MTV. Vaguely menacing and endearingly moronic, he bit the head off a live bat on stage in his heyday – by mistake. He once tried to strangle Sharon.
Sharon’s chief talent seems to lie in making the best of a mad situation. Her father was Don Arden, a Jewish music impresario from whom Osbourne inherited her loose cannon tendencies. “The News of the World called him the Al Capone of music,” she notes in her autobiography, Extreme. “He came from the mentality ‘You f— me, I’ll f— you twice.'” Don was Ozzy’s manager until Sharon took over. She’s been running Osbourne Inc ever since.
These days, Osbourne is a celebrity in her own right. She must be or I wouldn’t be sitting by the phone in the middle of the night. Famously nipped, tucked and stomach stapled, she has reportedly threatened to sell her breast implants on eBay. There are the two autobiographies. She’s been a judge on Simon Cowell’s X Factor, a post she quit twice, once after a ranting diss of one of Cowell’s protégés. She is a flashing, clamouring neon sign of our nonsensical times.
Osbourne’s on more or less best behaviour – disappointingly little class A swearing – when we speak. “What do people want me to say?” she sighs, of things like the alleged catfight on reality show Rock of Love: Charm School and her headline-grabbing allergy to fellow X Factor judge Dannii Minogue. “Do they want me to say I really like that person? I didn’t. You can’t like everyone. It’s impossible. I am not Mother Teresa.” This is not a confusion anyone is likely to make but there’s no stopping her. “I can’t go around blessing everyone andloving everyone. It’s not me. I suppose other people just keep their mouths closed. But somebody will ask me and I’ll say what I feel and then it perpetuates from there.”
It perpetuated all over the globe when she called Susan Boyle a hirsute body part not fit for mention in a family magazine. Sensing that, even for her, this was a bridge too far, Osbourne publicly apologised. Today, she’s not apologising for anything. “I am what I am … We are what we are … It is what it is,” she keeps saying, outlining a personal philosophy that falls somewhere between Jean-Paul Sartre and Popeye, with a touch of Gloria Gaynor. Of the X Factor fracas: “Hey, it is what it is. The truth always comes out. It isn’t a popularity contest.” Of the various rehab-ridden dysfunctions of her family: “Ozzy’s not striving to be a rocket scientist,” she says. (Nasa will no doubt be relieved to hear it.) “I don’t want to be an opera singer. We know our limitations and we accept ourselves and we don’t pretend to be the perfect family or the nicest people,” she says, concluding with a weary, reflex “We are what we are.”
We get on better when I suggest she gets more stick in the media for her gobbiness because she’s not … Simon Cowell. “Oh, I think so. It’s always ‘Acid-tongued wife of Ozzy Osbourne says …’ But if Simon can make a little girl cry on TV it’s like ‘TV genius says you can’t sing’.”
Sexism is not too strong a word, apparently. “Oh listen, if you say your mind when you’re a woman, you’re a bitch. Or you’re jealous. Or you’re bitter. Men can say it and they’re like ‘Oh, cool, man.’ There’s not an autopsy done on it. But with women it’s like “You can’t say that!’ Well, why not?”
Well, why not? If there’s a prevailing principle in Osbourne’s life, that might be it. She quite rightly claims to have made the world of reality television safe for C-grade celebrities by turning her family into a sitcom.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘contrived’,” she corrects me, of The Osbournes. “It was our normal home but it was voyeuristic by having the film crew in.” The word “normal” should be taken advisedly here. Sample scene: teenaged Jack rails at his mum as his dog, Lola, defecates and eats the furniture. “Do you know why my dog’s dysfunctional? Because it’s like me! It’s angry!”
You couldn’t make it up. But now she is. Inevitably, Osbourne has become a novelist. The book is called Revenge. An obvious subject, perhaps, for a woman who once sent her own excrement in a Tiffany box to a journalist who had been ungracious about her kids. “I do like to have the last word.” These days she just sends lawyers. “I had four different law suits with different papers. I just got to the point where it’s, like, nah, I’m not going to take it any more. I’m going to pull them up.”
Considering the antics of her family, you wouldn’t think the media would have to invent stories. “True.” So what sort of things are we talking about? “Oh, they said that when we hosted the Brit Awards that Ozzy had to be taken around in a golf cart backstage because he couldn’t stand up, he was so ill. And that we took him straight to the hospital after the show,” she says. “I mean, that was absolute bullshit. After the show we were in Paul McCartney’s dressing room telling war stories.” Give or take Heather Mills, McCartney would have struggled to compete.
“And there was one that I was at the Awards,” Sharon says, with mounting indignation, “and I was so drunk that Louis Walsh had to hold me up. Oh, get a life. And then they said I wouldn’t do Strictly Dancing because they wouldn’t pay me enough money. It’s like ‘Oh, for God’s sake’. No. No more.”
It’s a wonder she found time for the novel. “No,” says Osbourne airily, when I ask if she had a little help writing it. By which she means “I dictated it to somebody and they wrote it. I’ve got a pretty good imagination so I don’t need any help with that. But if it was left to me I would still be writing it, because I procrastinate. So it’s much easier to dictate it and have somebody else put it down.”
Indeed. Revenge is the story of two sisters with showbiz ambitions, Amber and Chelsea – “Only one has the ruthless ambition to make it to the very top!” – and it’s a page-turner. “Oh, good. I’m glad you enjoyed it.” I don’t have the heart – or the brass; you wouldn’t want to cross Sharon – to say that mostly the pages were turning in the hope of making it stop.
Still, it’s amusing, with plenty that is pure Sharon. “It was Forrest Gump without the f—ing retarded guy,” says someone, of a movie pitch. There’s the emotional intensity: “… she was on autopilot, hardly touching her sushi.”
The sushi is about the only thing that doesn’t get touched in a work that attempts some sort of record in the use of the word “nipples”. Any mention of body parts is gruelling: “… her large, pendulous breasts wobbling slightly as she moved her neck from side to side. Keith watched her appreciatively.” The book is as steamy as … the offerings her 17 dogs were forever depositing on the carpet in The Osbournes. “I tell you what,” cackles Sharon, “when I was writing, there was a lot more. I pulled back a lot.” It’s hard to imagine she could have left much out. “I did on the racy bits. I thought, ‘Oh, for my first novel no, I can’t. I can’t!'”
The weight issues, the plastic surgery, the hunger for fame at any cost: Osbourne isn’t just writing about it, she’s living it. “Yes. Ish,” she concedes. “Yes-ish.”
“Our highs are very high and our lows are very low. Everything in our lives is extreme.”
Speaking of Ozzy, “People don’t change,” she says. But all is apparently well. “He’s doing great, thank you. He’s got a new album coming out in the summer.”
I first saw Sharon back in the 90s, in a terrific documentary called Rock Stars’ Wives, merrily recounting the night he tried to strangle her. “Ha ha. Gosh, that was so long ago”, is all she says about that. You get the sense that she wants this to be a proper author interview, not the usual potty-mouthed freak show.
But she doesn’t flinch when her inglorious innings as a talk-show host comes up. “I failed at it twice so I don’t think I’d ever get the opportunity again. I tried in America and I tried here and both times it didn’t work for me.”
As for the kids, her younger ones, Jack and Kelly, have followed in their parents’ footsteps, becoming weird, hybrid media constructs. The oldest, Aimee – call it good sense, call it aberrant DNA – decided she wasn’t having a bar of The Osbournes. Was it odd, in the family circus, to have one left outside the tent? “It was very difficult at first.” Aimee writes and sings, says Osbourne. “But it’s all on a whole different level. She doesn’t want to be famous; it’s not her thing. She doesn’t want all of the crap that goes along with it.” That’s the thing about not being a celebrity, says Sharon. “It gives you your freedom.” For a moment she sounds a little wistful.
Among her many attributes, Osbourne is the queen of unintended irony. She launched into print in a UK newspaper earlier this year on the subject of the damaging effects of pointless fame on the young. “Sharon Osbourne: The dark side of fame … and why the cult of celebrity is destroying today’s children.” It’s a bit rich for her to rail against 21st century celebrity culture when she all but invented it. “I’ve helped perpetuate it, definitely,” she agrees.
She’s perpetuating it as we speak. But so serenely untroubled by her own intractable inconsistencies is Osbourne that you can’t help warming to her. She kept The Osbournes crazy train – and the cameras – rolling while undergoing chemotherapy for bowel cancer. There’s a touching scene when kids and dogs pile into bed with her as she reels from her diagnosis. She writes in Extreme about the tricky stuff – her illness and her difficult relationship with her parents. She reconciled with her estranged father when he developed Alzheimer’s. Going into all that must have been … intense.
“Do you know what it did? When I wrote my autobiography, it hurt. You have to do this mental homework and at the end of the day my head would hurt.” She’s never been one for introspection. “A lot of the things that have hurt in my life, I block them out. It’s much easier – pull the curtains and it’s gone.” The books, the television, the tantrums, the dogs … you can’t help but wonder if the chaos she surrounds herself with is about keeping the demons away. “Oh, definitely. You don’t think about it because you’re too busy to think about it.”
Still, she would like to kick back a little now. “If this book is a success and I could have a life of just writing my stories that come into my head, it would be a fantastic option for me. To be able to sit at home in your pyjamas and do your work would be heaven. If I could do this interview in bed I would be in heaven.”
Me, too. 4.30am and time to wrap things up. She has the Osbourne empire to run. And a new book on the go. “It’s about talent shows – what goes on behind the desk,” she threatens. “The real world of talent shows.” Watch out Simon Cowell.
Then there’s Ozzy: The Movie. He’s written a best-selling autobiography, too. “He’s had a couple of offers for his book, to turn it into a movie. I would like to produce that,” she says. Sharon Osbourne, movie mogul. Well, why not?