SIMON Cowell is sitting on a beach in Mexico with a plate full of steamed vegetables in front of him.
The sausage rolls, hamburgers and his favourite jam tarts, that until now were prepared by his personal chefs wherever he went, are nowhere to be seen.
But this is the new Cowell — a recently converted vegan, working normal-ish office hours, much lighter and preparing for the reality that this year he turns 60.
Summing up his new appearance in his usual modest fashion, he tells me: “If I was on a one to ten scale of being handsome, I was an eight and now I’ve gone to an 11.”
But there is a serious motivation behind such a dramatic lifestyle change, of course.
The horrific fall on his stairs in the middle of the night in October 2017 — which saw him rushed to hospital amid an unhealthy lifestyle where he lived “like a vampire” by staying awake each day until 8am — prompted serious soul-searching.
A doctor eventually told Simon earlier this year that he has “every food allergy going”.
So after filming the auditions to Britain’s Got Talent this year, he decided to entirely overhaul his life.
He’s cut out meat, dairy, wheat, sugar and will soon give up fish, too. The beer and cigarettes he so loves have been curtailed to “occasional”.
He explains: “A friend of mine, who is a doctor, recommended speaking to an expert, and I did it on a whim.
“I was allergic to melon, so I didn’t eat it for six months, but I saw this man and he explained it and it made sense.
“Within 24 hours I changed my diet and I’ve not looked back since. You feel better, you look better.
“I cut out a lot of the stuff I shouldn’t have been eating and that was primarily meat, dairy, wheat, sugar — those were the four main things.”
I am genuinely quite stunned, given the last time I saw Simon at his house, his chef served up shepherd’s pie as part of a meat feast.
He sighs then says: “I loved those comfort foods, that’s all I’ve eaten all my life. I love jam tarts, hamburgers, spaghetti Bolognese. I can eat fish but this year I will go the whole way.”
Changing the habits of Britain’s most traditional eater has not been as hard as he first predicted.
Simon says: “It was way easier than you may think. Like, I used to have yoghurt in the morning and I changed it to almond-milk yoghurts. I have almond milk in my tea.
“I can eat certain fruits but not all fruits. You have to be careful because some fruit can have more sugar than a can of Coke.
“Once you get into a pattern I’ve found it quite enjoyable. It has helped me sleep and I wake up feeling less tired. I noticed a massive difference in how I felt in about a week.
“I have more energy and focus and it wasn’t difficult. I don’t like to use the word diet because that’s the reason I never went on a diet before — the word diet makes me miserable.”
There have been challenges — the toughest part of his new regime was ordering a pizza for five-year-old-son Eric and wanting to eat it all.
He recalls: “The hardest thing was when we were skiing and Eric ordered a pizza. I stared at the pizza for three minutes then I thought, ‘Oh God, I can’t do it’. And I didn’t.”
His girlfriend Lauren Silverman, 41, has been supportive and has changed her lifestyle too.
Simon explains: “Yeah, she got it. If I’m sitting there and I’ve got a bowl of vegetables in front of me, she’s not going to sit there and eat a pizza in front of me. That would be cruel. She’s kind of gone the same way as me.”
Food and drink have not been the only big change in Simon’s life. He is also completely overhauling his most famous TV show The X Factor in a move that has seen his good friends Robbie Williams, 45, and Robbie’s wife Ayda Field, 39, depart because they demanded a pay increase on their already massive £10million fee.
For Simon, the situation made him realise the show had become too carried away with the shenanigans on the judging panel, without concentrating on the contestants.
He says honestly: “It was no secret it was millions and millions of pounds. I am going to be really honest with you — and this is no disrespect to Robbie or anyone else who has been on the panel — my focus this year is mainly about the people who are coming on the show to compete.
“I’m probably talking myself out of a job here, but I think there has been so much emphasis on the judges. We’ve lost sight of the contestants. It got crazy, I never thought this would happen 20 years ago, when I started this show, that we would be talking more about the judges than the contestants, it’s complete nonsense.
“Somehow that’s the way it’s gone. So that’s why me and Rob were talking, and he could see where I was coming from. It’s about getting the right people to come on the show, that was it.”
Translation: All of Robbie’s millions will go into signing the right A-listers to compete in a special celebrity and an all-star version of the show this year.
But Simon insists he and Lauren remain close pals with Robbie and Ayda, saying: “We still went on holiday together recently, even though we knew about X Factor.
“I’m seeing him when I’m back in LA. We are doing coupled-up things together, we have become close friends. They were both such a joy to work with.”
The recent death of fellow X Factor panellist Louis Tomlinson’s sister Félicité has cast a dark shadow over the past few weeks for everyone at Syco, including Simon.
Félicité was just 18 when she died from a suspected heart attack last month.
Just two years earlier, One Direction star Louis had lost his mum Johannah Deakin, 43, to leukaemia.
“He’s a friend and — bear in mind how close we are — you hear that news, what he has gone through, you don’t know what to say,” Simon says sadly.
“He has a fantastic career but on a personal side, his mum, his sister, his dad — to take on all of that, God only knows where he found the strength to do that.
“But he is strong, I reached out to say, as friends here, we’re always here for you.”
Simon understands if Louis, 27, decides to take a year out from X Factor.
“If he said to me, I am taking time off I would respect that. He’s a great judge, by the way. He worked so hard for it,” he says.
“What he has gone through, you don’t even think about work, you just think about how you’re going to be there for him as his friend.”
But in fact it was part of an elaborate new campaign for Barclaycard — for which Simon is partnering with the credit card firm — to provide more information about how consumers can clear their credit card balance sooner and pay less in interest.
Simon is passionate about the subject, given he nearly lost all his money when he was 30 — partly because no one ever told him how finances worked when he left school.
“I do get offered quite a lot of commercials but I don’t do a lot,” he says. “But I have a kid now and you get out in the real world and you find out what life is all about. One of the first things I did was get a credit card.
“You do work out whatever you buy you have to repay, and I don’t think people are given that advice by schools.”
On people struggling to shift debt, he says: “I can relate to those people, I owed people money. It’s hard. You get over it but I wish I had some advice at that point.”
With the entertainment industry changing so much and ratings for X Factor on the drop, I wonder if Simon ever worries today about his finances or losing his business.
“I don’t think that will happen but let’s suppose it did. I would do what I had to do all those years ago — you dust yourself off and you start again,” he answers matter-of-factly.
Simon is already considering how to make Eric responsible with money, including the fact he will have to start working for his spending money on holidays.
He says: “The reasons my parents did that for me was they had to work to pay for the holiday so I had to work for my spending money. It was a quick lesson and I got it.
“Eric is a little kid but he’s very good at sharing. He does get it too. Here in Mexico, it’s making him understand this isn’t normal all the time and that I have to work to pay for it
“He said to me recently, and I was quite shocked, ‘I want to learn more at school’. When I was his age, I was like, just get me out of school. So I was happy about that.”
Before I let Simon get back to his holiday, I have to check one thing: Surely he hasn’t given up his famous bottles of Corona Light?
He says with a laugh: “I can still have the occasional beer, I’m not going the whole way. No, I can’t quit that.”
But then he adds seriously: “I have cut down though, Dan, because with this job, you’ve got to be fit, you’ve got to be on it and you’ve got to be ruthless, you need a clear mind.”