Simon Cowell is not going to appear in the delayed finals of Britain’s Got Talent – either in person or via a satellite link.
The TV judge’s doctors in Los Angeles have ordered him to stay put and not travel as he recovers from the electric bike accident which left him with a broken back.
Now ITV bosses are seeking a replacement judge for the Saturday night show, which records in two weeks’ time.
Cowell’s recovery is said to be going well, with the music mogul walking more every day and diligently carrying out his physio exercises.
“Everything is fixed, he just needs healing time,” one pal said. “Flying halfway across the world is not part of the plan and he has agreed to put his health first.”
It had been hoped that Cowell might have been well enough to attend at least some of the filming dates next month, which cover the semi-finals and the final.
Plans to beam Cowell, 60, into the UK show via satellite are understood to have fallen by the wayside after bosses decided it might be bad for him, and tough for viewers to deal with.
The shows, which normally air live across a week in May, are already compromised by the Covid-19 restrictions which mean the audience will be virtual and all the acts, presenters and crew having to remain socially distanced.
“It was decided that the idea of having him judge the BGT finalists via a link was just not feasible – nor sensible,” the pal added.
An early notion to draft in Piers Morgan was quickly vetoed after bosses realised he and David Walliams have a long-running spat, meaning that working together is out of the question. “It would have been quite funny but just impossible,” the source revealed.
Now the race is on to find a suitable stand-in for Cowell, whose production company makes the hit ITV show.
The auditions proved hugely popular when they aired in April but the live finals were postponed because of coronavirus.
Now they will be pre-recorded and shown on Saturday nights across the autumn in the former X Factor slot, with ITV chiefs hoping to end before Strictly Come Dancing starts on BBC1, to avoid a clash.
Some of the BGT acts which are based abroad, or who have vulnerable members, will be filmed outside the studio for reasons of safety or because of travel restrictions.
Cowell’s accident happened as he tested a new electric motorbike in the courtyard of his Malibu home earlier this month. It was witnessed by his partner Lauren Silverman, her son Adam and their shared son Eric, six.
The bike, described by the British manufacturer as “brutally fast”, can do speeds of up to 60mph – most e-bikes are limited to 20mph.
Cowell tweeted afterwards: “Some good advice… If you buy an electric trail bike, read the manual before you ride it for the first time. I have broken part of my back. Thank you to everyone for your kind messages.”
On August 8 he had an operation that involved having a metal rod put in his back during a five-hour procedure to mend the three broken vertebrae.
Afterwards he expressed his gratitude to the medics, saying: “A massive thank you to all the nurses and doctors. Some of the nicest people I have ever met.”
His fellow judge Alesha Dixon said the rest of the judges were left “devastated” over his accident. “I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed that, come the live shows for Britain’s Got Talent, we can hopefully have Simon on a live link because we love him.”
Last night it emerged that Cowell still intends to swoop in and surprise the contestants on America’s Got Talent in the next couple of weeks, before the series ends.
Bosses should perhaps look no further than David Walliams’ former Little Britain sidekick Matt Lucas. He would provide endless fun and warmth – but might be restricted as he is about to make his big debut on C4’s Great British Bake Off.
Other options to maximise the laughs would be Alan Carr or Romesh Ranganathan who each have plenty of TV experience and mainstream appeal.
Ashley Banjo would be a great choice – he was made famous himself by winning the third series of BGT with dance troupe Diversity and has since got plenty of experience as a judge thanks to Dancing on Ice and Sky’s Got to Dance.
If a female-heavy panel was favoured, then Dawn French or Ruby Wax would fit in well alongside Alesha and Amanda Holden.
Viewers might also be excited to see either Ant or Dec (or both!) get to leave the backstage area and have a turn in the chair normally reserved for Simon. (It would have to be a pretty big chair though, to allow for social distancing.)