His caustic comments on Pop Idol have made Simon Cowell a household name.

Chris "The Vicar" Hide was no stranger to his put-downs before being dumped out of the contest.

He told the Lancing lad his version of Elton John's Circle Of Life was "absolutely terrible" adding: "I didn't hear a single note in tune".

But as readers of The Argus will know, there is a softer side to Mr Nasty.

He visits his mum Julie at her home in Ovingdean every other weekend, enjoying her Sunday lunches after she comes back from church.

And the multi-millionaire has now released a book called I Don't Mean To Be Rude, But ... to give a look at the man behind the image.

In person, the 44-year-old record executive is charm personified.

Cowell, the man who turned down signing the Spice Girls but made up for it by signing Westlife, is an enigma.

He is cool, cutting and disarmingly honest on ITV's Pop Idol and yet in the flesh he is warm but emotionally guarded.

He doesn't duck questions but there is a veil, no hint of human weakness, no inner angst, no Achilles' heel. Perhaps he is simply the most confident man in the world.

He certainly doesn't seem in great need of personal relationships. He has had a string of girlfriends and has been with the latest, model Terri Seymour, for just over a year. But he admits he hasn't yet sustained a relationship for longer than two years, a fact he puts down to work.

"I've often described my work as my mistress because it occupies so much of my time and my thoughts. I am a workaholic, I only have one holiday a year and I'm regimented in the way I do things."

Cowell has said he never wants children and is slightly cynical about marriage.

"It's probably the most important decision you'll ever make in your life and I would have to think very seriously about it, coupled with the fact that I do lead an unusual life. I travel backwards and forwards between England and America maybe 30 to 40 times a year.

"It's not just difficult for me, it would be bloody difficult for anyone I was married to. A marriage is something you've got to devote a lot of time and energy to and at the moment it would be really difficult. Plus, I don't have Terri saying to me daily, 'Will you marry me?"'

They live in his luxurious home in Holland Park, west London, and he is looking to buy a £7 million property in Beverly Hills. But however luxurious the surroundings, Cowell admits he is probably difficult to live with.

"It's the phone calls. They are relentless because I do so much business in America and they are eight hours behind in Los Angeles. I could be on the phone till four in the morning and we can go a whole week without talking to each other properly because of this constant intrusion.

"I can switch the phone off but if I do I get panicky. We went away to Barbados for a three-day break recently and I said, 'I'm switching my phone off'. I sat on the beach and I lasted two hours. Then I put it on and Terri went mad."

Cowell says he never set out to be a celebrity, but as soon as he thought he might become famous he hired media consultant Max Clifford to protect him.

"I had 25 years of relationships behind me and I had a feeling that if I suddenly became a public figure there might be one or two kiss and tells coming out of the woodwork," he says in his book, which reveals his climb up the music business ladder and his experiences on Pop Idol.

There have been some kiss and tell tales but he says nothing ever written about him has upset him, although he was embarrassed when he was quoted as saying that he'd slept with between 70 and 100 women.

"I based my estimate on when I lost my virginity, figured that it was roughly 25 years ago and guessed that I had slept with an average of three to four women a year. I wish I hadn't made that calculation because it makes me sound like a complete idiot."

He recently ribbed fellow judge Pete Waterman for being moved to tears by a contestant's performance. But is there anything that would move Cowell to tears?

Nothing in business, he says.

"But there's definitely a soft side to me. Because I know so much more about the music business than the people who audition, you do have to be cruel to be kind. You have to prepare yourself for the knocks as well as the praise."

He's never been attacked in the street over his cutting remarks although there were a few problems when he did American Idol, he reveals.

"There was one time in New York when guys who had auditioned were waiting for me with baseball bats outside the audition rooms. Luckily I went out through a different exit.

"But generally people are quite affectionate. They like the show and the honesty."

His infamous disagreements on the show with fellow judge Pete Waterman are done with the greatest of good humour, as record producer Waterman was Cowell's mentor.

Cowell shadowed him to find out how to get on in the music business in his early days and says he owes a lot to him.

Despite his ego, he says he was initially reluctant to go on TV and even now he turns down 95 per cent of TV projects offered to him.

"I could easily become a full time TV personality. I've just turned down an eight figure sum in America to be a permanent chat show host because I'm not interested."

He is predicting a Michelle/Sam final on Pop Idol on Saturday, December 20, and wants Michelle to win, although he thinks Sam will be the victor. He says he may sign Michelle even if she loses.

Cowell's not sure if he will do another series of Pop Idol in Britain: "It's such a long commitment - six months - I'm going to have to think twice."

But what would the show be without Mr Nasty's comments?