In her first interview since last month’s live TV race row that cost Sharon Osbourne her job, she tells Cole Moreton the real reason she reacted so strongly
I know what I am,’ says Sharon Osbourne, defiantly. ‘I know my faults. I know I behaved badly, I did not behave professionally, but neither did they. I know my part, but I know I’m not a racist.’
She’s speaking publicly for the first time after leaving a high-profile job on American chat show The Talk, following a bitter on-screen row with fellow presenters over comments her friend Piers Morgan had made about the Duchess of Sussex, which they thought were offensive.
Sharon admits she swore and made mistakes under the pressure of an unexpected on-camera attack from people she had thought were friends, but says the producers set her up. ‘I didn’t expect to get to the age of 68 and have all this on me. I do not want my legacy to be: “Well, she was a racist.” I mean, it’s insane. It’s just not true.’
The online backlash has been vicious, she says. ‘Oh my God. I was getting death threats. They were going to kill my little dogs. Look at that. Who’s going to kill my baby?’ She holds up Bella, a 5lb white Pomeranian. ‘They were saying: “We’re going to poison the dogs. We’re going to come in the night and cut your throat.” And sending terrible stuff to the kids, too.’
Sharon now has extra security at the home in Los Angeles that she shares with her husband Ozzy and their 11 dogs, surrounded by beautiful things including the $50,000 portrait she has just commissioned from the artist Dan Pearce. Today she looks smart in a white blouse with her hair cut into a youthful bob, but seems rattled. Is she afraid? ‘I’m not scared of people, but I’m scared of what this country is becoming. Everybody’s on edge.’
The irony is that just before this all blew up, Sharon – who is of Irish and Ashkenazi Jewish descent – joined Craig David, Herbie Hancock and others in launching the Black-Jewish Entertainment Alliance, based on the idea that communities who had suffered should work together. But that didn’t save her from being caught out by the new mood sweeping both America and Britain. ‘I haven’t done anything wrong. All I’m talking about is freedom of speech. You say one word wrong in this cancel culture and you’re cancelled, fired ‒ off.’
I’m going to risk challenging her myself – and she’s going to say some pretty eye-watering things about everyone from Meghan to her former bosses – but, just like her mate Piers, Sharon has always been outspoken. It’s what she does.
The daughter of a notorious rock manager, she learned to be tough very young. She saved her husband’s life as well as his career by taking over as his manager when the wild-living singer was sacked from Black Sabbath. Sharon then hit our screens almost 20 years ago as the motormouth matriarch in The Osbournes, the outrageously entertaining reality show that kickstarted the current generation of fly-on-the-wall TV fare. She was mother to Jack and Kelly (and Aimee, who remained resolutely off-camera), who turned out to be as loud, obnoxious and hilarious as their parents. Simon Cowell made this Brixton-born force of nature even more famous as a judge on The X Factor and America’s Got Talent, where she sat for five years alongside Piers.
Sharon was also one of the original hosts on The Talk – America’s answer to Loose Women, in which a panel discusses the day’s headlines from a female perspective – when it started 11 years ago, but had begun to feel out of place as the oldest there. ‘I’m like: “Fine, I don’t fit the way the show has evolved, but don’t set me up.”’
So what really happened? I’m expecting her to hold back and be careful but that doesn’t happen. ‘This all started with two spoiled young people wanting to be victims, wanting to get publicity for what they’re doing in their life,’ she says, talking about the interview Harry and Meghan gave to Oprah Winfrey in the States in early March. ‘What are you victims of? You wanted your freedom. You’ve got it. Now what is the matter? What are you complaining about? We’ve all got problems in our family. There’s always one a**hole; there’s always one jolly one. And who doesn’t cry at weddings?’
That’s a reference to Meghan’s claim that the Duchess of Cambridge upset her. ‘I just thought that was pretty low, to bring up that Kate made her cry. She’s talking about the future Queen. They’re sisters-in-law. It’s just normal they could fall out. Happens every day. It’s no biggie. She didn’t hit her.’
Has she ever met Meghan? ‘Never met her at all. No, but you know what? When you’re dealing with royals there are rules. The way they run their life, the way you conduct yourself. Does she think it’s just cocktail parties all day long?’
Blimey. So it’s fair to say that she was as sceptical as Piers when he said of Meghan on Good Morning Britain the following day: ‘I’m sorry, I don’t believe a word she said.’ This drew 41,000 complaints including one from the Duchess herself. Some people accused him of racism for doubting the word of a mixed-race woman.
Piers later clarified that he thought people with mental health issues should be taken seriously, but stormed off set and quit GMB the next day after being ordered to apologise. Over in America, Sharon tweeted her support for her old mate and his right to say what
he felt: ‘I am with you. I stand by you. People forget that you’re paid for your opinion and that you’re just speaking your truth.’
. @piersmorgan I am with you. I stand by you. People forget that you’re paid for your opinion and that you’re just speaking your truth.
— Sharon Osbourne (@MrsSOsbourne) March 9, 2021
Piers and Sharon have known each other for 20 years. ‘He came to interview me. We met at lunch and, of course, ended up drinking too much, then just had a laugh. It went from there. We are great mates. We argue like hell; we had a punch-up once.’ What, a proper one? ‘Oh, yeah. I slapped him in Mr Chow’s [the high-end Chinese restaurant in Knightsbridge]. Then I go home and Ozzy, goes: “Call him and apologise. Do it right now!”’
They clearly made up. ‘That was years ago. He’ll be huffy with me for a day and then he talks to me. We don’t agree about lots of things. You have your right to say something. But now because you say something about somebody of colour, you’re done.’
When stuff like this happens, true friends run towards you, fake friends run away. I love Sharon Osbourne because she always stays true to herself.
She knew she would get abused by the woke brigade for tweeting this – but did it anyway because it what she believes. https://t.co/gYnSwXZsUe
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) March 10, 2021
The panellists on The Talk had already discussed the Oprah interview, but producers asked Sharon to explain why she was standing by Piers. ‘I was meant to talk about Piers for two minutes at the start of the show, then we would go on to Selena Gomez and, would you believe, Pepé Le Pew and Dumbo. The character Pepé Le Pew is said to be too sexual and Dumbo racist. [Pepé has been cut from Space Jam 2 and Disney+ has removed Dumbo from the profiles for children under seven]. That’s what we were meant to be discussing. Instead the producers let it go on for 20 minutes of ugly TV.’
The word had come from on high, she says. ‘Apparently, the CBS executive responsible for The Talk had called the show runner in the morning and said: “Let’s ask her about being a racist.” So I’m dead before I start.’ The word she uses for that executive cannot be repeated here, even with asterisks.
Sharon says she noticed the mood change dramatically when Sheryl Underwood, a black comedian who is one of the four hosts, asked the first question. ‘Her whole demeanour changed. I’m like: “What’s going on?”’
Sheryl asked what Sharon would say to those who thought that by supporting Piers she was giving ‘validation or safe haven to something he has uttered that is racist, even if you don’t agree?’
Visibly rattled, Sharon said she did disagree with Piers but asked Sheryl several times to clarify what Piers had said that was racist because, of course, there wasn’t anything. Sheryl said: ‘It is not the exact words of racism, it’s the implication and reaction to it. To not want to address that because she is a black woman, and to try to dismiss it or make it seem less than what it is. That’s what makes it racist.’
She added: ‘But right now I’m talking to a woman I believe is my friend and I don’t want anyone to watch this and think that we’re attacking you for being racist.’ Sharon laughed at that, blew her nose and said: ‘I think it’s too late, that seed’s already sown.’
Dumbo and Pepé Le Pew were forgotten, the running order was junked and Sharon became agitated. ‘I feel like I’m about to be put in the electric chair because I have a friend who many people think is a racist so that makes me a racist… what’s it got to do with me?’
She tried to talk to Sheryl during the commercials but got no answer. ‘I’m like: “What the hell?” And in the break, after the first ten minutes of abuse, I go: “Sheryl, what is going on? Talk to me. What is going on?” There were no producers on the floor, nothing: it was just camera crew and the girls. And she wouldn’t talk to me, she refused. She sat like this,’ says Sharon, sitting straight backed and staring into the middle distance.
Sharon says she did have a conversation with another panellist, Elaine Welteroth, during the next break. ‘She’s a journalist and very nice. Lovely. She was in shock and she started to cry.’ Their conversation was a tough one, at least as Sharon tells it. ‘I said to Elaine: “I’m not racist about anyone. I don’t have it within me.” She goes: “Why not?” And I go: “Because I’m a Jew. For years Jews have been persecuted and run out of every country in the world. I’m going to pick on black people?” She said: “My ancestors were slaves.” I said: “Well, mine got fried in an oven. We’ve all got history.”’
Despite this brutal exchange, Sharon remains a fan of Elaine. ‘She’s young, beautiful, a great writer. She has an audience and her mission in life is getting rights for her people. I admire her and God bless her. She’s doing a lot of good.’ When the show finally moved on to a guest, Sharon says she was struggling. ‘I was crying and I couldn’t breathe properly because I had Covid a couple of months ago and I’ve still got a bad chest. Nobody from the producers came on the floor. When the show was finished I just said: “You can all f*** off!”’
What was Ozzy’s reaction when she got home? ‘He was going: “No! Not Sheryl?” He couldn’t believe it because Sheryl has been here so much, he knows and loves her.’
This really does feel personal, she says. ‘The thing that broke my heart was that she never once said: “I’ve known you for ten years and I know you are not a racist.” I was so angry, because she’s my friend. Ten years we’ve sat together. We’ve travelled together. We’ve partied together. She’s a workmate.’
Is she still a friend? ‘No. You’ve got to be joking. I’ve apologised. I’ve texted her, everything. Nothing.’ Sheryl hasn’t responded? ‘No. She did one interview and said that God is in her and using her as a vessel. You can’t fight that.’
Sharon says she does want to learn how to do better. ‘I want to know what is a politically correct way to talk to people of colour. I don’t want to offend anyone. But I wasn’t talking to a black woman that day. I was talking to my mate, who happens to be black.’
She did post an apology on Instagram saying: ‘To anyone of colour that I offended and/or to anyone that feels confused or let down by what I said, I am truly sorry. I panicked, felt blindsided, got defensive and allowed my fear and horror of being accused of being racist to take over.’
Does she have any regrets? ‘I stand by what I did. Yes, I could have been more controlled, absolutely. I could have handled myself with dignity. I could have done much better. But they did it on purpose because they wanted some reaction. They wanted some publicity for the show.’
CBS took The Talk off air for a month to investigate what had happened, but found no evidence the producers had orchestrated the confrontation or blindsided any of the panellists. It said Sharon Osbourne’s behaviour that day ‘did not align with our values for a respectful workplace’.
So what happened next? ‘They paid me for my contract and I walked. There wasn’t any ten million [settlement as reported] and all of that. I don’t want anything from them. I don’t want to sue them. I’m going to write a book. I’m going to tell everything.’ Can she do that? ‘They didn’t gag me. I would never sign a gagging order, so I can do what I want.’
Is she not worried about the consequences of speaking this freely? ‘I don’t give a s***, because I’m in a position where I’m blessed and I know I am. I have my family, my husband takes such good care of me. I’ve never wanted to be the biggest or the best. I live my life, that’s it.’
The rules of society have changed, she says, but it is sometimes hard to know how. ‘The cancel culture is evolving, but as a white person you have to keep up with what is going on. Young people say: “We’re not going to tell you, you’ve got to go and find out what is a politically correct way to treat us and talk to us.”
‘The young generation of black people has just had it with being treated the way they’ve been treated. They’re not taking it any more and, OK, I get it. I really do. But you can’t go on a witch hunt.’ Sharon compares what is happening now to persecution from the 1950s. ‘It is like the McCarthy era here; where they say you’re a Communist and they take your life away from you. Now it’s the same way with unconscious bias.’
She’s angry about what has happened. ‘I get it. You want change in your country. But don’t start on a 68-year-old from England who likes the Queen. I’m the wrong one.’ Will she return to US telly? ‘Oh no, they’ll never let me. You must be joking. With these corporations that own all the networks, they’ll never have me.’
So what happens now? ‘I’m going to write a book. I’m going to do a podcast and we’re negotiating a movie of Ozzy’s life story. I’m going to produce that.’
Some things are tricky, though. ‘The heads of Ozzy’s record company are all black. I feel like they must hate me. I’m like: “Oh, I’m so sorry about all of this. You know it’s not true [that I’m a racist].”’
They also know something others might not: last summer, as riots swept across America, Sharon and Ozzy arranged for a Black Sabbath T-shirt to be printed with the words Black Lives Matter in the band’s distinctive font. ‘So many people bought one and it’s still selling. We gave Black Lives Matter $720,000. We have another $200,000 but I’m giving it to another group.’ Why hasn’t she made more of this? ‘Because people don’t want to hear it. And it’s like saying: “Some of my best friends are black.”’
As it happens, one of them was. ‘My best friend, who was like the mother I never had, was Rachel Youngblood. She died in the plane accident we had. She was black and just the best woman ever. But I don’t go on about that. It’s something that’s in my heart.’
Rachel was the 58-year-old band seamstress who died along with guitarist Randy Rhoads in 1982, when the tour bus driver took them for a flight in a vintage plane, collided with the bus and crashed. ‘Ozzy and I adored her. You feel like: “God, have I got to tell them about this to prove I’m not racist?” I’m not racist. Get a life.’
Speaking of Ozzy, I wonder how he is these days, living with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 72? ‘Ozzy’s doing good. He’s in the studio, coming up with another album. It’ll be out this year. That’s what he needs. He has to keep recording because otherwise he’ll go nuts not touring.’
They live in an area of LA called Hancock Park, which she compares to London’s Hampstead. ‘All the houses are very old, it’s this nice little bubble of a place. My eldest daughter Aimee has been staying here because during lockdown she didn’t want to be on her own. But she’s slowly packing a case to go back to her home.’
Is long Covid still making her chesty? ‘Yeah. And my daughter had it, too.’ The sunshine must help, but Sharon winces. ‘Listen, you don’t want to be in LA, mate. It’s not nice here any more. More homeless people. Everything is boarded up because of coronavirus.’
Does she want to return to Britain? ‘I do. I want to come home. Ozzy always says: “Where are we going to go to hang our hats and live for our last chapter?”’
They still have a home in Buckinghamshire, why not retire there? ‘We honestly don’t know. We’ve got our grandkids here and my son’s divorced so he can’t take the children out of California. It’s really tricky. At least when we can travel it will be lovely to go home and just be free.’
She sounds tired. ‘I’m mentally beaten up. That’s the way I feel. I just have to keep doing what I do. This woke cancel culture is difficult to manoeuvre, but I will manoeuvre and I will get through. Nothing stays the same, ever.’
But however weary she is right now, Sharon’s defiance against whatever life throws at her is one thing that does endure. ‘Look, I understand what’s been going on with the black race in this country for a long time. It gets to a point of frustration for the youth and they want their rights – and good luck to them. But the thing is, leave me out of it, mate. I’ve done nothing.’