Mr Showbiz: Jonathan Shalit rubs shoulders with presidents and popstars
Jonathan Shalit takes care of actress Kelly Brook and singer Myleene Klass
Talent manager Jonathan Shalit uses the word “amazing” no fewer than 19 times in the course of our 69–minute interview. On the face of it this might come across as a little OTT, typical of the excessive use of superlatives that is so common among snake–oil salesmen and showbusiness agents alike.
But there is something quite, well, “amazing” about the career trajectory of the man who first burst on to the showbusiness scene 17 years ago when he discovered the 11–year–old singing sensation Charlotte Church.
These days Shalit has more than 200 clients on his books ranging from X Factor judge Mel B and TV presenter Myleene Klass to Masterchef judge Gregg Wallace and evergreen actress Joan Collins.
Despite never having been to university he was made an honorary professor by Henley Business School in 2012 and this year was awarded an OBE for his services to the entertainment industry.
Proof that his influence extends well beyond the realms of showbusiness came when he threw a 50th birthday party two years ago. Rubbing shoulders with Shalit clients such as Tulisa, Lorraine Kelly and Kelly Brook were the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and rising Labour star Gloria de Piero.
Then again Shalit is no stranger to the corridors of power. He once spent 15 minutes at a VIP reception talking to the Duchess of Cornwall. During a meeting at Downing Street, David Cameron confided that his favourite TV show was racy US comedy Modern Family. And then there was the time he met Bill Clinton at the White House in 1999 with Charlotte Church. Bizarrely, the US President asked the child star’s agent his opinion of the single European currency and after listening to Shalit’s response said: ‘That’s a really interesting perspective Jonathan.”
Shalit with a young rising star by the name of Charlotte Church
I would then copy the LP on to the blank cassettes and sell the cassettes at school
Shalit adds: “A few years later, after he’d stopped being president I was at Alexandra Palace for a charity night. I get introduced to him and he goes, ‘Good to see you again Jonathan’. I didn’t know what to say so I went, ‘You’re good!’ He bent down to whisper in my ear theatrically, ‘No, my people are good’.”
According to Shalit, the people at his company Roar Global are very good too. “I have an amazing team in Roar,” he says. “I always use that amazing [that word again] phrase, ‘There’s no “I” in team’. I think that’s very important.”
The truth is that at Roar there is very definitely an “I” in team whether Shalit likes it or not. Without his potent brand of charm, charisma and, yes, ego the really big names would probably not be there.
It is often said that entrepreneurs are born and not made. Pry into their early days and you will invariably find that their wheeling and dealing dates back to their childhood. Shalit is a very good example.
He started out by making himself unbeatable in school conker competitions. He’d dunk his chestnuts in vinegar and then roast them in the oven to create an indestructible “sixer”. And this made for handsome returns at the tuck shop: “In those days a Curly Wurly was 3p so if you won 5p at conkers it was a Curly Wurly with 2p left over or, even better, 20 Blackjacks, because they were four for a penny.”
Later he graduated to music piracy. “You’d buy an LP and then you’d buy a box of TDK blank cassettes,” he recalls. “I would then copy the LP on to the blank cassettes and sell the cassettes at school.”
And at 16 he cornered the market in surf boards and windsurfers for a season near his childhood home in Bosham on the West Sussex coast.
“There was a local windsurfing shop that sold these boards and it went bust,” he says. “I was able to get them off the guy and my terms of payment were that I would pay him in 14 days time. I think I took about 10 of these boards and sold them all for double what I had to pay him.”
While Shalit’s various commercial enterprises prospered he did not fare well at boarding school.
Mel B is one of Shalit's many clients
“When I was young I never really fitted in, I never conformed, which in turn led to me sometimes being bullied, sometimes being unpopular, sometimes causing havoc: a mixture of all three.”
In all he went to eight different schools and it wasn’t until he ended up at London City Boys School to do his A–levels he found his niche.
There he started a theatre society, began directing plays and promoted discos. But his stroke of genius was to launch a review magazine, which led to him being sent virtually every album released in London and tickets to all the best concerts in town.
As he says: “I was spreading my wings across entertainment from a very early age.” Unfortunately his banker father was determined he go into the City rather than anything as flighty as showbusiness. So at the age of 18 he joined the Lloyd’s of London insurance market as a trainee broker.
Predictably, he couldn’t stand it and resorted to desperate measures to escape. Setting his sights on a job as an account man at ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi he persuaded a friendly window cleaner to knock on the chairman’s office window and hand over a letter from him. “It basically said, ‘Please look out the window and wave at me’. I was standing on the pavement wearing a sandwich board with the words, ‘Please give me a job’. He agreed to see me and I was hired.”
Corporate life was never going to be enough for Shalit and three years later he left to set up his own graphic design company and made a good living printing brochures and leaflets for multinational clients.
A chance meeting with veteran harmonica player Larry Adler led to him getting his first break in showbusiness. The younger man’s brainwave was for Adler to perform a series of duets George Gershwin songs with superstars of the day, including Elton John, Sting, Cher, Carly Simon and Jon Bon Jovi.
“I got [Beatles producer] George Martin to produce them and the album sold two million copies around the world,” he says. “So overnight I went from no one knowing who I was to being renowned as a massive success.”
Joan Collins trusts Jonathan Shalit will get the job done for her
His next star client came from the opposite end of the age spectrum. “I heard about a young opera singer from Wales called Charlotte Church,” he says.
“I went down to Cardiff and she auditioned for me in her singing teacher’s front room. I was mesmerised by the complete beauty of her voice, signed her up, and made records with her.
“We eventually did a deal with Sony, took her round the world and we had two double platinum records in America in the space of nine months.”
It was too good to last of course. He fell out with Charlotte’s mother, was fired and successfully sued Sony for £2.3million. “I’m not complaining,” he says. “I did fantastically. It was the backbone of my life. Without Charlotte Church I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
And that is sitting pretty. He employs 21 people and last year his clients sold more than a million CDs and appeared in 5,000 hours of television.
HE HAS no plans to retire any time soon despite the stresses of his role. “All day long challenges are coming at me from all directions,” he admits. “Today one of my clients wanted to pull out of a TV show. The other day another client missed a flight and caused havoc. Another client had a barney at home. Another client couldn’t work out what song to do. Another client had a problem at the television station.”
But nothing compares with social media in terms of the potential for disaster.
“What’s changed my life the most is Twitter. It is the most amazing thing ever and the most terrible thing ever. I go to bed happy and smiling with everything in order.
“And then one of my younger clients will send a tweet at three o’clock in the morning and it will be all over the internet. Journalists look at tweets of famous people all night because every night someone famous is going to tweet something ridiculous.”
So what ambitions remain for the man who knows everyone who’s anyone?
“I love what I do but there are three things I’d like my clients to win, guided by me, which would reflect what I’ve achieved. I’d like them to win a Grammy, an Emmy and an Oscar. If I could have those on my mantelpiece alongside a Bafta and a Brit that would be an amazing thing to show my grandchildren in the years to come.”