The world knows British television show host and judge Simon Cowell as brusque and sometimes brutally honest, more likely to tell off a contestant than give them a hug.
At times, though, he’s shown off a softer side—and no one knows that more than British teen Julia Carlile, a “Britain’s Got Talent” finalist from 2017.
The young girl and her dance crew, the MerseyGirls, had wowed the judges. Not only were they phenomenal dancers, but Carlile, who was their lead dancer, revealed that she had severe scoliosis (an abnormal curvature of the spine) and needed surgery. The United Kingdom’s public healthcare system would have required her to get a metal rod placed in her back, ending her dance career, but the much riskier and more freeing surgery choice was only available for over $200,000 in the United States.
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Ultimately, the group fell just short of the ultimate prize at the end of the competition, with which they had hoped to pay for Carlile’s surgery. But Cowell had been so touched by their story that he used his own money to fund the operation, plus the trip—and when he saw her return to the show this year, the normally stoic judge couldn’t keep himself composed.
Carlile and the crew got a chance to reunite with Cowell and the judges in late July, though, joining an all-star season of Britain’s Got Talent called “The Champions.” And in a report by The Sun, when Cowell saw what Carlile is able to do now, flipping across the stage without a concern just two years after undergoing a major spinal operation, he couldn’t hold back his tears.
“All I want to talk about is one person’s strength and, beyond that, the friendship and support you all have, which we saw the first time we met you,” he started.
He immediately broke down, though, struggling to finish his thoughts when he witnessed the magnitude of the outcome for a young girl.
“To see you able to come back tonight … it just means everything.”
Simon certainly wasn’t alone in his excitement over their reappearance. Alesha Dixon, the singer who first gave the girls the “Golden Buzzer” back when they were on the show the first time around, expressed her own delight at being able to see the group back with Carlile smiling and performing.
“That just made my heart soar,” she said. “Simon, I love you, I love what you’ve done for her.”
Carlile has continued to dance following her operation, performing every chance she gets with the MerseyGirls. It was a long and tough road to recovery, but the 17-year-old has used the experience to promote awareness for her condition and to offer a voice of strength and support to others who may be struggling as well.
“My spine has always been very determined to curve, but not as determined as me,” she wrote on Instagram in June. “Scoliosis has been such a big part of my life, it has changed me as a person for the best. It made me stronger and it will make you stronger too if you stay positive. you’re not alone guys, keep believing.”
The girls will compete in the Champions season of “Britain’s Got Talent” this fall, which will air in the United Kingdom in late 2019.
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