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X Factor finalist Katie Waissel discusses her decision to study law in order to sue Syco

By | Published on Monday 16 January 2023


Former ‘X Factor’ contestant Katie Waissel has spoken to The Times about her decision to study for a law degree so that she could better understand the legalities of her time on the talent show. And also take legal action against Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment over allegations that it, as co-producer of ‘X Factor’, breached its duty of care to her as a participant on the programme.

Waissel appeared on the 2010 series of the UK version of ‘X Factor’ when the talent show was at its peak, that being the year that One Direction was created. She made it through to the quarter finals, but has since said participating in the programme ruined her life.

She has criticised the way she was treated by the show and the wider media, and accused ‘X Factor’ producers of failing to properly support contestants when the show was airing, as they were thrown into the limelight and became subject to constant media scrutiny.

Some former ‘X Factor’ finalists have, of course, built successful music or media careers off the back of their time on the show, though Waissel is not alone in criticising the programme – and its makers and music industry business partners – about the way they treated contestants during the competition and beyond. Cher Lloyd, Rebecca Ferguson and the winner of the 2010 season, Matt Cardle, are among those to have spoken out about their negative experiences.

Discussing the deals she and other contestants signed when appearing on ‘X Factor’ – and her subsequent decision to study law – Waissel tells the Times: “There are so many of us who have been so trapped and it’s not fair, there was a huge imbalance in power. I just wanted to be able to understand [the contracts] and to protect people from being manipulated in the future”.

On her decision to now pursue legal action against Syco, she adds: “I am pursuing a civil case of personal injury under negligence, which pertains to duty of care”. Though, the Times notes, pursuing that litigation will initially require persuading a judge to waive the three year statute of limitations that usually applies to cases of this kind.

Waissel discusses further the contractual relationship between shows like ‘X-Factor’ and their contestants – who are not classified as employees and therefore do not get any of the rights that come with formal employment.

The ways things are routinely set up, she goes on, “is manipulation and coercion at its finest. Company A, who is in a position of power, seeks person B, who is vulnerable. Company A says, ‘this is the biggest opportunity of your life and without it, you would be nothing’. That is the absolute pinnacle of where it’s all gone wrong. It gives me goosebumps”.

In addition to the legal action, Waissel has also launched an organisation called the OWHL Foundation which, she says, “will provide civil, criminal and mental health support to those in the industry who are navigating their way through, decoding what is going on. It’s like a legal GP, somewhere truly independent and safe, if you are bewildered by everything”.

Responding to The Times, Fremantle – the media firm which produced ‘X Factor’ alongside Syco – said it has “robust measures” under constant review to “ensure contestants are supported, including a dedicated welfare team made up of psychologists, doctors, welfare producers and independent legal and management advisers with no time limit on aftercare once the show has aired”.