The team behind the X Factor has admitted to Graduate Fog that it employs at least four interns who work full-time, for three months, paid travel and lunch expenses only.

The interns’ employer told us: “They are a great group, they work hard and we really cherish them. It is a totally normal situation in the industry, they get great experience and are now really ready to be employed as fashion assistants, with a years worth of experience in 3 months and a great reference.”

We were first alerted to this on Monday, by Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones’ behind-the-scenes report “Inside the X Factory.”

In the piece, Jones appeared to suggest that head stylist Laury Smith had four unpaid interns working for her:

“I go in search of the people whom I’ve been told I must refer to as ‘The X Factor style team’. (The steely grip of Simon Cowell, whose Syco company runs this whole shebang, makes Stalin seem laidback.)

I start in wardrobe, a freezing warehouse staffed by Laury and her team, supplemented by four unpaid interns. Bear in mind these young people work seven days a week, from 8am until gone 10pm. No wonder the interns, too, are exhausted and in tears.

But at least, as one team member tells me, ‘they are now employable’. Fantastic. Just don’t tell them about the £8,000-per-second the show will earn from advertisers for a slot in next weekend’s final.

We dropped the X Factor a line, and were eventually put in touch with a spokesperson at Our Assembly, which handles the PR for the X Factor Style Team, who responded to our questions with this:

To: Graduate Fog
From: Our Assembly (PR for X Factor Style Team)


I hope you’re well.

Our Assembly represents the X factor Style Team. Following your email to Talkback Thames please see below for the answers to your questions, directly from Laury. Please note that Laury recruits her own interns.

1) How many interns does the X factor employ in total?

4 regular ones, occasionally more on show days- Saturday and Sunday

2) What sort of tasks interns are interns required to complete while working at the X Factor – and do they have set hours? (Please feel free to provide a few sample job descriptions if this is easier.)

Generally 10-6ish. Later sometimes if on video/ studios far out of town like
Teddington & Shepperton
They help with organising contestant and dancer clothes, picking up, co
ordinating at studio, pressing garments, customising garments and doing returns after the live shows.

3) Typically, how long are internships at the X Factor?

3 months, for length of live shows.

4) Are internships at the X Factor paid or unpaid? If you pay expenses only, how much is that?

We pay their travel and food.

“They are a great group, they work hard and we really cherish them. It is a totally normal situation in the industry, they get great experience and are now really ready to be employed as fashion
assistants, with a years worth of experience in 3 months and a great reference”.

Let me know if you have any further questions.

Actually, we do have some questions.

The X Factor — aimed squarely at viewers aged 16 to 24 — has helped secure Simon Cowell an estimated £200 million fortune. So far, its Saturday shows have raked in £75 million in advertising — and slots in this weekend’s final will sell for £8,000 per second. This year’s sponsorship deal — with Talk Talk — is worth £20 million. The judges’ pay cheques total several million. The show is expected to rake in £5 million from phone votes — just from the final. The show’s advertising deal with Marks and Spencer is worth several million more. Yet the X Factor can’t stump up the minimum wage — that’s £6.08 an hour — for their hard-working interns?

Our other question is: Does Simon Cowell know that there are unpaid interns working at the X Factor? We decided to find out — and have just sent his office this email:

To: Simon Cowell’s Office
From: Graduate Fog


I am contacting you on behalf of Graduate Fog – the website for job-hunting graduates – regarding unpaid interns within the X Factor team in the UK.

Following a piece by Daily Mail journalist Liz Jones on Monday – which appeared to suggest that there were unpaid interns working within the X Factor Style Team – stylist Laury Smith has confirmed to us that she has four unpaid interns working for her within the style department. She has also confirmed that those interns work set hours (between “10-6, later sometimes”) and have set tasks including “organising contestant and dancer clothes”, “customising garments” and “doing returns after the lives shows”.

Unpaid internships are an issue that our users take very seriously. We are extremely concerned that many unpaid internships exploit those who do them – and exclude those who can’t afford to do them. We also have serious concerns about how internships which appear to have set roles and hours fit into National Minimum Wage legislation – which indicates that anyone who fits the criteria of being a ‘worker’ (with set hours and responsibilities, not free to come and go as they please, not just work shadowing and not doing is as part of their course) must be paid at least the NMW for their work (£6.08 for over 21s, since 1 October).

Given Simon Cowell’s high profile, we are interested to know whether he is aware that there are unpaid interns working at X Factor and whether that is of concern to him. Would you be able to answer the following questions on Simon’s behalf?

1. Was Simon Cowell aware of the use of unpaid interns within X Factor or any of Syco’s affiliates?

2. If so, please estimate how many there are currently, how many there have been in the last year – and in which departments.

3. If Simon was not aware that there are unpaid interns working within his company, will he be willing to review his policy on internships now that we have brought it to his attention?

We are very much looking forward to hearing back from you — would you be kind enough to let me know when we might expect answers to these questions?

With very many thanks,

At Graduate Fog, we are seriously unimpressed. These X Factor interns aren’t work shadowing, making the tea or sorting the post – their list of duties shows they are doing proper, valuable work and they should be paid. They aren’t free to come and go as they please, they aren’t doing this work as part of their course – and X Factor is not a charity. So we are unclear how the programme feels that these internships fit with the minimum wage law.

Claiming that the use of unpaid interns is the industry standard is no excuse – nor is emphasising what valuable experience internships can offer young people. Experience, references and expenses do not equal pay. Living in London is expensive. Travel money and some food are provided, but how are these interns supposed to pay their rent and all their other bills?

We believe that unpaid internships exploit those who do them and exclude those who can’t afford to do them. They are getting longer and longer, with less chance of a job at the end of them. Increasingly, it is a myth that unpaid internships lead to paid jobs – now they are replacing paid jobs. Unpaid work is not a solution to youth unemployment – it is a big part of the problem.

For the makers of a programme about young people’s aspirations to be so ruthless when it comes to their own junior staff is shocking. Claiming to “cherish” interns who are working full-time without pay for three months is downright patronising to those interns — and an insult to the X Factor’s many millions of young viewers.

*Should Simon Cowell apologise for having interns working on X Factor?
What if he didn’t know – is he still responsible? What do you make of Laury Smith’s claim that she “cherishes” her unpaid interns?

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