Speaking ahead of the return of Britain’s Got Talent, Cowell explains why he wasn’t surprised Cheryl quit the X Factor and reveals her future plans

It may have been a shock for fans but Cheryl Fernandez-Versini’s decision to quit The X Factor came as no surprise to one person – her boss Simon Cowell .

In his first interview since she resigned earlier this week, Simon reveals he had a “feeling for a long while” she was ready to step down as a judge.

And he admits a lot was to do with her being in a different place after falling for One Direction star Liam Payne, 22 .

Speaking ahead of the return of Britain’s Got Talent , Simon, 56, told the Mirror: “I had a feeling she would leave. She is at a certain place in her life at the moment.

“I saw her and Liam a couple of weeks ago and they looked really happy.

“And I believed for a long while that her big thing was to make records. It’s a huge commitment to do one of these shows.”

When 32-year-old Cheryl sensationally quit she said she “missed making music” and was “excited to be recording again”.

The statement also thanked Cowell who she insisted she “loved to bits”.

It is a far cry from how she felt the last time they parted company.

In 2011 the music mogul unceremoniously dumped the Geordie star from the American version of the show, leaving her furious.

To make matters worse, Cowell left it to show boss Richard Holloway to deliver the news.

Cheryl was so incensed she fired off a text message to Cowell hitting out at him, the US channel and the bizarre choice of purple and orange clothes she wore for the press launch.

She wrote: “F*** you, F*** Fox, F*** the orange and purple outfit. F*** the big hair. F*** the UK X Factor . F*** you all. I hate you.”

In an interview at the time she said she “went through hell and it literally drove me mad”.

She added: “I became so desensitised you could say terrible things to me and I wouldn’t even think about it.”

Fortunately Cowell, currently working on a new US “music entertainment” show, insists that this time around there is no animosity.

He’s even planning a top-secret project they can work on together but feels she deserves some time out first.

He says: “We are on good terms and will probably end up doing something else together. Maybe a different sort of show.

“I have something in mind I want to talk to her about. But I don’t think a break will do her any harm.”

Despite Cowell’s plans, Cheryl has also been linked to a judging slot on The Voice , which moves to ITV from BBC next year.

But Cowell dismisses the prospect of Cheryl jumping ship.

“I would be surprised if she did it,” he says. “Now we are on ITV I think there is a gentleman’s agreement that they would probably not do that.”

He also refused to blame Cheryl, who joined The X Factor in 2008, for last year’s lacklustre show.

While achieving good ratings, it never hit the heights of previous years.

While the 2015 results show was watched by an average of 8.4 million on Sunday, the night before only 5.9 million tuned in.

What’s more, it was consistently beaten by BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing.

New panellist Nick Grimshaw and presenting duo Caroline Flack and Olly Murs all got a mixed response from viewers and have since left the show.

Simon admits: “I thought the show as a whole was low energy. You get years like that.

“I don’t think it’s a Cheryl thing. I don’t think I was on top form. There was something missing. I couldn’t work it out.

“But I think I have worked it out now when we announce what we are going to do next. I mean it wasn’t a disaster… we had a great winner.”

But Cowell takes his own fair share of the responsibility.

He admits it was hard to film while grieving for his mother Julie Brett, who died aged 89 last July.

Simon says: “I found it difficult when something is really affecting your life and you are on a talent show and you are trying to be up and happy.

“I didn’t feel myself and it really took me a year to come out of it.

“We have all been there. And I am not saying I am the only person it’s ever happened to but it hit me hard.