Competing in 2010 on the popular British singing show, Waissel was considered the “most hated” contestant of the series by audiences.
At the time, she received acid attack threats online and death threats, allegedly from al-Qaeda, which she said caused her to suffer panic attacks and suicidal thoughts.
Since then, she’s seen therapists to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The show ruined my life,” Waissel told The Times in a new interview.
In April 2021, she established the OWHL Foundation, a charity aiming to “oversee the welfare, human rights and liberty within the creative industry sector”.
A year later, she “fought tooth and nail” to join BPP University in London’s postgraduate law course after deciding to retrain as a lawyer. Qualifying in July, the 36-year-old Waissel is now seeking to sue Cowell’s Syco Entertainment for breach of duty of care during her time on the series.
“There are so many of us who have been so trapped and it’s not fair, there was a huge imbalance in power,” she explained. “I just wanted to be able to understand [the contracts] and to protect people from being manipulated in the future.”
Waissel and her lawyers have sent a letter of claim to Syco Entertainment, the producers of The X Factor. Cowell served as a director at the time of her going on the show.
“I am pursuing a civil case of personal injury under negligence, which pertains to duty of care,” her letter reads.
Because the statute of limitations on personal injury is three years, Waissel would need a judge to waive it.
“I believe I can leverage my past experiences for the greater good and respectfully continue my efforts in building a safer industry as a whole, not only for those new entering it, but to provide a sense of justice and peace to all,” she added in a personal statement.
“I look back at the paparazzi pictures at the time and I honestly look like an addict – I was not – I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep,” she said. “It felt like they owned all of me. I’ve had therapy or counselling from the second I left [the show].
“It’s wrong,” Waissel continued. “People on reality TV are being publicly ridiculed for entertainment and we have become desensitised to it.”
In response to Waissel’s legal actions, Fremantle, the co-producers of The X Factor, have 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”.
The Independent has contacted Syco Entertainment and Cowell’s representative for comment.
In recent years, reality shows have increasingly come under scrutiny for their Duty of Care, or the lack thereof. ITV faced a reckoning after former Love Island contestants Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassiti died by suicide following their time on the dating show.
For the first time in the show’s history, the families and friends of contestants of the newest winter season will be banned from accessing their social media accounts, in an attempt to protect them from the “adverse effects of social media”.
If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, the Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email email@example.com, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.
If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.