I met Piers Morgan on Wednesday in the basement studios of TalkTV – located, oddly, between a Premier Inn and a spiritualist church on a busy West London street – Rupert Murdoch's new television channel, for which Morgan will be presenting his own show Piers Morgan Uncensored.
What's that phrase when someone is boisterously, irrepressibly pleased about pulling a stroke? Something about a dog with two … well you know the phrase.
That's Morgan, when he comes in, bouncing Tiggerishly on his heels. He has exciting news, but I have to promise not to tell anyone – anyone – until it's announced on the following day.
After weeks of negotiation, he had landed an interview with Donald Trump – the latest episode in the curious saga of co-dependence between the broadcaster and the former president, which began with Morgan winning Trump's Celebrity Apprentice TV show, progressed over the years through a series of interviews, meetings and phone conversations, but hit the rocks in 2020 when Morgan began attacking Trump over his handling of the Covid pandemic in America – resulting in the former US president blocking him on Twitter.
The latest interview, Morgan, 57 tells me over coffee, was conducted at Trump's Palm Beach retreat Mar-a-Lago. But it was almost derailed when he was told eight minutes before it was due to start that Trump was pulling out, after he had been given a three-page document detailing all the disobliging things Morgan has written about him over the past two years, including describing Trump as "a supreme narcissist" who had "morphed into a monster". The document, he says, originated with Nigel Farage (who presents his own show on the rival GB News and who had been with Trump in Mar-a-Lago a few days before) who had passed it to Trump via his son, Donald Jnr.
The ‘rigged’ promo that’s rocking the world. Don’t miss my world exclusive President Trump interview next Monday & Tuesday on @PiersUncensored - when all will be revealed! 🔥🔥😉 pic.twitter.com/rrQcVOInGx— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) April 21, 2022
"I thought he was going to cancel the interview," Morgan says. "He was very angry. I'd never seen him like that. But then he pulled himself together and did the interview." Things were coasting along until the last few minutes when the subject turned to Trump's claims about the election being stolen and the events of January 6 2021, when protesters stormed the US Capitol building.
It was at that point, Morgan says, that it became "an incredibly fractious series of exchanges. I told him I don't believe the election was stolen, you lost it fairly, and you just can't handle that. He said, well then you're a fool. It's very watchable stuff."
The morning after my interview, the story of his Trump coup broke, heralded with a teaser all over social media, depicting Morgan's interview in the style of a WWF contest. "Morgan vs Trump: The Most Explosive Interview of the Year", shows an increasingly heated, red-faced Trump telling Morgan: "I don't think you're real".
Trump then issued a statement claiming that Morgan "like the rest of the Fake News Media attempted to unlawfully and deceptively edit his long and tedious interview with me".
"I think he just doesn't like the fact that he lost his temper with me," Morgan tells me.
Actually, Nigel, the only stitching up was done by you when you sent him that dossier of my criticisms (which I stand by) in a pathetic attempt to ruin my Trump interview - especially graceless after I congratulated you after yours. Fortunately, it backfired & I got a corker! https://t.co/EIwROmXGkG— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) April 21, 2022
Meanwhile, Farage, eager to get in on the story, issued his own video, echoing Trump's accusations of "fake news" and saying that he had personally handed Trump the damning document.
"I just thought it was spectacularly graceless of another broadcaster," Morgan told me. "When he got Trump for his show, I sent him a text congratulating him, and when I get Trump for my show, Farage tries to ruin it."
"I bet Rupert Murdoch is absolutely fuming," Farage said in his video. "Why would Trump now trust Fox News or any Murdoch media empire (sic)?"
"No, he's not," Morgan tells me.
And so the circus rolls on. On Thursday Trump released another statement attacking Morgan, to which Morgan replied: "Take a chill pill, Mr President".
Welcome to Piers Morgan's world.
Cancelling the cancel culture
Marking his return to TV screens a year after his departure from Good Morning Britain, Morgan's new four nights a week show promises, as he has put it, to "cancel the cancel culture before it cancels our culture" (try saying that quickly after a few drinks). He is reportedly being paid £50m over three years to host the show, and write columns for the Sun and the New York Post.
Those familiar with Morgan's tenure on Good Morning Britain will know that his war on cancel culture was a central feature of the show, where a cast of non-binary advocates, trans activists and "millennial snowflakes" would be brought on to debate Morgan's war on woke.
Uncensored, he says will be his take on the news with "Big names and good pundits. Either I will take a strong opinion about something, and we'll have an expert to validate my opinion – for example, I believe in Ukraine Nato should now be getting engaged with conventional weapons with Putin, so I might get a top military person who shares that view. Or I might debate with guests who vehemently disagree with me about something.
"But what I do want it to always be is respectful and warm. I don't want it to get into the crescendo of shouting matches that we got into on Good Morning Britain with all the politicians during Covid. I was genuinely angry then – and I think my anger represented how people were feeling. But you can't sustain a daily show in prime time with me shouting. It's not going to be very confrontational."
What's this? Not very confrontational? One imagines that Morgan wakes up in the morning looking to pick a fight with someone – anyone.
Not true, he says. During the past few months, following a nasty bout of Covid, he was suffering from post-viral fatigue, waking up with "this massive fog in my head. I couldn't work out, I couldn't do anything. But now I'm fizzing with energy."
One can always glean a fair idea of what's exercising Morgan from his Twitter feed. This week he has been tweeting "Equality!!" about Megan's reported £38,000 worth of new clothes during her three-day trip to the Invictus Games; chastising Boris Johnson over Covid rule breaking; and tweeting a riposte to Laurence Fox:
Actually, I defended you from the cancel culture mob… but sadly, you then went bonkers. Wish you well with your recovery. 👍 https://t.co/eGO6DHdshM— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) April 18, 2022
"I thought by my standards I was quite gracious," Morgan tells me.
As we talk he spies Sharon Osbourne in the corridor outside and beckons her in. If Morgan is taller and beefier than you night expect, Osbourne is an almost doll-like figure with jet black hair and what looks like kabuki make-up. She will be presenting her own show on TalkTV, and will appear on Morgan's show next week. Osbourne, a good friend, is, he says, "the absolute personification of cancel culture", who in the wake of the Meghan Markle farrago was dropped from the American show The Talk, on which she was a panellist, "when her only crime was to support my right to an opinion".
"This culture war," he goes on, "is real, and it's causing real damage. There is a small but well organised, very aggressive group of people who call themselves liberals – they're not remotely liberal. I've argued they're the new fascists – these ultra-woke, cancel-culture protagonists who really want to dictate how the rest of us lead our lives.
"They come as a mob, normally online, and directly bully people on the boards of companies, who run universities, the media. It's nuts that we've allowed ourselves to be coerced by this small group of people."
You make it sound very conspiratorial, I say.
"It is conspiratorial! I don't think they all wake up in the morning and plot together, but I think they share a mentality, and Meghan Markle in particular represents that mentality. Everything that comes out of her mouth is that world view right there – it's riddled with hypocrisy, preaching one thing while doing another."
Ah yes, it doesn't take long for Meghan to come up in any conversation with Morgan.
Just to remind you, it was his attack on the Duchess of Sussex on Good Morning Britain in March last year following what he calls her ''Oprah Whineathon" that led to Morgan leaving the programme.
"I don't believe a word she says," Morgan said at the time. "I wouldn't believe it if she read me a weather report." An interesting choice of words, since it was a heated argument with the weatherman Alex Beresford (or "the stand-in weather guy who does the weather occasionally", as Morgan put it) in which Beresford provoked Morgan by suggesting that being slighted by Markle had irked him that caused Morgan to walk off the set. (Although, as he points out, he did return to finish the programme.)
"I only found out three days after I left that Meghan Markle had personally written to Dame Caroline McCall, the CEO of ITV, demanding my head on a plate," he tells me. "Apparently, the letter was completely gut-wrenching – 'I write because we are both women, both mothers' – as if that had anything to do with what I had said on air about her."
And then there's Prince Harry … "Preaching equality. Do me a favour! And now he's talking about protecting the Queen! It's obviously nonsense. He's only seen her once for 15 minutes in the last two years. He couldn't be bothered to come to Philip's memorial service, with some spurious argument about security, but he does pop up with a lot of security, including Obama's former bodyguard, to his own event in the Netherlands with a Netflix crew in tow. But this is what they're like. They're extremely avaricious and extremely commercially-minded. And they're only interesting to people because they're royals.
People say, leave them alone. They don't want to be left alone! The very last thing they want is to go to the Invictus Games in the Netherlands where she wears a £10,000 dress every day and nobody write about it. So I believe I've been almost forced to write about them."
How he became 'Piers Morgan'
The more one thinks about Piers Morgan, the odder the trajectory of his career seems.
From showbiz writer, to Fleet Street editor, to judging America's Got Talent, to hosting his own show on CNN, to columnist/broadcaster/controversialist.
It's a strange portfolio. It would be hard to imagine any other Fleet Street editor judging magicians and child sopranos on a prime-time talent show, or David Walliams or Simon Cowell holding Boris Johnson's feet to the fire over Covid, as Morgan did.
His father Vincent O'Meara, a dentist, died when Morgan was 11 months old, and when his mother Gabrielle remarried, to Glynne Pughe-Morgan, a Welsh pub landlord, Morgan took his stepfather's surname.
He was educated at Cumnor House prep school, and then at the local comprehensive school in Chailey, East Sussex, near his childhood home in the village of Newick. As a teenager, he says, he would "quite regularly" be thrown out of his local pub, the Royal Oak, on a Friday night, for "getting too boisterous. I used to love having a few pints and just arguing with people about what was in the news. I always had that in me.
"And I think I have an irresistible lure to the limelight, which I can't deny. I like being the centre of attention – good, bad or ugly, I don't really mind. I just don't want to be ignored; that to me would be eternal damnation."
He has become a brand, and it can sometimes seem he spends much of the working day replenishing it. "Absolutely. Not every day, but I do feel you've got to work at it." Right now, the brand is truth-teller to the nation, the man who won't be silenced. As the ads for Morgan's column in the Sun have it, "Piers says what we're all thinking."
But I've never heard him say "wow, that Piers Morgan is a proper b***end"' as one joker on social media put it.
Morgan laughs when I mention this. "Actually, I have said that, so he's wrong. But social media is never my barometer for this. My barometer is people on the street, and I can count on one hand the number of people who have come up to me and said anything negative in the last year. And it's not normally about Meghan Markle; she was just the prism to have a debate about the right to have an opinion. People now see me as the guy fighting for that right. And ironically a lot of them don't even like me."
This, I say, is a dangerous recipe for hubris. Does he ever look in the mirror in the morning and have a moment of self-doubt?
"No, I don't. I think I've found my rightful place, and I'm better than the rest of them. Until someone decides otherwise. And then I'll go and do something else."
Boundless egotism being part of the shtick, it's hard to tell whether he is being altogether serious about this.
"I think if people watched me tweet on a live stream they'd see how often I'm laughing. A lot of it is just winding people up and getting a debate going. But some of it is very serious." The difficulty is sometimes deciding which is which.
But back to self-doubt, which he is keen to refute. He prefers to emphasise self-confidence, "which to me is the root of life".
"So many people I know are incredibly talented, but get hamstrung and held back by a lack of belief in themselves. And society has moved to a very strange place where we celebrate weakness, we celebrate losing, almost more than we celebrate mental strength and winning.
"You can't have a stiff upper lip, you have to blub on TV, or people think there's something wrong with you. When I talk about 'stiff upper lip' people hurl abuse at me, all under the umbrella of mental health – without a thought, of course, for my mental health, being on the receiving end of abuse.
"But I feel remarkably calm, self-confident; I know what I want to do; I know how I want to get there. I'm excited about life. And I think more people should be like that."
I've been snared on his remark about people blubbing on TV. Thinking back to his TV series Life Stories where he would interview celebrities such as Cheryl Tweedy, Barbara Windsor and Bruce Forsyth, the crowning moment was always when he would wring a tear from his guests.
"I didn't encourage it. I refute that, I did many where nobody shed a tear, and I did some where people like Michael Parkinson, talking about his dad who died 50 years ago, burst into tears. And it was a genuinely startling moment. I never thought he'd cry."
But there was a small part of you that silently went "Yes!" when he did …
"No different than the part within you would say 'yes' if I started crying in this interview." He laughs. "As long as you don't deny it, I won't deny it."
Chance would be a fine thing. Morgan crying in an interview, I mean.
Morgan separated from his first wife Marion Shalloe, a hospital ward sister, in 2004, and they divorced in 2008. They have three children– Albert, 21, who is studying politics at Bristol University; Stanley, a Lamda-trained actor; and Spencer, a sports journalist.
In 2010 he married Telegraph journalist Celia Walden, the daughter of the former Conservative MP George Walden – and a woman who apparently has nerves of steel and the patience of a saint. The couple, who first met in 2005, when Morgan interviewed Walden for GQ magazine, have one daughter, Elise, 11 and live between Kensington, Los Angeles and East Sussex – a less glamorous life than it may sound, Morgan says. Most of their socialising is done with "very non-famous people" at their local Spanish and Italian restaurants, and Morgan's favourite Kensington pub. "I prefer that kind of social experience to very flash restaurants. But Joan Collins always wants to go somewhere fancy. I have dinner or lunch with her a dozen times a year, and she doesn't skimp because she's Dame Joan Collins."
Morgan describes Celia as "a very calm presence. When it was all kicking off on Twitter she would say: 'Just put the phone away, get off Twitter. It's just making things worse'.
"We have debates about stuff, but I can't remember the last time we had an argument about anything. Ever, actually."
On the day he left Good Morning Britain, when he was presented with the ultimatum to apologise or leave (nothing to do with self-doubt, he insists; "I was just feeling slightly unsure which way to go") some friends advised him just to take the hit – it wasn't worth losing his job over. "Celia said: 'Why would you apologise for saying something you believe? It's not you. It's not who I married.' And she was right."
In an interview with the Telegraph magazine last year, Walden said that the amazing thing about her husband is that "the exterior and interior of Piers are the same – and it really is just yet more Piers. And it's so refreshing to be with."
Morgan in full polemical mode is like an express train – you feel you might have to tie yourself to the tracks and hope he sees you as he comes round the corner, in order to get a word in edgewise. A recurring phrase in conversation is: "I always say to people …"
Those who know him socially talk of his tendency to "broadcast" rather than converse. He admits that at dinner parties "I'm exactly the same as I was on Good Morning Britain. Some people find it entertaining, and some people want to shoot me." Celia, he says, "just laughs at me if she thinks I'm being ridiculous. And she'll sometimes say: 'I think it's time for bed, isn't it?' And I get led away."
When I mentioned to people that I was about to interview Morgan, some rolled their eyes in horror. Others responded, "I love him". Those who have worked with him are full of praise. "The dream boss," says one. "Life was never dull." He is said to be a kind and generous friend.
He is also maddening, preposterous and stratospherically egotistical (none of which he would disagree with – and would possibly retweet favourably). But those who recoil from his public persona would be distressed to learn that in person he is funny, entertaining and immensely likeable.
"I like to think I'm never dull. I don't think anyone says, "that Morgan is going to be boring." To me the enemy of life is boredom.
"As I've got older, Celia and I have both decided we're going to spend a lot less time with boring people, so we come up with ever more complex reasons why we can't see them." He laughs. "So if you're on that list, I'm sorry."
Oh no he's not.
Morgan on ...
"He was very angry. I'd never seen him like that. But then he pulled himself together."
"It's causing real damage. There is a small but well organised, very aggressive group of people who call themselves liberals – they're the new fascists."
"He's talking about protecting the Queen. It's obviously nonsense. He's only seen her once for 15 minutes in the last two years."
"Everything that comes out of her mouth is riddled with hypocrisy, preaching one thing while doing another."
"When Farage got Trump for his show, I congratulated him. When I got Trump for my show, Farage tried to ruin it."
"She is the absolute personification of cancel culture, when her only crime was to support my right to an opinion."
His wife, Celia Walden
"We have debates about stuff, but I can't remember the last time we had an argument about anything. Ever, actually."
His own talent
"I've found my rightful place and I'm better than the rest of them. Until someone decides otherwise."