We meet for breakfast in a West London cafe. I get there early, but my frenemy Piers Morgan is even earlier.
‘I’m not having you saying I kept you waiting,’ he says, already halfway through his first powerful coffee in his power booth on what is probably a pretty standard Monday morning power trip.
Oh my god, I think. Here we go. Piers is just so combative and competitive, it is exhausting. On screen and off he is the arch controversialist, a Mr Marmite who revels in his reputation as someone who is either loved or hated, adored or abhorred.
He’ll take it hot or cold, either way, just please don’t ignore him, for he is one of those men hardwired to win — your affections, your attention, your arguments.
Any minute now we will be fighting to the death over the milk jug or Meghan or what I wrote about him in 2006, for which he has never entirely forgiven me. ‘I only agreed to be interviewed by you back then because I wanted to impress my prospective parents-in- law,’ he says. ‘But Celia married me anyway, so it doesn’t matter.’
Piers Morgan is pictured in his former dressing room at Studioworks Television Centre where ITV’s Good Morning Britain is filmed
No, it really doesn’t matter, Piers, because you won and that’s marvellous. So let’s forget yesterday’s hostilities and move on to current triumphs, of which there are many.
Let’s go high, my old friend, let’s not sink low. Let’s start by saying how well you look, in your lovely Agnes B cashmere sweater and admire your glowing complexion, fabulously good for a 56-year-old man, even though you only wash your face with soap and annoyingly never moisturise.
Piers, could you please rummage in your personal arsenal of Piers Facts and give me a flattering one about your facial appearance? ‘My skin is in the top 14 per cent for men my age in the whole of California.’ Thank you.
Here’s another positive factoid. Following his abrupt departure from his ITV breakfast show Good Morning Britain (GMB) ten weeks ago, the station’s share price immediately dropped by five per cent.
What does that mean? ‘It means I am valued at £250 million, which is £50 million more than Neymar, the world’s most expensive footballer.’ He takes a sip of coffee. ‘That is very satisfying.’
Morgan’s six-year reign at GMB, in which he single-handedly turned a moribund breakfast show into a ratings smash, ended after he declared his disbelief that the Duchess of Sussex had told the entire truth during her infamous televised interview with Oprah Winfrey.
He specifically did not believe the Duchess’s claims that on two occasions she told senior royal aides she felt suicidal and needed professional assistance, but that they did nothing to help.
This declaration, surely a reasonable one by any standards of journalistic rigour, set in motion a chain of events which in hindsight seems completely farcical.
Celia teases her newly at-home husband by posting photographs of him doing the vacuuming online. ‘I want it all done by the time I get back from work,’ she captioned one
What an utter pantomime! Firstly there were 41,000 complaints to Ofcom about his remarks — and while each one must, of course, be taken seriously, surely they have to be weighed against a man with 1.29 million television viewers, 7.9 million Twitter followers, 1.7 million devotees who follow him on Instagram, plus the many, many millions more who read his MailOnline columns, the vast majority of whom did not complain about his point of view and probably, in fact, agreed with him.
The following day on GMB he had an on-air row with colleague and Meghan supporter Alex Beresford, which got so heated that Morgan walked off set — only to walk back on again ten minutes later. What the hell happened?
‘I thought it got too personal. Alex is the stand-in weather guy. He is not even the full-time guy. He is a guy I have helped a lot in his career, given him help and advice. And I just thought, I am not going to take this very personal take-down from him, from one of my own team.’
Well, that is the thing, Piers. You are supposed to be such a tough guy, but you’re as thin-skinned as an onion!
‘Yes, Jan, but I am incredibly thick-skinned, too. I am able to withstand unbelievable c**p as well. It’s a weird combination. I’m definitely thin-skinned, although I would say that most of my thin skin is tongue-in-cheek. But I like it when people have a pop at me.’
Does he really? All those years ago when I called him — consults notes — a big sap, he got his revenge by describing me as a ‘roly-poly journalist’. I’m over it, of course I am, but look Piers, what has my size got to do with anything?
‘I didn’t call you roly-poly.’
‘Did I? Okay, I apologise. But you called me an oily little creep.’
I DID NOT.
‘I think you did.’ He checks his notes. ‘No, you called me an oily flirt freak.’
‘Yes. And I said, relax love, you never need worry about me flirting with you.’
‘Well that is fair enough in these days of equality.’
Any minute now we will be fighting to the death over the milk jug or Meghan (pictured with Prince Harry and Oprah) or what I wrote about him in 2006, for which he has never entirely forgiven me
Is it? I’m only bringing it up to challenge his vision of himself as a tough guy who can take all the blows, but threw a hissy fit at the merest Meg-provocation. ‘Walking off the show was not very on-brand, I admit. I wish I hadn’t done it.
‘And even as I was walking off, I thought, why are you doing this irrational thing? I shouldn’t have done it but I was annoyed and worried that in my state, I might have said something I regretted. I needed a little time out.’
It was his co-presenter and ‘on-screen wife’ Susanna Reid who persuaded him to go back into the studio. ‘And she was quite right to do so.’
More pertinently, behind the scenes there was also a complaint from the Duchess of Sussex herself, and it is believed even a personal phone call to Dame Carolyn McCall, the head of ITV. ‘I don’t know exactly what happened. I do know she [the Duchess of Sussex] made contact, yes. But I don’t know what conversations were had.’
Morgan was asked to clarify his thoughts on mental health, which he did. He was also told that ‘you need to apologise’ on air. This was something he felt he could not do.
‘There was absolutely not a cat’s chance of me apologising. What am I apologising for?
‘I don’t believe a word that comes out of Meghan’s mouth. It all comes down to freedom of speech.
During the upcoming interview with Sir Keir Starmer (pictured), the Labour leader breaks down multiple times, and not just about the recent election results
‘I should have the right not to believe a public figure when they’re making clearly very inflammatory — and as we now know, very disingenuous — allegations about people who have no right of reply.
‘So I said, let me make it clear, I don’t know what she was feeling or thinking. I can’t speak for her in that regard. But when she said that she went to two senior people at the Palace and that she told them she was suicidal and they said, you’re not allowed to get help. I just don’t believe it. I just don’t.’
Before we met, I thought it might be hard getting Piers to talk about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, but au contraire, try getting him to stop. I feel like an ant trying to halt a thundering Meg-meteorite, a paper boat going over the Meg-rapids without a paddle. Piers still has so much to say and he is going to get his oar in, no matter what. He has strong views about Oprah’s interviews with the couple.
‘It is very exploitative,’ he claims. ‘Surely Oprah can see that Prince Harry is unravelling?
‘But she is allowing him to vent and bare his soul, possibly creating an irreparable rift with his family in the process. It makes me feel very uncomfortable.’ This from the man who regularly makes his celebrity guests cry on his Life Stories (ITV) show.
During the upcoming interview with Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader breaks down multiple times, and not just about the recent election results.
‘I never set out to make people cry. And it’s not about making people cry, it is about showing their human side.
‘The Keir Starmer show is very powerful television.’
Very powerful. Just like Meghan.
‘Yes. What we are dealing with is a very manipulative actress who knows exactly the hot button issues to press to create, in her eyes, a protective shield around anything she says.’
Yet he doesn’t mind if she perhaps feels a personal triumph at his inglorious GMB exit.
He has spent the last year in his London home with wife Celia (pictured together), their daughter Elise, nine, the live-in nanny and one of his three sons from his first marriage
‘Well I am sure she had a wonderful, joyous series of venti latte celebrations or crystal bashing, whatever they do over there, when she heard. I’m sure she did and that’s fine. I’ve no problem with that.
‘She thinks she’s beaten me? She might be in for a surprise, because I suspect I’ll be back soon.
‘And my views certainly haven’t changed. If Meghan thinks she has cancelled me or won the battle, she is in for a big shock. I’ve never been more popular.’
Piers is not saying what he will do next, only that it ‘will take everyone by surprise, it is not what you expect’.
I suspect this means he is not going to do the obvious and join Andrew Neil’s new television station GB News, but who knows?
He wants to take stock, get fit, enjoy his life without its crushing breakfast television schedules and not rush into anything.
At the moment, he is still on gardening leave, with ITV paying his contract until the end of the year. ‘They are paying me not to get out of bed,’ is how he puts it.
So apart from that incident Piers, how has your lockdown been? Mixed, is the honest answer.
One might have hoped that ITV would have done more to protect the star who made GMB a must-watch during the pandemic’s darkest days, trouncing their BBC arch rivals in the process. ‘We were a show on fire, we were really blazing in that last week,’ he says.
Instead he was thrown on the woke bonfire without a second thought. ‘We had broken our ratings record twice in the previous week. You know, I wasn’t expecting a carriage clock for beating the BBC, but I didn’t expect it to be my last day either.’ But he is philosophical, not angry.
On GMB Morgan had an on-air row with colleague and Meghan supporter Alex Beresford, which got so heated that Morgan walked off set (pictured) — only to walk back on again ten minutes later. What the hell happened?
‘It fundamentally came down to a lot of pressure being applied internally.
‘This is going on everywhere around the world, you know? The young, self-righteous, angry woke brigade affect everything.’
He even understands why co-host Susanna was initially frosty about his departure. The day after he left, she presented the show in a kind of icy fury. ‘I was taken aback when I watched it,’ he says. ‘I did think it was a bit cold, but I think it was a mixture of shock.
‘You have to understand it was a very dramatic, sudden divorce. Even if initially my genuine ex-wife was more supportive than Susanna! I think she probably hadn’t slept. I think she was very upset, I think she was angry a bit as well. And I think that she was concerned about her own position.’ Since then, they have talked and made up. ‘We’re all good. She was very apologetic. She said she just felt like she was in quite a state of flux.
‘I said to her, Susanna, I don’t want to be patronising but I think you’re a much better broadcaster now than you were when we first started working together.’ She must have been thrilled! ‘Yes, I said you are so much more opinionated now than you were. I miss her.’
Lockdown has had its difficult moments for Piers. For a start, he is missing his swimming pools, plural. ‘I’ve got one in my home in LA and one in my home in Sussex and I haven’t been able to swim in either of them. First world problems, I know.’
He has spent the last year in his London home with wife Celia, their daughter Elise, nine, the live-in nanny and one of his three sons from his first marriage.
He works out on his Peloton bike, he makes his special recipe ‘spaghetti Morganaise’ every Sunday night, he takes long walks in which he has had to get used to the appreciation of members of the public who stop him to voice their support.
‘It is hard for me, having to endure this sustained period of popularity. Yes, it is quite discombobulating. I’m more used to people giving me what for,’ he jokes.
Celia teases her newly at-home husband by posting photographs of him doing the vacuuming online. ‘I want it all done by the time I get back from work,’ she captioned one. Someone sent her a loo roll called Poop On Piers, with photographs of her husband on every sheet. ‘A proud moment for any wife,’ she noted. ‘Celia said that if our marriage can survive lockdown and being stuck with me, it can survive anything,’ he says.
His worst time came when his parents — who live in Sussex — both caught Covid very badly last October. ‘It was very tough. I couldn’t go near them.
‘My mother told me on the phone she thought she was dying. But they came through it, thank God.’ He is surprisingly religious.
‘I prayed to God and I prayed to my grandmother. I don’t go to church but I am not a lapsed Catholic, I still believe. And I find my faith a comfort.’
He does not find it a comfort, however, that GMB has lost a huge number of viewers since he left.
‘We all worked so hard to make that show a success,’ he says, rather sadly.
And on that note, we have to part. Piers kindly offers to pay for our coffees, but I won’t hear of it. Leave it to me, Mr Marmite, my sensitivo friend, I say.
Let old Roly-Poly get the bill.
Piers Morgan’s 100 Life Stories, a look back at some of his favourite moments, will be on ITV tomorrow at 9pm. His interview with Sir Keir Starmer will air on ITV on Tuesday at 9.30pm.