Posted By Nicole Cheney on August 12, 2012
Morgan’s mother is a crucial figure in his life. He takes just three calls in the time that I am with him: one from Kelvin MacKenzie, one from a lawyer, and one from his mother, who is ringing to congratulate him on his performance on Steve Wright’s radio show. Piers makes frequent weekend visits with his sons to his parents’ house. When he plays cricket for Newick, he goes in the score-book as Pughe-Morgan. He dropped the Pughe, he says, because it wouldn’t fit in a single-column byline, but one wonders how useful a double-barrelled surname was in the ferociously Thatcherite newsroom of Kelvin MacKenzie’s Sun. As it is, with his comp-school cred, lack of a university degree and classless accent, Piers Morgan can reasonably claim to know who his readers are without pretending to be something he’s not.
Morgan’s desk is dominated by pictures of his sons. There is no photograph of his wife, Marion, a former ward sister. The couple separated, not for the first time, 18 months ago, prior to the birth of their third son. The fact that he has now bought an apartment suggests a certain finality. Morgan has since been linked to journalist Marina Hyde, who is a diarist on The Guardian. Before that, she worked at The Mirror, having been sacked by The Sun for sending personal emails to Morgan. For once, the effusive Morgan is tightlipped. His sun-lamp-like bonhomie dissipates: “Yeah, I’m not going to talk about it. I mean, you’re perfectly entitled to ask me and you’re perfectly entitled to invade my privacy, but on this one, I don’t intend to talk.”
Is he not worried that the more he plays up his role as The Mirror’s swashbuckling figurehead, the more he will become a target himself? “I cop it all the time,” he says, like an old soldier showing his wounds. “Over that shares business [the "Slickergate" scandal, in which Morgan was accused of insider-dealing shares, tipped by his own "City Slicker" columnists], I was front page of The Sun about eight times. But the downside for The Sun was that every time they put me on the front page, they lost sales.” Alan Rusbridger offers a different perspective: “Under that manic exterior, he’s quite thoughtful and sensitive, and he’s also quite thin-skinned.”
His editorship of the News of the World was marred when he ran a story about Earl Spencer’s wife Victoria receiving treatment for an eating disorder, with covert pictures of her in a clinic. The intrusion earned Morgan heavy criticism from the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), which provoked a reprimand from his proprietor, Rupert Murdoch. “He had the most terrifying silence I’ve ever encountered in my life,” recalls Morgan.
Piers has learnt the hard way that if he keeps his nerve then eventually the dogs will be called away. Therein lies the streak of shrewdness and pragmatism that has made him one of Fleet Street’s great survivors. Is it in the job description, though, that he has to be part of the entertainment himself? “If you’re a tabloid editor, then getting into scrapes is not necessarily a bad thing,” he says. “I don’t want to drop any more dangers, but I don’t think they’ve particularly damaged my career at all. They tend to add a bit of notoriety.”
“Am I fortunate still to be in the job? Yes, I am.” Is there anything he’d resign over? “No. They’d have to fire me — you get more money that way.” Six years ago, his salary was £200,000. The Mirror remains profitable (making £1 million a week, despite the advertising recession), so it is safe to assume that his earnings have risen substantially. “I’m not very interested in the trappings of all this,” he says, “although I like having a nice car: a Mercedes S500. I’m not money-driven and I don’t think people who know me would say I am.”
He used to own a share in a racehorse, and likes a flutter on his beloved Arsenal. He regularly offers Arsenal executive David Dein the benefit of his advice via fax. Ask Morgan what his dream job would be and he doesn’t miss a beat: “If Arsene Wenger was shot dead tomorrow and I was offered the managership of Arsenal, I’d take it in a flash.” Dein’s comment? “If there was a vacancy managing the ladies’ team, we might start him there.”
Managing Arsenal aside, Morgan says he’ll happily stay at The Mirror for as long as the board will have him, but a media observer believes that there is one other Fleet Street job he’d like: editor of The Sunday Times. The paper, like The Sun, is published by the Wapping-based UK subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. When Elisabeth Murdoch married Matthew Freud last year, Murdoch watchers noted that Piers Morgan was on the guestlist, while Sun editor David Yelland was not. Morgan may have remained on good terms with the Murdochs, but at the British Press Awards two years ago, he noisily harangued a senior News Corp executive about The Sun’s coverage of the Slickergate affair. A return to Wapping would certainly be a triumph of Morgan’s pragmatism. But where Piers Morgan is concerned, you can never rule anything out.