Taking his cue from French philosopher Voltaire (I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It) Steven Smith takes a look at the meteoric rise of the man who could arguably be the ultimate school bully, Piers Morgan. He asks, as an adult society that often does not progress far from the playground in life, do we actually revel in Morgan’s Machiavellian ways?
Is he a friend to the LGBTQ community and should he be fired from the Good Morning Britain show for his apparent sexist views and for questioning whether we should teach children that there are 100 genders?
Victoria Wood is about to come on stage at the Albert Hall and I am in the box, hosted by her PR Neil Reading, with a variety of celebrities, journalists, and media types. The lovely Dale Winton is busy chatting away to me. Looking fabulously brown and styled to perfection, he is charming and witty.
Everyone is excited about the show when suddenly the air changes. “Oh god NO!” Dale shrieks, as if Maleficent had turned up and we were about to be sent to sleep for a hundred years. Some of the other celebrities looked a little uncomfortable too. No, it was not Maleficent, it was Piers Morgan, the youngest editor of The Mirror newspaper. Dale does all he can to look away from him, but I can see that Piers is making a beeline for Dale and is grinning ear to ear.
“How is that bottom doing Dale?” Piers is still grinning. Dale’s tan has gone up two notches and he manages an uncomfortable, “Fine Piers thanks”, making no eye contact.
The penny drops. The Mirror had splashed that Dale had been paying for visits to have colonic irrigation at Oriental Medicine in London’s trendy Beauchamp Place, the same clinic Princess Diana used to visit frequently. Somehow, they had pictures of Dale coming of the clinic.
If Dale had swung round to confront Piers and replied, “Oh just great, lovely! You really should try it Piers, wash some of that shit you write straight out of you!”, my feeling is that both men would have laughed and Piers might have offered Dale an alternative health column.
The scenario did make me giggle naughtily to myself. Piers was goading his victim a little like a serial killer returning to the scene of a crime. It is really no big deal having a colonic, but Dale was actually quite private and a kind soul, sadly missed.
The next victim a few months later was Anthea Turner. I noticed her body shape change and realised that Piers Morgan was in the room. Anthea was all over his paper and all the other tabloids for apparently splitting up Grant Bovey’s marriage.
He really was like the school bully; it seemed that he couldn’t help himself at events. What was also clear to my eye was that Piers wanted to be a celebrity himself, whilst splashing gossip and scandal about the established celebrities daily in his paper.
Now, let’s not forget that Piers is a genius. He was made the youngest editor of the defunct News of The World at aged 29 by Rupert Murdoch. He was fascinating to watch and an incredible talent.
One of his talents was to stay incredibly calm whilst still goading people or getting a rise out of them. Sitting on the table at a great friend’s wedding with the wonderful Barbara Windsor and her amazing husband, Scott Mitchell, Piers joined us. He was delightful and we had a beautiful afternoon.
Then a PR woman decided to come join us and she started on Piers. Piers was hysterically funny. The PR became more and more irate as he stayed calm and got her so hot under the collar that she charged off. It is this ability he has transferred to his interviewing technique, sometimes making uncomfortable viewing, but also making television headlines that are often very entertaining. But when he wants to be, he is very kind and he can show a sympathetic ear.
Piers even stood as guest speaker at “Women in Journalism”, run by editor Eve Pollard at the glamourous roof gardens in London. It was not long into his speech that the booing started; a lesser man may have run for cover, but this negative reaction seemed to ignite him, and his speech went on.
However, I did notice that some of those who booed him went running up (as he was a captive audience) to pitch freelance ideas to him. I guess that’s what you would call dancing with the devil.
Piers is almost like an addict when it comes to goading his victims at events. He takes to Twitter, keeping himself in the headlines with his spats on social media with the likes of Lord Sugar. Cruelly, he berated actress Denise Welch, a keen mental health activist, despite listening with what appeared to be great empathy when she appeared on his show. He tweeted to her, “Your mental health is affecting mine”, and blocked her. He went on air talking about whingeing celebrities and their mental health issues. He suggested that we need to toughen kids up at school (with no explanation for how to do this) to make them mentally strong.
But let’s not forget that under Piers’ guidance, The Mirror became a kinder, gentler place towards gay issues, though the other tabloids such as The Sun and the News of the World remained staunchly antagonistic. He was in part responsible for The Pride of Britain Awards along with associate editor Peter Willis. He gave a column to the wonderful journalist Sue Carroll, who was one of my best friends and who often spoke out for Gay Rights. Having said that, let’s not fool ourselves; we have a long way to go before the tabloids are safe ground for LGBTQ.
In the wake of the Abu Ghraib abuse story and a few other scandals surrounding him (he has always denied having anything to do with phone hacking), Piers was sacked from The Mirror. You may think that he would have disappeared quietly. But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, he came back with a vengeance.
In 2003, he popped up on television to prevent “The importance of being famous”. The show included the likes of the naughty girl at school, “Katie Price”, aka Jordan. Many of the celebrities he had previously tormented in his paper seemed now to be queuing up to appear on his show. This proved my theory that Piers, though the dethroned young king of the tabloids, wanted to be a star of screen too.
In 2006, most were left speechless when he popped up as a judge on America’s Got Talent. By the intro, you would have thought he was second in line to the throne. There is no doubt that Mr Morgan has a good speaking voice, but why was he on the show? He was not instantly likeable.
Unkind rumours started to circulate; Simon Cowell’s PR at the time, Max Clifford, was notorious for creating kiss and tells to hide footballers’ sexuality and to bury stories by making deals. People said that Simon Cowell had something to hide and Piers knew the gossip and had used it as leverage to obtain the position.
However, he charmed the US and in 2008 he went on to win Celebrity Apprentice under the guidance of his friend, President Trump. Though he was fired by Lord Sugar in the UK version in 2007.
He continued feuding with celebrities, including Hugh Grant and Madonna. However, when he took over The Larry King show in 2011 (Larry said Piers had made the show all about him), he was not afraid to stand up for diversity, gun control, bigotry, and gay, trans, and women’s right, even though he was anti the women’s march on Washington and apparently pro Trump. Who could forget his interviews with Trump as cartoon pictures appeared of Piers appearing to perform a rim job on Mr Trump? (Editor’s note: Google them, they’re funny, but good taste prevents us from publishing them here, even though Steven was kind enough to send some through).
Whatever we say, the Sussex born Piers, who was raised by his mother as a Catholic, is doing something right. In 2008, he was the first to be given reportedly a two million golden handcuff deal under the new director of ITV, Peter Fincham.
He joined Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain in 2015 as co-host. Your breakfast would be never be the same. Constantly clashing with Reid and with guests, he was the marmite on the toast. My phone did not stop going with people loving and hating him as he hit the headlines with his no filter views and outspoken tongue.
Piers has shown that his views on LGBTQ are nothing more than supportive. Dr Michael Davidson was given airtime to discuss his conversion therapy. Davidson is sad gay man claiming to have turned straight through prayer and therapy. Piers was adamant, saying “Shut up you bigot”. Piers also recently sided with my friend, trans actress and model Nicole Gibson, and with news presenter India Willoughby. So, there is zero evidence that he is anti-gay.
Now this week there are calls for him to be fired and a poll has been launched (some say self-generated). Why? Because he is sexist and won’t accept that there are 100 different genders and school kids should be taught this. The issue has his feeding ground, twitter, in an uproar.
Things are not going well, with over 59 percent of the public voting for him to be sacked (this coincides with him going on holiday). He is being called transphobic on twitter. Joining him are India Willoughby, gay journalist Benjamin Button, and later a person identifying as broccoli.
Benjamin is no match for Piers. He struggles to name the 100 genders and says Piers is upsetting the non-binary and trans kids tuning in. Piers is calm and collected and asks about his rights.
But then Piers makes a mistake; the normally collected Piers starts to mock Button with a childlike feminine impersonation of his voice. “I don’t speak like that Piers”, snaps Button, and you start to feel for Button as the bully in Piers pops out. Button identifies as fifth generation male and gay journalist.
Should Piers be fired? No! We need to take a deep breath and remember one step at time. If we run to have everyone sacked whose views we as a community do not like, there will be a backlash. Homophobic attacks are at an all-time high as we move more and more forward to gain acceptance.
I want to hear the views of people even if I don’t agree. It gauges how much work we have to do for starters. Belonging to Diversity Role models and going into school to talk about LGBTQ was something you could never dream of ten years ago.
The US lesbian talk show host Ellen Degeneres was spotted last week sitting with former US president Bush at a Dallas Cowboy’s game. Bush’s record on LGBTQ rights are far from the the celebrity’s. As Ellen said, we all need to try and get on; only by having diverse friends and being who we are amongst people can we make changes. I still get a look when people hear that I worked at The Sun. Going into an environment some may see as hostile is far more productive than screaming on twitter.
Mario Lopez faced backlash when he said it was dangerous for parents to support their children if they chose to come out as trans. He was forced to apologise and claim insensitivity. The problem is that I want to know why he feels like that and be able to discuss it, not ban him. There are many LGBTQ people who think that kids should wait till after puberty to decide on their gender identity if they consider themselves trans. This does not make them “transphobic”. Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. If we start to take the voices away from those with opposing opinions, there will be more of a backlash and they will go underground.
Now, I am not suggesting that we don’t silence hatemongers like religious preachers or Katie Hopkins; her voice has even caused the bullying of redheads and the like. But we need to keep an eye on what we all as a society think; we should challenge or support in different cases and wisely take our next steps.
Flamboyant Christopher Biggins was removed from the CBB in 2016 for saying “Bisexuals! They are the worst!” which at the time I thought was strange coming from someone who spends so much time in the theatre. As Tallulah Bankhead the bisexual actress said, “Why rule out fifty percent of the population?” Perhaps his removal was a tactical move to boost ratings as Renee Graziano, who orchestrated the conversations (“I love the gays but can’t stand the bisexuals”). remained. There was actually very little outcry for Biggins to banned from anything.
Much as Piers’ stand on mental health disappoints and I feel he owes Denise Welch an apology, it is better the devil you know and reflects how a lot of the UK feels. No matter how much I disagree, I want to hear his views, and he is pro LGBTQ.
He is probably under a palm tree laughing at all of this as perhaps his latest publicity stunt gains more momentum and he waits for his next million to roll in. But one thing for sure, I would want him in my gang in war.