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Morgan hits pay dirt after years of digging for trash


Piers Morgan. Photo: Getty Images

Piers Morgan. Photo: Getty Images

Piers Morgan. Photo: Getty Images

Piers Morgan, former tabloid editor turned TV star, is rumoured to be replacing Larry King on CNN in a €7m deal. So how exactly did one of the most controversial figures on Fleet Street go from being sacked as editor of the Daily Mirror to landing one of the most high-profile jobs in US television?

In 2004, Morgan's glorious newspaper career had gone all smash, bang, wallop! Just two months after being at the wrong end of Jeremy Clarkson's fist (the Top Gear presenter punched him several times at the press awards for running snaps of him kissing BBC producer Elaine Bedell, even though married), he was unceremoniously fired from the Mirror after photographs showing Iraqi prisoners being abused by British army soldiers that he had published proved to be crude fakes.

But Clarkson was not the only one left grinning like a Cheshire Cat at the news. The list of those who describe Piers Morgan with a word that rhymes with dosser is very long indeed.

Columnist and author AA Gill fell out with Morgan after he wrote in his diaries, The Insider, how Gill's journalist wife, Nicola Formby, showed him "porn shots" of herself when interviewing him. Gill is adamant Morgan made the whole episode up out of spite and describes him as a "pretty objectionable self-publicist".

Ian Hislop is another high-profile recipient of Morgan's menace. When editor of the Mirror, he tried to challenge Hislop on Have I Got News For You and received a right royal savaging. The spat with Hislop, however, runs much deeper than the fisticuff shenanigans with Clarkson or the lewd photos of Gill's wife.

In 2000, Morgan's involvement in the 'Mirrorgate' scandal, in which he had bought shares before his paper's business column tipped them as a good buy, provided much amusement for Hislop's Private Eye magazine.

But when the magazine criticised the Mirror's coverage of the involvement of Angus Deayton, the presenter of Have I Got News For You, with a prostitute by suggesting the editor might not be in a position to claim the moral high ground on matters of "marital fidelity", Morgan, who had separated from his wife, went ballistic.

The result was a one-way vendetta that saw reporters and photographers deployed to watch Hislop's every move. The Mirror even launched a campaign offering readers £50 for any scandal on Hislop. When the "moon-faced little midget" arrived at Canary Wharf, where the Mirror is based, to sign copies of the Private Eye annual, Morgan then sent 20 staff to confront Hislop, armed with placards emblazoned with 'Gnome, go home'.

But Hislop was not the only one who knew Morgan's personal life was often more colourful than the celebrity love cheats he plastered across his front pages during his time riding the highs and grubby lows of a tabloid editor.

Morgan married Marion Shalloe in 1991, but left her and their three children after an affair with the very married Guardian columnist, Marina Hyde. Then in 2006, after breaking up with Hyde, he became transfixed with The Daily Telegraph gossip columnist Celia Walden, daughter of former Tory MP George Walden, after she interviewed him. They are still together but Morgan, always secretive about his private life, refuses to speculate on whether they will wed.

While his career on Fleet Street was meteoric (at 28 he became the youngest Editor of the News of the World), by 39 he was wallowing in self-pity after being sacked and feeling like "a semi-retired old fart".

He has his friend Simon Cowell to thank for plucking him from despair. He recognised Morgan's talent for TV and sat him beside David Hasselhoff as a judge on America's Got Talent in 2006. Morgan then moved to Britain's Got Talent and, after signing a reported £2m deal with ITV, presented Piers Morgan's Life Stories for the channel. Now with CNN trying to woo him to fill the shoes of a television legend, his rise seems unstoppable.

But with the US already lambasting the British for the oil spill along its Gulf Coast courtesy of BP, they may be even less enamoured with the Brits for sending Morgan their way. But let's hope they don't find out his real dirty little secret. Yes, he's Irish on both sides (his name, which was shortened to fit his byline, Pughe-Morgan is from his Welsh stepfather who brought him up after his father Vincent O'Mara died when Piers was aged one).

So let's just hope that when the inevitable backlash comes, the Yanks don't blame us.

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