Authors: Emily Herbert
All this was a welcome distraction from the furore over the ‘City Slickers’ column – and from Piers’ private life, too, for the arrival of his third son Albert had not managed to paper over the increasingly obvious cracks in his marriage to Marion, and the relationship was nearing
an end. However, a new romance was beginning, which came to light in an unusual way. Rumours went round Fleet Street like a flash when the news broke: a journalist called Marina Hyde, working on the
, had been summarily sacked with no notice – and the reason for this was that a lengthy email exchange between herself and Piers had come to light.
Of course, Marina was working on the
, whose biggest rival was the
, which Piers edited. Worse still, she was also on the showbiz desk. Initially, it seemed there were suspicions that she could have been passing on information to her paper’s rival until Piers himself intervened and said that the emails were in fact of a purely personal nature. In many ways, however, this only made matters worse: though neither was exactly forthcoming, it appeared that Piers had approached Marina with a view to poaching her to come and work at the
, but, instead, his interest had quickly become personal. Both were married but the relationship soon turned into a
affair. Once again, and for the last time, Piers left his wife, Marion.
The relationship with Marina was not to last either, but for a time it was all anyone could talk about. Roger Eastoe, the managing director of Mirror Newspapers, left in October 2000, but Piers was not present as he was making an appearance on the BBC’s
and was therefore unable to hear his old friend Kelvin MacKenzie quip, ‘I’m terribly sorry Piers Morgan can’t be with us, but he’s elsewhere recording
and the first question is from his mistress, and the second question is from his wife.’
At this point, Piers and Marina had not actually moved in together – he was staying with Martin Crudace, a lawyer for the Mirror Group – but his marriage was effectively over, although it was to be many years before the divorce finally came through. Nor could he complain about the treatment he was getting, considering how many stories he himself had run about other people’s personal lives. There was also some amusement that, when Marina appealed against the decision to sack her, she actually brought Piers into the News International headquarters to speak on her behalf – the editor of the
in the very heart of the lair of its enemy! She did not win her appeal, but shortly afterwards turned up as a columnist on the
, where, at the time of writing, she still resides.
Piers didn’t go public on the matter but clearly felt stung, and a leader appeared in the
, into which much could be read. ‘Email has created a whole new breed of ghastly snoopers who sneakily read private memos sent by their employees to friends or family when there is no commercial sensitivity involved,’ it read. Was this a coded message to David Yelland, editor of the
? Many believed it to be just that.
At any rate, Piers was in no position to complain, given his own enthusiastic researches into other people’s lives. In early 2001, there was a row when the
ran a picture of the supermodel Naomi Campbell leaving a Narcotics
Anonymous clinic. Campbell promptly sued, which led to further concerns that Piers’ own actions might be setting in place a privacy law. Meanwhile, he himself professed to be unconcerned.
In 2001, the Pride of Britain Awards played host to the likes of Lord Robert Winston, Simon Weston, Sir Richard Branson, and Richard and Judy – if nothing else, Piers was proving that he could still pull in the A-list crowd. He had, for him, been remarkably quiet of late; even for a man as capable of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat as him, it had been a bruising two years. The shadow of the ‘City Slickers’ continued to loom large and, however much he might personally have wanted to ignore the whole affair, it simply refused to go away.
The DTI investigation continued, but Piers received a very public vote of confidence from the board of Trinity Mirror when, in April 2001 (now aged thirty-six), he signed a contract for a further five years of editing the
and was also made the
s actual editor was now Tina Weaver, his erstwhile deputy and someone who had been named in the share-dealing scandal. Piers was publicly pleased. ‘I have regularly throughout this, particularly at the start, thought that a lot of lesser managements would have turfed me straight out the door,’ he said. ‘I thought that from the first week onwards when it really began to accelerate and the
really stuck the boot in. And I’ve been absolutely staggered by the support from the company led by Victor and Philip Graf and the rest of
the board, who have all stuck their necks out for me and refused to alter their position.
‘We all know the DTI are continuing their investigation and no one can say with 100 per cent certainty how that will end because we’re not them. I remain confident, like the company does, that I did nothing wrong. But, until that position changes, they are perfectly entitled to carry on business as usual.’
He was also adamant that the picture drawn of the
as a place where half the staff seemed to be playing the markets was totally false. ‘The culture’s a great myth,’ he declared. ‘Hardly anybody on the floor bought shares and hardly anybody had any connection with any Slickers’ tips at all. It was a countrywide culture of piling into new technology stocks. Clearly, when you go back now and study the language [the Slickers] used, it looks like everything’s a share ramp. Everything was “fill your boots”. I didn’t see it as share ramping, more a bit of fun with the stock market. We learned a very salutary lesson: you can’t have fun with the stock market without it ending in the way that it did.’
Now, however, there was no love lost between Piers and his erstwhile protégés and he certainly wasn’t going to waste time defending them. ‘I think the Slickers have avoided most of the criticism that they probably should get for what they’ve done,’ he observed. ‘They know what they did, and they’re City journalists – they should’ve been much more au fait with how it works than anybody else. [But] I totally held my hands up and said the managerial
responsibility failed completely. Completely. And made mugs of all of us. After the PCC adjudication, what was clear to me afterwards was [that] it was bloody stupid of me to ever think that I could actively trade in the stock market and not at some stage come into conflict with the paper.’
Indeed, a month later, Sir Victor Blank stated that Piers was totally in the clear and, once more, everyone attempted to move on.
Labour won the 2001 election and, as the
was the populist Labour-supporting newspaper, yet again Piers looked to be in the right place at the right time, although he issued a strong warning that the paper would be a ‘critical friend’. But several months later, the September 11 atrocity took place, in which four planes were hijacked by terrorists and flown into the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, while the fourth crashed in a field in Stoneycreek Township. It would be wrong to make such an appalling act of carnage the backdrop to one man’s life but, even so, the terrorist attacks set in place a train of events that would one day bring Piers down. On the day itself, he had been recuperating in bed after a back operation, but, as the scenes began to be played out on television, he decided that he’d rested enough and returned to his office.
‘I was at home in Sussex recuperating from a bad back when I got the news,’ he recalled, as all the editors on duty at the time were asked to recount their experiences. ‘I switched on the TV in time to see the plane hitting the second tower. I immediately decided to drive to the office
but, with the distraction of the news coming in, I got lost a couple of times despite knowing the route so well. I was concerned that we might have to evacuate Canary Wharf [the
s home] too and thank goodness we didn’t. The news desk, everybody, acted phenomenally well.’
Shortly after the atrocity, the West began an offensive that continues to this day. The first proper military reaction was the invasion of Afghanistan, where the terrorists responsible – al-Qaeda and its head, Osama bin Laden – were hiding. In the shock and horror of the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the instinctive reaction was towards jingoism. Piers, however, responded far more thoughtfully than anyone might have expected.
It may have had something to do with the couple of years he had just endured. He had all but been dubbed a crook in light of the City Slickers’ scandal and, what’s more, there had been some ridicule directed towards him for the way his marriage had fallen apart. He was still a young man and a formidable operator but, for all that, Piers was unaccustomed to quite the level of abuse he’d been subjected to in recent years and may well have seen this as a chance to redeem himself. Whatever the reason, he declared publicly that he intended to make the
a more ‘serious’ paper; no more was its agenda to be dominated by celebrities and reality TV, from now on, he would be tackling the issues that were important in this world.
‘Could we still be splashing on this story in a year’s time? Quite possibly,’ said Piers, although that statement proved to be a little optimistic. (At the time of writing, nine years
has elapsed and not only is Afghanistan still front-page news, but the complete lack of resolution means that Piers – pretty much uniquely among newspaper editors at the time – might have been right.) ‘We could be in the middle of something which lasts five years and it may be that that gives the
a unique opportunity to realign itself back with its heritage – the people’s paper. I’m unashamedly populist – I have no problem putting Barrymore on the front page if he’s talking about somebody dying in his swimming pool [but] there are a lot of bright, young people coming in to buy the paper to read about this inane, cretinous television we all got consumed by [
] and it was tempting to keep hammering at it as the main news of the day. I don’t want to go back to that. It doesn’t mean we won’t do cultural phenomena and celebrities, but we’re now heading for more of a
-style front page, where the main event on page one is a serious story.’
And so he began his new, serious take on the news, putting American politicians on the front page and demanding everyone involved be held to account. Over at the
, David Yelland was unimpressed; if anything, the war of words between himself and Piers had intensified in recent years and both were quick to rubbish anything the other had anything to do with.
‘Self-congratulatory rubbish,’ Yelland declared. ‘It makes me chuckle to see Morgan reinvent himself as a serious journalist. It’s easy if you edit a mass-market tabloid, like I do and Piers does – one of the few things we have in common – to get a lot of kudos if you splash with
heavy stories. But the paper exists for readers, not media commentators.’
Now the feud between the two men was becoming pretty vicious, and the
stated that anyone opposing the War was a traitor. ‘What the
has done is nothing short of treachery,’ it insisted. ‘They questioned our forces as they were engaged in action. They poured scorn on our prime minister at a moment of grave danger for all of us.’
In turn, the
responded by declaring that enemies of free speech were the real traitors and for good measure ran a picture of David Yelland alongside Hitler, Stalin and Osama bin Laden. Altogether, it was pretty nasty stuff.
Of course, none of this would have mattered if the new stance was proving popular with readers, but it was not the case. All the newspapers saw an increase in sales following September 11, as is usual after such a huge news story. In the months afterwards, when everything started to get back to normal, the
wasn’t doing anything like so well. Circulation was falling, and, while Piers was very enthusiastic about his newfound serious stance, the readers didn’t agree: a balance had to be found between what was undoubtedly the biggest story of a generation and the celebrity fare that keeps
readers happy – and it just wasn’t happening.
Not that the paper had totally abandoned its interest in the world of celebrity. In late 2001, the news broke that actress Elizabeth Hurley was pregnant by American film producer Steve Bing, who publicly abandoned her as soon
as the story became public. In the event, the
came down on him like a tonne of bricks, publishing among much else his phone number. Bing promptly sued.
The case involving Naomi Campbell and infringement of privacy finally came to court: amid an enormous amount of publicity, Campbell won – although the fact that she was awarded just £3,500 in damages rather took the shine off the victory (plus a further £200,000 in costs). The judge actually accused her of lying under oath, while the
fought back in typical style. In the wake of the judgment, Piers was scathing. ‘If Naomi Campbell wants to crack open the champagne, she might consider the prospect of getting a knock on the door from police over two matters,’ he declared. ‘One, she’s been a regular Class-A drug abuser for many years, which is a serious offence. Two, she’s lied under oath, which is perjury and could mean several years in prison. She’s won £3,500, which is an embarrassingly small sum. One of her colleagues said supermodels don’t get out of bed for £10,000. So she won’t even get enough to pull back the bedclothes, which makes it even more ludicrous. You can get £4,000–£5,000 if a hairdresser damages your hair. She must be having a bad hair day.’
This was a typical blustering performance, but it concealed deeper worries. For a start, Piers’ personal life was far from resolved. He was separated but not divorced, with a lot of uncertainty still in the background. Also, the
was not finding its newly serious stance an unqualified success. Though widely considered a brilliant editor, Piers’ normally golden touch had become a little
tarnished of late. Had he but known it, a train of events had been set in motion that would finally see him catapulted out of the industry he had known and loved for so long, and set him on the path towards becoming a household name.