Read Piers Morgan Online

Authors: Emily Herbert

Piers Morgan (13 page)

oth publicly and privately, it had been a tumultuous period – and was about to become even more so. Piers continued to be highly rated by his peers – in 2002, he was awarded Editor of the Year in the UK Press Awards for the second year running – but he was still in the news almost as much as he was reporting on it. And, although many liked to compare him to his erstwhile mentor and editor Kelvin MacKenzie, in that both were the most
editors of their generation, the fact was that Kelvin, though he raised eyebrows, ruffled feathers and the rest of it, had never been caught up in a share imbroglio, unlike Piers. His protégé was treading a fine line and it wouldn’t be too long before he finally overstepped the mark.

By now, Piers was becoming known for his feuds. The first, of course, had been with Ian Hislop, editor of
Private Eye,
which had rumbled on ever since that appearance on
Have I Got News For You
all those years ago. In the magazine, Piers was regularly referred to as ‘Piers Moron’.
In turn, he responded by running a feature in the
called ‘Gnomegate’ (a reference to the mythical Lord Gnome, the so-called proprietor of
Private Eye
), in which he requested dirt on Hislop’s private life. Interestingly enough, despite dark hints about taxes, nothing was ever forthcoming. ‘We did have stuff, but tragically I got sacked before we could use it,’ admitted Piers in an interview after leaving the
, before revealing that it was completely untrue. ‘OK, we couldn’t find anything on him. That was the most shattering discovery about Hislop – he is as boring as he seems.’

No slouch when it came to defending himself, Hislop reacted with total disdain. ‘It’s all rather pathetic, really,’ he told the
‘He launched the campaign out of pure personal pique. He made a fool of himself on
Have I Got News For You,
which he was very embarrassed about. He was furious that we had written about, in particular, the share dealing. So he is touchy about his personal life, which is fairly extraordinary coming from a man who edited the
News Of The World.
He does this thing about: “Ooh, these people, they can dish it out but they can’t take it.” But I can take it. The man who can’t is Piers, who devoted huge resources at the
and doorstepped me, had journalists in my village and went on Friends Reunited to find everyone I’ve ever met. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t a laugh, it was a very expensive and vindictive campaign to try and deflect criticism of himself. I think he thought he could get the
to stop writing about him, and it didn’t work. The mountains, being in labour, bringing forth the
ridiculous mouse…’ Hislop’s quote from Horace was just his way of saying that Piers had put a great deal of effort into something which yielded nothing.

Hislop went on to nominate Piers to go into Room 101, on the show of the same name, where guests could banish all the things they disliked most. However, he was rejected for being ‘too toxic’.

In recent years, for unspecified reasons (possibly the fact that he was now a bona fide celebrity rather than a hack), Piers seemed to tire of feuding with Hislop and publicly announced he was done. ‘The war is over. I’m officially calling an end to hostilities, at least from my end. I’m sure it won’t stop him carrying on his “Piers Moron” stuff,’ he declared.

‘Is that an armistice or an unconditional surrender?’ asked Hislop.

And the second feud, obviously, was with David Yelland. There really was a visceral dislike between the two men that had nothing to do with the fact that they were editing rival newspapers and the situation with Marina Hyde only made it worse. She and Piers always denied the affair but they were undoubtedly close in some way and this was referred to when Yelland gave an interview to
magazine, in which he was asked about the email exchange.

‘We have three boxes of emails,’ said Yelland. ‘They are explosive, but I’ve never leaked them. They could destroy him, but I won’t leak them because they could destroy his kids.’ And if that wasn’t enough, he added that Piers had a ‘schoolboy, lavatory sense of humour, with an extremely nasty edge’.

Meanwhile, Piers refused to take all this lying down; there was ‘chronic insecurity’ at the
he declared. ‘They delighted in embarrassing me, and in being quite destructive to a friend and to my personal life. I think of Yelland sitting there with his operatives, salivating over them [the emails] and it makes me quite sick.’

‘What worries me is that our relationship will define us as editors. People will think of us as the bald one and the corrupt one,’ said Yelland (who happened to be bald).

‘He calls me “corrupt”. He can’t prove it, but I can prove he’s bald,’ was Piers’ response.

Matters came to a head at the UK Press Awards, where Piers directed a four-letter-word-strewn rant at Yelland, after the latter attempted to offer him congratulations on winning the award. ‘Fuck off, you c**t! No, I
it, I
mean it – fuck off, you
c**t!’ he said.

Onlookers, including Yelland’s wife Tania, appeared to be genuinely shocked, although Piers remained defiant about his tirade.

‘I don’t like David Yelland,’ he commented afterwards. ‘He was the one who said that he had information on my private life that would destroy my children. How would
feel about someone like that?’

The main issue seemed to be Marina Hyde, but there was something else at play as well; Yelland was, after all, editor of the
, not only the rival to the
but also the newspaper on which Piers had learned to ply his trade. Both men had come up through the ranks, but in a very different way – while Piers had been a show-business
reporter, Yelland made his name through financial journalism, which was one reason why his appointment had been greeted with some surprise. Many suspected Piers felt the job should have gone to him and this was the real cause of his animosity. Certainly, he began attacking Yelland from the moment he got the job in 1998, and well before anything to do with Hyde appeared on the scene.

‘Piers could never say he hates David because he got the job, but there is no doubt that’s why it all started,’ observed one erstwhile colleague. ‘Piers was thinking, there’s that bald lad who’s not as good a journalist as me and he’s got the top job and I’ve ended up with the second [now the third, behind the
Daily Mail
in terms of sales] paper.’

Associates of Yelland agreed. ‘David got what Piers had always wanted, that’s what really pisses him off,’ said one.

In the wake of the Press Awards, Piers appeared to have a complete rethink and sent out an email to
staff. ‘The war with the
, and Mr Yelland, is now officially over,’ he announced. ‘It seems churlish to intrude into their private grief at this difficult time [just one UK Press Award] so there will be no more references to them in the
with immediate effect.’

And he was not the only one to make conciliatory noises. Apart from attempting to offer congratulations, Yelland had also shown total support for the
’s stance in the case with Naomi Campbell and, while he might have been expected to do so, given that it involved press freedom as much as anything else, the fact is he still chose to do so.

Campbell actually admitted to lying in court about the extent of her drug use, while at the same time there was widespread contempt about the fact that she had ended up playing the ‘race card’.
columnist Sue Carroll had recently dubbed her a ‘chocolate soldier’ in reference to the fact that, after pledging support to the animal welfare group PETA, she had gone on to pose in furs. Despite no evidence of racism whatsoever, Naomi decided this was a reference to the colour of her skin (rather than, as was plainly meant, a reference to her being a useless defender of a cause), something the judge also commented on. In the end, she won her case on narrow grounds indeed, those of ‘data protection’ and the ‘duty of confidence’ of Narcotics Anonymous towards those seeking help. She was not granted a larger award because the judge held against her a record of ‘dissembling’ – only the revelation about Narcotics Anonymous was wrong.

‘OK, so what the judge said was that, if we’d simply run a story saying that she’s a lying, druggie model who should be kicked off the catwalk, we’d have been all right,’ Piers rather witheringly commented afterwards. ‘The only thing we did wrong was to put her story in a sympathetic light and say that she was seeking treatment. I do believe in a degree of privacy but it is dependent on that person’s behaviour. She [Naomi Campbell] was breaking the law. If she was a burglar going to Burglars Anonymous, would you say that we didn’t have the right to reveal she’d been out housebreaking?’

David Yelland, it seemed, was in agreement. ‘Naomi
Campbell is a liar, a loser and coward. In fact, she could be arrested and jailed for perjury next time she comes to Britain. She is also a drug abuser and a thoroughly nasty piece of work,’ observed a leader in the
in the wake of the case. ‘So has she really “won” her case against the
? No, she has not. In fact, the
won. So did all newspapers. And so did all readers. Campbell’s character lies in ruins. She has received a mere £3,500 in damages. She has had her private life dragged through the courts. And she may even end up in the clink. Some victory! This obnoxious woman didn’t even have the guts to turn up to court yesterday.

‘And what on earth is a judge doing telling a
columnist what language to use? What right does he have to say the words “chocolate soldier” are “racist”? What is he: a bewigged sub-editor? Come off it. Celebrities have too much power, not too little. They are often weak, useless, arrogant bullies whom the press has a duty to expose. If the legal establishment wishes to gather its tanks on Fleet Street’s lawn we will fire back. Even if it means standing shoulder to shoulder with our most bitter rival.’

So, did the mutual stance last? No. There was too much personal antipathy between the two for any real bridges to be built (Yelland as much as Piers). In April 2002, the
relaunched, with various new heavyweight journalists such as Jonathan Friedland and Christopher Hitchens on board to fit in with the paper’s new image, aimed slightly more upmarket than before. At the same time, it also ditched the trademark red masthead. Yelland
lost no time in making his position felt; he declared his immediate rival was ‘as second rate now as it has ever been’.

Indeed, he sent an email to
staff that was highly critical of the new-look
. ‘THE DAY they relaunched was the lowest Wednesday sale for the
in its entire history,’ he wrote. ‘The
has, in reality, surrendered the Red Top market to us after a 32-year fight. They have made a strategic mistake of huge proportions. THE Mirror’s claim to be a serious paper is simply an empty promise. It is very easy to SAY you are serious, but to BE serious you have to UNDERSTAND the big issues. They do not.’

Yelland was suffering from ‘major psychological problems’, declared Piers. And then, if that were not enough, a month later, the
took out an advertisement in the
Press Gazette
with a footballer bearing Yelland’s face doubled up in pain as the ball hits him in the groin; underneath the heading
was the line: ‘How much pain can one man take?’

‘I said I wouldn’t attack him again in the paper – I never said anything about whacking the little twat elsewhere,’ was Piers’ cool remark.

In 2003, David Yelland left the
after a five-year period to be replaced by Rebekah Wade, with whom Piers got on considerably better and for whom he had a good deal more respect. Yelland himself ended up working in the business world (in financial PR), for which, in truth, many felt he was better suited. He eventually admitted
to prolonged alcoholism while editing the
, and subsequently wrote a children’s novel. The very public war between himself and Piers was over when he stepped down, but it’s fair to say no love has ever been lost between the two of them.

Unsurprisingly, given the circumstances, Piers went on to feud with Naomi Campbell for a while. The
appealed and won the case, following which Naomi took it to the House of Lords, where she won again.

‘This is a good day for lying, drug-abusing prima donnas who want to have their cake with the media and the right to then shamelessly guzzle it with their Cristal champagne,’ was how Piers summed it up. ‘Five senior judges found for the
throughout the various hearings in this case, four for Naomi Campbell. Yet she wins. If ever there was a less deserving case for creating what is effectively a backdoor privacy law, it would be Ms Campbell, but that’s showbiz.’

Campbell herself did not hold back on what she thought about the case. ‘Miss Campbell is delighted by today’s verdict by the House of Lords,’ her lawyer, Keith Schilling, said in a statement. ‘It is not only a vindication for her personally but, more importantly, represents a real advantage for the rights of people to maintain important elements of their privacy, particularly when related to therapy and people who need to have treatment. Throughout these proceedings, neither Miss Campbell nor anyone in her legal team has ever questioned the ability of the press to report the fact that she had a problem with
drugs and that she had previously misled the press about these drugs. By taking the Court of Appeal’s judgment to the House of Lords, at no small level of stress to herself, she was simply determined to fight the cause of an individual’s basic rights to be left alone to receive therapy without the glare of the media spotlight, which can self-evidently be harmful to the necessary treatment. But this is not a blow for so-called freedom of the press nor is it a charter just to protect celebrities; if anything this new law underpins the integrity of the media by ensuring the freedom of people in therapy to receive the treatment they need and for them to express themselves openly and in confidence without fear of media intrusion.’

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