I hadn’t read the book. There, I said it.
Piers Morgan is on the promo trail for his latest tome and is so incensed that I haven’t read it after receiving it 48 hours ahead of our interview that he decides to share my news with his 7.6 million followers on Twitter. He couldn’t even wait until the end of our chat: sixteen minutes into our interview, he started tweeting about me. Not that I knew.
I’d wanted to chat to Piers about his research process for Good Morning Britain, about contradictions I believe exist within his style of interview and debate, and about more lighthearted things: perhaps some gems about what he gets up to during downtime with his celebrity pals, or a fresh perspective on Meghan and Harry.
But he is so annoyed that I haven’t read his book and the fact I’m not an avid viewer of Good Morning Britain, that he spends much of our interview attacking me.
I know Piers’ interviewing style well enough from watching him at work. We’ve all seen the viral videos of him raging at his interviewees; it’s such a pervasive part of his character that the show’s social media team title clips with things like “Piers erupts”.
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When he keeps spinning questions on me, rather than answering them himself, I feel a bit like one of his guests on Good Morning Britain: shouted down and unable to get a word in edgeways.
During our conversation he does acknowledge the need to punch up, not down in his work, but straight off the bat, Piers reveals he’d looked me up prior to our call.
“I always check before I do every interview by the way, what the interviewer may have tweeted about me in the past,” he reveals.
“I found an absolute classic from 2012, I’m not even sure what I was doing in 2012: ’Piers Morgan taking moral stances is a bit like a pig taking a stance against rolling in it’s own shit.’”
“It made me laugh, don’t worry,” he adds. “I’ve had a lot worse from interviewers so in the general scheme of things I’ll take that.”
Piers later tells me others might have cancelled the interview had they seen such a tweet, but he hadn’t because he found it “entertaining”.
We truck on and have a relatively pleasant conversation until we get onto the subject of privilege.
“So what is it about your nature that you think has led you to being such a combative style of interviewer?” I ask. “I think a lot of your detractors and a lot of your supporters would say it’s coming from a position of enormous privilege,” I add.
“Let’s compare backgrounds,” he responds. “What’s your background?”
“Well that’s not the question” I reply.
“Well it is really, you sound quite posh to me. What is your background, is your background more or less privileged than mine?”
I explain to Piers that I do think of myself as privileged, and that I’m lucky to have got to where I am in life because I have been awarded the opportunities to do so. Then I ask him again.
“Well, I’m more privileged I guess than some people,” he says. “I’m more privileged than large swathes of the world that live in abject poverty, yes, obviously, but do I think that I have benefitted from my privilege to get where I have in the media world? No, I don’t.
“Because I see lots of people with far more privilege than me, in terms of family backgrounds and money they may have had and schools they went to, which probably afforded them more privilege if you want to use that word. Everybody is more privileged than somebody else, if you take it, again, to its logical extension.”
Piers is seemingly so annoyed that he tweets mid-interview that I am “trying to rough him up”.
This tactic of employing a stream of defensiveness in conversation and throwing questions back at me, was to stick. Guardian journalist Simon Hattenstone noted in his recent interview with Piers, that he has has the tendency to make everything personal, which often ruins the chance for proper objective debate.
I mention Benjamin Butterworth’s infamous appearances on Good Morning Britain. The LGBTQ journalist had been on the show on numerous occasions to discuss trans and gender issues. Piers repeatedly tells me he gave Benjamin a hard time because he’d tried to get him fired.
“Oh please, why did he come back on another time then if he was so upset?” Piers offers. “And why is he signing petitions to have people cancelled?” he adds, referring to the time Benjamin signed a petition to have Piers removed as presenter from Good Morning Britain.
“Ben, as I will tell him to his face when I speak to him tomorrow, is the perfect personification of woke cancel culture. If you don’t agree with him, you must be cancelled, you must be fired. And I think it’s completely ridiculous. If you want to defend his right to say that I should be fired, but I’m not allowed to then rough him up a bit in the interview on TV when he wants me literally taken out of the chair I’m sitting in and removed and thrown into the street, then obviously I’m not going to agree.”
I tell Piers it seems he’s fighting fire with fire. Offended that Benjamin wanted him out, he’s getting his own back by “roughing him up a bit” at what seems to be at the expense of the open and nuanced debate he tells me he likes.
“I don’t think my interviewing style is exactly a trade secret, I mean why did he come on if he was going to be so upset? He can’t be that upset, he’s interviewing me tomorrow, and also he sent me a few messages during the pandemic to congratulate me on my grilling of politicians.”
The conversation moves onto Piers infamously declaring that he defines himself as a two-spirit penguin in response to the idea that there were more than 100 genders.
I ask if he understands why some people would feel offended by his stance.
“Well no, I don’t really. Because I don’t know what exactly they’re offended by. If you believe in limitless gender why would you be offended if somebody chooses an obscure gender to identify as?” he chimes back.
“Is that actually what you believe?” I ask.
“Well if I said I believe in an affinity with the stars and the galaxy, would you say that’s... is that anymore ridiculous, or not?” he replies.
“I’m making the point that if you take these things to their logical extension, that’s where you end up. And it’s not me the ones creating the ridiculous environment, it’s the people that say there are limitless numbers of genders. If there are, anyone can identify as anything. I don’t think that’s a good idea, I think that’s incredibly confusing for kids. I’ve got four kids, I don’t think it should be happening.”
He continues: “I definitely don’t think the BBC, which I help pay for, should be doing this officially though BBC Teach. Now, if you don’t agree, I’m very happy to have that argument, but if your position with this is I gave poor old Benjamin Button [Piers mistakenly uses ‘Button’; it’s not clear whether this is a mistake or a jibe] a hard time, he came on the show because he called for me to be fired, and I wanted to hold him to account for him wanting to cancel me for having a genuinely held opinion that this BBC gender situation was absurd. So I don’t feel any need to apologise for giving him a hard time given he wanted me to be literally fired.”
“But do you think it would have been nice to let him finish his sentence on a few more occasions so he could illustrate his point clearly?” I ask.
“I think it would have been nice if he hadn’t signed a petition to have me fired,” repeats Piers.
I tell him that I don’t believe he actually wants to self-define as a two-spirit penguin. I tell him I believe he’s making up a gender for the purposes of TV.
“My position is, as your friend Ben will testify, is always to take things to their logical conclusion to the extremity,” he says. “To point out to people where their argument goes and that’s where limitless gender takes you: anyone can say they’re anything.”
Later Piers tells me they had a “very good debate” that morning on Good Morning Britain about trans women in the rugby sphere. “I didn’t lose my temper, I didn’t get angry – but then she wasn’t trying to get me fired,” he says.
I refer to his recent interview with the Guardian in which he says he’s always learning. What is he learning at the moment?
“Well again, if you’d read the book, then obviously you’d know” he retorts. “I suppose the one thing I’m learning is there’s never a better motto in life than The Seven Ps. Pride, planning and preparation prevent piss poor performance. That probably is the centre of my interview technique - I’m always extremely well prepared. .
“For instance, if I’m interviewing someone about their book, I’ve normally read it.”
There it is again.
I ask whether his friends ever offer their thoughts about his interviewing style. “No, it’s only you and Benjamin Butterworth so far,” he laughs.
“And the cabinet ministers, none of whom will come on the programme. You two and the cabinet ministers. But you seem to be very upset about my interviewing style even though you haven’t read my book and you don’t watch Good Morning Britain. It does beg the question: how do you know?”
Towards the end of our call Piers tells me he quite likes Benjamin, despite their altercations. I ask whether he can look past disagreements and respect people regardless.
“I do,” he says. “We should all be able to do that. We should all be able to disagree with each other and respect each other’s opinions. And each can get passionate and fiery with each other. We ought to be able to reach points of consensus, at the end of it go and have a drink.”
He concludes: “I’d like to think when you finish this you might go away and read the book... And I’d be genuinely curious if you find things genuinely offensive in that book, because I doubt you will. It would have made the style of your interview with me now a little bit more interesting because you would have done it from a position or knowledge rather than guesswork.”
By the time I hang up, Piers has successfully turned me into the story: my timeline is flooded with notifications from his fanbase, calling me things like “a bellend,” a “bit of a nonce” and a “disgusting pig.” A fourth calls me a “useless journalist,” and the insults kept coming.
It feels odd for Piers to have put such a target on my back, but there’s a strange logic to it. He is so used to being in the spotlight even when interviewing other people that it maybe seems natural for him to shift the focus to me when the tables are turned.
Strangely enough, I feel like I’ve learnt more from interviewing Piers on the hop than I would have done had I actually read his book.
Wake Up by Piers Morgan is out now.