Press Gazette couldn’t afford to
buy an extract from Piers Morgan ‘s newly published diaries – so here’s
an instalment from what could be the next volume.
THURSDAY 3 MARCH 2005
Head to the Savoy for an interview. Haven’t been this excited since I
famously dined, alone, with Princess Di and Prince William at their
home in Kensington. When you’ve been put in charge of the UK’s biggest
selling Sunday paper at the unbelievably young age of 28; when you’ve
gone on to be acclaimed editor of its greatest daily tabloid; when
you’ve met Hollywood stars, sporting legends, prime ministers, queens –
and Elton John; when you’ve dethroned crooked politicians and nailed
serious villains; when you’ve gone on to write a sensational diary
that’s taking the world by storm, you can get a bit blasÃ© about these
kind of interviews.
Not me. I still get a buzz out of the big
ones. I’m nervous and a little excited to have been granted an audience
with Ian Reeves, legendary editor of Press Gazette .
dressed as ever, he seems pretty relaxed, despite the fact that I’m a
bit late thanks to an overrun on filming of my hit TV show, but he’s
kept himself entertained by reading from the book. He’s having a laugh
at one of the many great one-liners. The man obviously has tse
tea from the waiter. Don’t want to blow this one by getting pissed and
making a total prat and a complete tosser of myself. Try to keep
focused for his opening question. He asks how the explosive extracts of
the book that have been running in the Mail this week have gone down.
guy’s good. I whip out a photocopy of the day’s Spectator that I just
happen to have handy and read a bit out to him. “These ghastly diaries
will be the epitaph of this government. This is a book of historical
importance. A devastating commentary on the wretchedness of British
Peter Oborne wrote that. Must remember to put it on the back page when the paperback comes out.
says some people might think I’ve been a little, well, indiscreet, what
with all the private conversations I’ve been spilling the beans on.
some of these cabinet ministers and pop stars feel a bit let down with
all the confidences I’ve betrayed? Cheeky git. Listen mate, I tell him,
“Off the record” is no longer a phrase that has any meaning with these
“You’re talking about a prime minister who’s going to
write his own memoirs,” I say, “and if you read any PM’s memoirs there
are endless private conversations with people in there; Alistair
Campbell who’s kept his own diary; Peter Mandelson, these guys are all
going to do it about me one day.
“So let’s get real here about off the record. It all ends up somewhere in some form.
“This is an amoral world of politicians, lying royals and dodgy celebrities.
not a real world. They’re not real people. These aren’t real friends of
mine. And they’re not family members or people I worked with.
thought very carefully about what to put in the book. A lot of people
will be aware that there are things I haven’t put in about them, and
they’ll be bloody relieved. None of my friends will feel remotely
turned over or betrayed. Simon Kelner told me a few things that I would
never repeat and he knows that.
“But people in public life who
turned me over, spit at the Mirro r, behave badly, breach their own
confidence and so on are a different kettle of fish.
So I’ve no compunction at all about returning the favour.”
Rupert Murdoch gave me the editor’s job on the News of the World at the
astonishingly young age of 28, we had a chat about editing styles. I
said I liked the fact that Andrew Neil was loud, opinionated and not
afraid to go on TV. Mr Murdoch disagreed.
They should let their papers do the talking, he said.
asks whether I still think my style was the right one. I tell him: “It
was the one that suited me. I loved every minute of all that stuff. I
never see the point in being a journalist and refusing to give
How many editors refuse Press Gazette interviews, I ask him. Quite a few, he says.
as a flash, I say: “You must think, ‘oh for fucks sake, you’re a
journalist’. I hope you make the point that I was always available.
of that is self-promotion, part of it is to help the paper and part of
it is just to have a laugh. But also part of it is I thought how
ludicrous it is that we don’t talk to each other when we have such a
difficult time getting other people to talk to us. I never regretted it
because it suited my personality.
“It wouldn’t suit Rebekah, it
doesn’t suit Paul Dacre. You don’t have to do it. But I always felt
with the Mirror , because we didn’t have much money, you had to make
the most amount of noise.
“The only harm is that you end up making yourself more of a target. But that didn’t bother me.”
never long before interviewers get round to the pictures that led to my
disgraceful sacking by Trinity Mirror. This one’s no different. He
points out that Trinity Mirror has just posted its preliminary results,
in which its executives are still harping on that the sales decline is
down to my decision to run those Iraqi abuse pictures.
want to be critical of the Mirror ,” I say. “I love it. But I know for
a fact that up until the day I left that building, the pictures had
absolutely no detrimental effect on circulation whatsoever. That will
be backed up by the circulation reports that came in every day for that
two week period.
“After the decision to clear the front page and
say ‘sorry we were hoaxed’, before, in my opinion, there was the
incontrovertible evidence required to have done that, the sale the
following week fell off a cliff.
“The decision to put the apology
on the front page – it was horrible. Horrible. Made me sick just
looking at it – was an abject mea culpa and its what’s caused the
haemorrhaging of sales. I take full responsibility for the sales
problem with the Iraq war coverage but we had restored a lot of that.
“For them to still be blaming me is quite ridiculous.
I have warned them about it. I don’t want to get into a pissing competition with Trinity Mirror but if they ar
e going to keep repeating the lies that my decision for those weeks cost a huge percentage of sales, it’s just not true.
“The decision to publish had not had an effect. It was the decision taken after I was led out of the building.
brings us to Des Kelly, my treacherous former deputy. In the book I
describe how he goes missing for three days when the shit hits the fan
over the pictures. Today, I’m asked to explain why he’s the one
colleague I do really put the boot into.
“I’ve got no time for
him. Loyalty is something some people find hard. In newspapers, it’s
very important. I had some incredibly loyal deputies. Tina Weaver,
Brendan Parsons and others who would have walked over hot coals for me,
especially when I was in trouble. Tina, through the shares thing, could
not have been more brilliant.
“Des Kelly revelled in my
departure, and he revelled in the weeks after when he was running the
show. He was the only executive not to call me after I was sacked.
Probably says it all really. And the only columnist not to was [his
girlfriend] Carol Vorderman.
“It was just sad, really. Ambition
does make some people lose track of the requirements of the job
description. Let’s put it delicately like that, shall we?
I found the disloyalty so indescribable.
“If he doesn’t like it, tough. There’s plenty more where that came from.
assumed he’d get my job. He didn’t. He assumed he’d be offered all
sorts of editorships. He didn’t. He’s ended up with a sports column.
Good luck to him. Quite a good column, actually.”
panic and realise I haven’t dropped any star’s names for at least 20
minutes. So I lob in a couple of quick-fire stories involving Ronnie
Kray, the evil Cherie Blair, and Ian Botham. Phew. Don’t want to get
rusty, do I?
feeling a bit more relaxed now. Feet up, reflecting on the fact that
there were four changes of management during my time in charge of the
Mirror , which hardly made for a stable situation, particularly when
the main so-called rivals enjoyed such great continuity.
Which of those teams was I happiest with?
most unsung period was when John Allwood was chief exec and Roger
Eastoe was md. That was when we enjoyed the best sales success.
Editorially, when Kelvin was running the Mirror papers and I was editing under him, that was the most exciting.
one of those strange people who liked David Montgomery. He was very
good to me. He stood by me. I loved Charlie Wilson, a brilliant manager
to have. Mark Haysom was great, Philip Graf was a great guy. Victor
Blank was a great chairman to have.”
“And Sly?” says Reeves.
Piers, I think to myself. Have to be a bit careful talking about Sly
Bailey – all part of my megabucks pay-off deal of nearly two million
Am starting to give it the old ‘keep this between you and
me’ bit, but realise it might sound a bit daft after what I’ve said
about ‘off the record’. So I just tell him to be careful when he writes
it up.”Sly was a capable chief exec who has done to the share price
what none of the others have done. So if share price is your overriding
interest, then it’s been spectacular.”
Is that phrased delicately enough?
had a closer affinity to the management teams that were really
interested in the editorial, and the paper. Monty used to ring me every
night and ask what was in the paper. I like that. It’s what Murdoch
used to do. It’s what Rothermere does, I’m sure.
“Sly doesn’t have anything to do with what’s in the papers. That’s her choice.
not saying it’s wrong. The City likes it, and half the battle in the
Mirror is getting money in, so maybe in the longer term it will be
turns to Viglen and share dealing. It always does, eventually. Like all
the others, he’s watching my body language to see if I start touching
my nose or fidgeting at the crucial moments. Keep my feet up on the
chair opposite. Looking relaxed.
I love tabloids and all the people who work on them.
in my book, that’s out this week. Page five. He lets me bang on for a
bit about this, but then picks me up on a word I use when I’m
describing how I’ve changed since I stopped editing. I used to be
slightly dehumanised, I say.
“I think it actually applies to most newspaper journalists.
of the job requirement is that you’re kind of desensitised to what
you’re doing. You can’t afford to get too emotionally involved. That
goes with the territory. I don’t think too many people working on
national tabloids are, in their workplace, particularly compassionate.
are ouststanding in that way – Anton Antonovicz for one. But to be a
hard-nosed tab reporter, you’ve got to be foot-in-thedoor, confident,
aggressive and prepared to do stuff that some people would view as
“That was something that I felt slightly less comfortable about as the time went on.
“But the way the celeb and politics worlds manipulate the media is actually pretty grotesque.
“I’m not here to say, look, we’re a bunch of little choir boys and choir girls, please feel sorry for us.
What I do feel is that there’s a lot of stuff that tabloids can be proud of.
stories that get broken, amazing campaigns that get run, and also a lot
of amazing examples of people in power who really use and abuse the
media in a shameless way.
People, I hope, will see those and say, actually, the amount of manipulation is pretty shocking.
Not only Downing Street but the royal family and celebrity PR.
“I hope it will give people a more balanced view of how tabs work in particular.
“Not enough people defend tabloid papers. Not enough people speak up about them. And I think they should.”
“Never has the British press been under more control than it is now. It’s under a dangerous amount of control, in my view.
people in positions of power can use the law and use the PCC to
unfairly suppress things, it’s gone too far. Newspapers should watch it
There was a kind of wild freedom that used to go on, that probably made a lot more readable journalism.
I accept that there were excesses, but not actually as many as people thought.
think it’s a little bit too sanitised. There are a few too many rules
and regulations about stuff that inhibit natural free journalism.
That’s a bit of a shame. We’ve got to be careful it doesn’t go any further.”
can’t believe it. Press Gazette , of all magazines, is trying to invade
my privacy. Impertinent questions about whether the loneliness of the
editor’s job had a big impact on my relationships, or helped contribute
to my marriage breakdown. He’ll be asking about my current squeeze,
next. I put a stop to this, sharpish.
“My view about all that is
that I’m just not going to talk about it. Mainly because there are
other people involved. I’ve never understood how people in public life
can talk about it the way that they did. I used to cringe throughout
all of it.
“What Private Eye loves doing is repeating something
that Andrew Pierce wrote. I met him at the British Press Awards last
year and pretended to beat him up. He knew it was a joke, I knew it was
“The reason I always do that is that I once did it to
Sarah Sands at the Standard over Sheryl Gascoigne. I gave her the full
‘you’re invading my fucking privacy thing’ and she put it in the paper,
made me look a right jerk. That’s the only time I’ve done that
“I’ve jokingly done it as a laugh with people that I
semi-trusted, like Pierce. I’ve never meant it, because I realise how
ludicrous it is. He put it in his column and people took it seriously.
say ‘oh you’re very touchy about that’. I’m not. I don’t care what
people write. But I won’t help in the process. I don’t think that is
I tell him I’ve genuinely not missed editing since I was sacked. He doesn’t believe me. Nobody does, not even my mum.
“People don’t realise how relentless the pace of editing a daily newspaper is.
11 years, I was getting a little bit tired and a little bit less
enthusiastic about the humdrum days than I used to. It was getting a
little bit less easy to bound out of bed and think great, let’s cover
Big Brother .
“I did feel, as I was frogmarched out of the building, that there was nothing much left for me to do that I hadn’t already done.
covered the biggest single person story ever – the death of Diana; the
biggest news story of our time was 9/11; the biggest tabloid scoops of
the last 10 years, I would say, were broken by papers that I edited.
the top 10 in the past decade, my fingerprints or those of my staff
would be on six or seven. I don’t say that to be boastful, but as a
factual thing, given that the Mirror operated on such a financial
“I thought ‘maybe one day I’ll come back and do a
broadsheet’, but of course they’re all turning bloody tabloid. So
unfortunately it’ll have to be either the Telegraph or the FT.”
been stitched right up here. We’re just finishing up when who should
walk in to say hello but Jean Morgan, Press Gazette ‘s former chief
reporter who I spoke to regularly before she retired. Coincidence? I
don’t think so. She’s obviously been wheeled in so that I’ll drop my
guard about my private life. “How’s Marina,” she asks sweetly. “She’s
fine,” I say. “Oh and that reminds me, add to my dream team the diarist
for The Guardian .”
saying our goodbyes when my next appointment arrives. It’s Paul Abbott,
the TV scriptwriter who wrote Cracker, State of Play and Shameless. He
immediately gets chucked out for wearing jeans, so I arrange to meet
him in the lobby. No idea what he wants. Maybe he’s interested in doing
an adaptation of my new book. So who’d star as me? Sure I’ve got George
Clooney’s number somewhere.
have huge admiration and respect for him. I’ve never met anyone who
comes close to him. The amazing quick wit he has. The ability to sum up
He was always cleverer than we were.
He’s a commercial genius but also a much under rated newspaper genius.
There’s nothing that guy doesn’t know about newspapers. I’ll always be unbelievably grateful to him.
The one thing I missed about leaving the NoW was talking to him every week.
The feeling of having him behind you was an awesome feeling of power.
Mind you, when he bollocked you, it could be an extremely lonely place.
always said I burned too many bridges and he’s probably right. I’d love
to work for him again but I don’t suppose he’d offer me anything.
a realist. He probably thinks we had a great working relationship while
it lasted but he viewed my departure as total disloyalty and he’s never
rewarded disloyalty. If he asked me to work for him, yeah I’d love to.
But I don’t expect to. Is this some sort of job plea? No, I don’t need it.
Morgan picks his…
Rebekah Wade: Brilliant, brilliant. When she gets a bone she gnaws away until she gets a result.
She was a sensational reporter. She would not let anybody go until they coughed up.
Andy Coulson: Very driven journalist. Very popular and a lot of charm.
Tina Weaver: In the same bracket. One of the best reporters you’d ever meet.
Richard Wallace: Maverick showbizzy guy. Great style, great flair. Came up with 3am Girls.
Conor Hanna: Great on detail. A ferociously talented, hard-working guy. Very clever.
Peter Willis: My deputy on Bizarre for four years.
me around Fleet Street, always being my bridesmaid and slightly
resenting it, quite rightly. But one of the best journalists I’ve ever
John Moorhead and Simon Cousyns:
On a big, big story, those two were a fantastic production team. Simon
defected from the Mirror and broke my heart, before I could break his
Proprietor – Rupert Murdoch:
Although Rothermere would be just as good actually. The Rothermere
empire has been brilliant for journalism. They both believe in
journalists, and you can’t go wrong with that.
Chief executive-Kelvin MacKenzie: He’s developed a business brain, but he’s also a fantastic charismatic boss.
THE VIGLEN AFFAIR
definitely changed me. I have no complaints about being targeted over
what happened. I knew when those shares went rocketing up the day
after, the way that they did, that this was going to be a bit of a
problem. I didn’t imagine the scale of it.
Every day they were
making me out to be Nick Leeson. Every journalist wanted to believe
that there I was, filling my boots, rampantly share dealing every day,
using the City Slickers column to line my pockets, when it wasn’t like
that at all.
I spoke to Simon Kelner last night and asked him
what was in his city column. He had no idea of course. You can bet your
life a lot of editors buy shares, and have absolutely no idea what’s in
I didn’t find the hounding to be unacceptable,
people were polite, no problem with that. But what I found
extraordinary was the amount of utter lawlessness in terms of accuracy
of reporting by newspapers like The Sunday Times and The Times .
Times put on page one that 40 members of the Mirror staff had dealt
with my broker. That was stated as an exclusive fact. The reality was
that he had only ever dealt with one. And that was me.
He’d never dealt with anyone else on the Mirror staff at all. Didn’t know any of them.
Mail on Sunday said I had a £4.2m slush fund. Utter rubbish. I’d never
held shares in any of the nine companies they published.
The Guardian had a page one exclusive that I had bought shares in another company the day before a Slickers tip. Totally untrue.
tipped 2,000 shares in two years and I only ever once bought shares
before one of those tips and actually I had no knowledge of doing that
that day, as was subsequently established.
The PCC found me guilty of buying shares within a week of them previously tipping Viglen.
still think I was found guilty of buying them the day before a tip. I
wasn’t. I was guilty of buying them in close proximity to a previous
tip. A totally different kettle of fish.
I found the scale of
lawlessness and the way that no effort was ever made to really check
these things, really quite frightening.
Sunday Business, under
Jeff Randall – now the BBC’s business editor – sent me a letter of
apology, really grovelling, of a story that had just been made up.
There’s really no other way to describe it.
David Leppard of the Sunday Times convicted me every six months and acquitted me every six months. This went on for two years.
time it was complete bollocks. It’s up to editors of national
newspapers to look at themselves and say, if we’re doing that to our
own, what the hell are we doing to everyone else?
I found it
quite scary. One day I might do a book called the Viglen Experience ,
which will just be all the stories that appeared in two years, and
along side them, the truth. It would shock everyone in journalism.
They’d think “fucking hell, this is terrible”.
You talk to politicians about this and they just laugh at you – “now you know what it’s like”.
really did stain my character and my reputation in a grotesquely unfair
way. That’s not to denigrate the fact that I put myself in a really
difficult position to start with. I understood that.
as someone who has been cleared by the DTI, who has had access to all
the emails and the tapes, I feel in a position to look at it and say
“actually guys, that was a pretty appalling snapshot of how we treat
I’m very limited about what I can say about
Anil Bhoyrul and James Hipwell, because they’re facing a trial. But I
was obviously very sad that it ended the way it did. I like those guys.
despite the fact that they spent the next four years dumping all over
me, I kept my silence about them. And I did feel, as editor of the
paper, a feeling of deep unease, where I had been the target of the
story, and members of my staff had had to lose their jobs.
that I had acted foolishly, but not in a deliberate way. I was foolish
in buying shares in that goldrush time, and not knowing what was
appearing in the paper. But they were in a different position, for
reasons that will emerge.
I did seriously think of resigning. But in the end I decided why should I resign when, although it looks bad, it isn’t that bad.
It was a sobering experience and it taught me a bloody good lesson.