The Insider: The private diaries of a scandalous decade, by Piers Morgan

Confessions of a hypocritical berk
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

I would like to report that this book is unreadable, being the fake, ghosted "diaries" of an egomaniac. I would, indeed, report that, if it were not so grippingly readable.

I would like to report that this book is unreadable, being the fake, ghosted "diaries" of an egomaniac. I would, indeed, report that, if it were not so grippingly readable.

Perhaps the word "fake" is too harsh. It is provoked by the build-up given to the book by the Daily Mail, which serialised it, claiming: "Piers Morgan knew everyone. What none of them knew was that he was keeping a devastating secret diary."

A week ago, the IoS queried whether he had really kept a diary all those years. Since then, a Guardian journalist spotted hard evidence that the "diary" is no such thing. The entry for 29 November 2001 has Piers at a Downing Street lunch, seated between Cherie Blair and Fiona Millar, Alastair Campbell's partner. He makes both women "actually laugh" by quipping: "Ah, the real axis of evil." The hole in this story is that the phrase "axis of evil" originates from George Bush's State of the Union address, delivered on 29 January 2002 - two months after Piers supposedly cracked his witticism. But to be fair, Morgan does not pretend that these are real diaries. The opening sentence on the first page is an acknowledgement paid to the literary agent who "convinced me that I should write my memoirs in diary form". That makes it unlikely that anyone engaged in serious research will turn to the Morgan "diaries" as source material, in the way that historians plunder the diaries of Woodrow Wyatt or Tony Benn.

One part of the book was written contemporaneously. This is an account of dinner for three in the flat above 11 Downing Street, where the Blairs invited Piers to join them in celebrating his sacking from the Mirror, which is so bizarre that it has to be true. The rest is recollection of past events.

As we get older, we keep a clearer memory of things that happened long ago, and it seems that what Morgan remembers most vividly is a mysterious summons he received to breakfast with Rupert Murdoch in Miami in January 1994. Hours afterwards, he discovered he was being sounded out, because the media mogul had decided to make him editor of the News of the World. That and other vignettes which reveal Murdoch's way of working are some of the best passages in the book.

There is a moment when the young editor is given an insight by one of the older executives into the vast power he now wields. He is thinking of running a story about suburban wife swapping. He is told to "think very carefully", because a similar story a few years earlier had driven a man to suicide. "I was a bit taken aback," he confesses.

The account of his long tenure as editor of the Daily Mirror lacks these little insights into everyday life in a tabloid office. Instead, it is an account of the big stories to which the name Piers Morgan is attached, and the gallery of famous people who passed through his life.

A thread running through the years is his feud with Cherie Blair, who loathed him. There is also his relationship - almost a love affair - with Princess Diana, who skilfully manipulated him. There are also the famous Piers Morgan blunders, all dutifully recorded.

And it must be said that he does not spare himself or indulge in pointless self-justification. After the Mirror's front page treatment of the Euro 96 championship, with its headline "Achtung! Surrender", he notes the receipt of a record 956 letters of complaint and that "even Bobby Charlton's called me thick". On 8 June 1995, after another mishap, he records that "I've emerged as a complete and utter hypocritical berk" whereas on 10 February 2000, "I emerge as a hypocritical twat".

By 1 April 2003 "we have a problem", because his decision to turn the Daily Mirror into a campaigning vehicle against the Iraq war has driven away 80,000 readers - and that is before we reach the final disaster of the fake photographs that cost him his job.

There are those who believe that Morgan behaved courageously over the war and did not deserve his fate - who would equally condemn his wife-swapping stories and anti-German antics - but for Piers, there seems to be no great moral distinction between one form of journalism and another. There are just ups and downs in a turbulent career.

The entry for 13 June 1995 caught my eye. Tony Blair is under attack from Woodrow Wyatt, a renegade ex-Labour MP. "Blair stopped him dead in his tracks, fumbled under his seat and pulled out my framed picture of Woodrow in his old Labour campaigning poster with the caption 'Woodrow Wyatt says Labour is good for Britain and good for you'," Piers wrote.

Actually, Mr Morgan, that was my poster, and it still hangs on my toilet wall. I told him about it at some party late in 1994 and he asked to borrow it to make a copy. Only now, 10 years later, do I discover what he did with that copy.

Buy any book reviewed on this site at Independent Books Direct
- postage and packing are free in the UK