He was famously sacked for printing pictures of British soldiers apparently abusing Iraqis. But Piers Morgan, ex-editor of the Daily Mirror, has been reborn as a television star in the US and is set to repeat the trick in Britain. And he owes it all to that killer of showbusiness aspirations, Simon Cowell.
When Morgan wanted to launch his television career on the other side of the Atlantic, he didn't just follow old mate Simon Cowell. He ended up a virtual clone of his friend, as a sharp-tongued judge on a talent show. Morgan is to America's Got Talent - the NBC extravaganza whose first season aired over the summer - what Cowell is to the show's chief inspiration, American Idol: the brutally honest, occasionally smarmy one who reduces contestants to tears.
It's a role that seems to come naturally. He smiles charmingly enough, and his boyish features are all sweet innocence, but what emanates from his mouth is, for the most part, pure poison. "Are you deaf? Are you dumb? Or are you just so arrogant about that act that you think that's all you have to do?" he said to a magic duo called Quick Change. The woman in the duo left the stage in tears, while the man fired back: "You're allowed to judge, but you're not allowed to belittle."
But belittle he did, and American audiences are hooked on Morgan's brutal demolition of contestants.
Just 18 months ago, it was Morgan who was facing public humiliation. After losing the Naomi Campbell privacy case, a punch-up with Jeremy Clarkson and riding out the Viglen share-tipping scandal, for which he was exonerated, Morgan's final stand came over some photographs supposedly of British soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners. They were fake, and the boy genius editor had the ignominy of being frog-marched from the offices.
Morgan then lurched from a brief stint presentingThis Morning with Fern Britton to having his widely derided political chat show with Amanda Platell pulled by Channel 4 for poor ratings. His unpopular purchase of Press Gazette with PR supremo Matthew Freud last year resulted in the trade magazine going into administration three weeks ago.
Then early this summer, Morgan took a call from Cowell, an old friend and producer of Pop Idol, asking him to Hollywood. America's Got Talent was essentially vaudeville Las Vegas style, featuring genuine talent and weird acts. In keeping with the kitsch, Morgan sat next to fading soul artist Brandy and Baywatch star David Hasselhoff.
America lapped him up. Internet message boards are filled with analyses of his performances, with grumblings that sometimes Morgan's biting insults are not harsh enough. Its first outing pulled in 12 million viewers, making it the biggest show in America, and turned Morgan into a star stateside overnight.
"The British public, quite rightly, thinks it's great fun to abuse, heckle and generally deflate the massively inflated egos of people who throw themselves on the altar of celebrity," he wrote in the summer. "America is different. Fame there, in any degree, is a badge of honour and respect. Americans love celebrities; they revere them, salute them, want to touch them, bask in their reflected glory."
Cowellis bringing Britain's Got Talent to ITV next year. Whether the British public is ready for such a large dose of him is yet to be seen. But Morgan is philosophical. "The second series might flop. Britain's Got Talent might not get recommissioned and I'll be back talking to a bunch of bank clerks in Liverpool," he said. "That would be life. I sincerely want every Independent on Sunday reader to know I share their view that it would be much more fun if I fell flat on my face in about a year and half's time."Reuse content