Reaching for the stars

Gareth Morgan has turned the Daily Star Sunday into a major force. Can the former rocket scientist make it fly any higher?
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The Independent Online

Gareth Morgan has an interesting manual on his desk, a 1969 Ladybird book called The Story of Newspapers. It contains a hand-drawn image of an editorial conference at which male executives stand round puffing on cigarettes while a glamorous female secretary takes down notes.

"Papers like the Daily Express are called popular papers," the book offers, in a statement that was truer then than it is now. "They present their news in a bright, lively fashion with easy-to-read articles and many photographs."

Morgan has not yet made it to the editor's chair of the Express but he is at the helm of its sister title, the Daily Star Sunday. "This is my style book," he says dryly of the childhood Ladybird volume.

Morgan, one year old when the book came out, is Britain's youngest national editor. At 35, he is eight months the junior of The Sun's Rebekah Wade. His newspaper has, within 18 months, established itself as a serious player in the Sunday tabloid market, with a circulation of 496,159 (up 6.85 per cent year on year). But Morgan claims his personal style owes nothing to that of either Ms Wade nor his namesake at the Daily Mirror, Piers.

"You look at Piers Morgan, you cannot help but turn on the TV and see his grinning face. He's far more comfortable with media people than with readers," he says.

Ms Wade, he says somewhat disparagingly, is "a regular at the Ivy". He says: "There are temptations to go out and dine at the Ivy and be out and about at the latest swanky showbiz bash, but to remain in touch with the readers you don't want to be doing that yourself."

Ms Wade's celebrity lifestyle with her actor husband, Ross Kemp, is not universally celebrated by her colleagues at Wapping, Morgan claims. "You need to be in touch with the readers, aware of what the bloke or the woman handing their money over actually gives a monkey's about," he says. "You don't get that from dining with PRs at £100-a-head restaurants."

With his Black Country accent, his addiction to telly and his love of football, Morgan seems to have the common touch. His background, though, is far from normal. He is a former rocket scientist for British Aerospace who read physics at the University of Manchester and later studied for a Masters degree in Louisville, Kentucky.

He was laid off from BAe and later pulled out of his course in Kentucky when he decided that he was more interested in journalism. His rise to the editor's seat at the Daily Star Sunday has been a rapid one, after an early career at news agencies in Liverpool and Birmingham. The key to the paper's popularity, he believes, will be its broad appeal. "It's about being inclusive. I sound like Tony Blair. But we all watch telly, we all go to the pub."

This inclusivity will not necessarily be extended to asylum seekers, who have taken a battering from Express Newspapers. "It's not a story you can avoid. If I go out back in Wolverhampton it's the first thing that people will talk about," he says.

Although he shuns celebrity parties, Morgan is a former showbiz and television writer and says that the medium is "massively, massively important for us". The biggest name columnist on the paper is Helen Chamberlain, the witty, pretty and football-literate presenter of Sky TV's Soccer AM. "She's a top bird," notes Morgan. "A lot of Daily Star readers didn't buy a Sunday newspaper," he says, explaining the concept behind the paper's launch in September 2002. There are still 400,000 Star readers who have yet to be wooed to the Sunday edition. Richard Desmond, the owner, is watching developments and will not be unhappy with the progress so far. Desmond, says Morgan, "is a very canny man".

"There may be an impression that he is a difficult person to work with but he is robust and he has very strong ideas about all of his titles," he says. "The success of them all has shown that his ideas are usually pretty good."