Piers Morgan, 43, was the editor of the News of the World and the Daily Mirror. He helped to launch the children's paper First News, and is now a judge on Britain's Got Talent. His book on celebrity, Don't You Know Who I Am? is out in paperback.
I was really into newspapers at five or six, and used to point out the headlines that grabbed me. I learnt to read through the papers; whether this is good or bad I have yet to work out. My parents ran the Griffin Inn, and at Fletching C of E Primary, near Lewes, East Sussex, I was one of the few kids who every night went to the local pub. Ever since then, as a journalist, I have staggered to the pub after work.
I was very happy in my schools. I bounced between the two types of education; at seven, after the local primary, I went to a fee-paying prep school three miles away, Cumnor House, and was a boarder between 11 and 13. I noticed there was more money and it was better resourced. And there was daily sport – brilliant!
A kid tossed a jar of magnesium into the swimming-pool and blew it up. Although I'm now involved with the npower Climate Cops Campaign, in those days we weren't really aware of the environment – but I do remember thinking, "That's not the most environment-friendly thing!"
I remember getting a prize for handwriting; I had very good Italic handwriting. Now it's appalling, like a doctor's. I loved English and reading; I always liked non-fiction, biographies, stories of successful people. When I went to Chailey Comprehensive, they thought I was so far ahead in French that, at 14, I took the O-level and got a D. I retook it at 15 and got a B, then retook it at 16 to get an A. I then took the A-level and was awarded an O-level pass! So I got four O-level passes in French. I got nine O-levels (more if you include my multiple French results).
Chailey is one of the better comprehensives but still had games only once a week. It had very good teachers; Miss Jones and Mr Shepherd together taught me the power of English language, literature and history. Mr Shepherd also taught Latin but I was never much use.
When I went on to Lewes Priory sixth-form college, they made you take another O-level while you were doing your A-levels. I did Italian, hoping that my Latin would help, but they said they had never had a student who, after taking Latin, had done so badly in Italian: I got a U – ungraded.
I was probably most fond of Mr Freeman, who taught history A-level. He was cruel but fair. "Your boy is a buffoon," was his entire report to my parents one year. He probably thinks subsequent events have borne him out. It was a great school, a hotbed of rock music and gambling. I ran three-card brag games in the common room, and we played bridge (weird for 17-year-olds). I got an A in English, a B in history, and a C in French [retake]. It was wine, women and song (all my schools were co-ed), a perfect background for a journalism course.
The Journalism Centre at Harlow College had a very good NCTJ one-year course, with 1,000 applicants for 50-plus places. There were 51 girls and two of the five blokes lived in London so weren't around much: 17 to one! My shorthand was up to 100 words a minute; I'd be a very good secretary. Studying the law of libel and slander was very useful. Everyone on that course got a job on a local newspaper. I was the last, because I insisted on London; I'd been told the stories were juiciest in London and could be sold to the national papers.
I had been going to Warwick University but liked the lure of the bright lights of journalism. I'd like my kids to go to university. You should delay working for as long as you can – preferably at your father's expense.
- Piers Morgan is a supporter of npower's Climate Cops Campaign for schoolchildren to become more green ( www.npower.com/GreenSOS )