A good few years ago, when the world was a different place, I was on an aeroplane with Piers Morgan on the way back from a press trip to Morocco. Also in the party was a TV personality who had his own show on Channel 4. Piers had already been defenestrated as editor of the Daily Mirror, and the first edition of his diary, The Insider, had just been published (I know this because Piers had been walking round the hotel carrying a copy to enable anyone to recognise him). Somewhere over the Med, Piers idly wondered what would happen if the plane went down. Not in the sense of the grief that would be left behind, or the tragedy of lives cut short. No, what Piers was musing on was whether it would be him or the TV star who would be the first name mentioned in the news reports. “I'm afraid you'd just be 'also on board',” he told Dom Joly (for it was he), and sat back in his seat, smiling that smug grin.
It was pretty clear to anyone who knew Piers that, for him, fame was the spur. And now he's one of the most famous men in America. It is a heady cocktail he dispenses: a mixture of effortless English charm, an iron nerve, impressive quick-wittedness and utter shamelessness. These are rather good qualities for a journalist to possess and, in Piers's case, they are is synthesised into an ability to ask the most difficult, or personal, or audacious questions and get away with it.
Not surprising, therefore, that as a TV interviewer on CNN, he has made a serious impression on the wider American public, not the least through his stand on gun control after the Sandy Hook school shooting. To English eyes, a demand for the restricted ownership of firearms seems non-controversial, but over there it has led to calls for his deportation for impugning the second amendment of the US Constitution (the right to bear arms).
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition urging that he should be thrown out of the country, and the other night he went head-to-head on his show with Alex Jones, the man who launched the petition and is a self-appointed spokesman of the let's-have-more-rather-than-fewer-guns-lobby.
It is gruesome, but compelling, television (you can find it on a computer screen near you), and most of the interview is spent with Piers trying to put reasonable questions to his guest, to be met by a barrage of dubious assertions and laughable claims, all recanted at an uncomfortably high volume, and sometimes in a Dick Van Dyke-style English accent in an effort to show America that his inquisitor is a Limey quisling.
Only in America, you might say. Only in America would it even be a matter for debate that, in the wake of another horror, gun ownership should be controlled. Only in America would prime-time be given over to man who believes that the Bush administration was behind 9/11 and that Prozac, rather than guns, is the primary source of murder in the US. And only in America could Piers Morgan achieve the fame he always craved.