Piers Morgan: The man with no moral compass who found his destiny in a steadfast opposition to war

Ciar Byrne,Media Correspondent
Monday 10 October 2011 10:10

Piers Pughe-Morgan has courted controversy from the day he became editor at the Daily Mirror.

Piers Pughe-Morgan has courted controversy from the day he became editor at the Daily Mirror.

In his nine years at the helm of the newspaper he has caused shock with headlines like "Achtung surrender!", become embroiled in a share-tipping scandal and been branded "a man with no moral compass" by the Prime Minister's wife. His demise has been frequently predicted, but until now "Teflon" Piers had somehow managed to scrape through.

Born on March 30 1965 in East Sussex, Morgan learned his trade on local newspapers in Surrey and South London. His rise was rapid. At 24 he landed the job of editing The Sun's showbiz column Bizarre and, when he was just 28, Rupert Murdoch appointed him the youngest-ever editor of the News of the World. Two years later, at the age of 30, he took over as editor of the Mirror, where he has had a roller-coaster ride ever since.

During the Euro '96 football championship, Morgan came up with the brainwave of splashing "ACHTUNG SURRENDER! FOR YOU FRITZ ZE EURO CHAMPIONSHIP IS OVER" on the front page. The stunt, ahead of England's match with Germany, was very much in the vein of Kelvin Mackenzie, the legendary Sun editor who had hired him.

In 2000 Morgan got into rather more serious trouble over the "Mirrorgate" scandal, when he was found to have bought shares in Viglen Technology shortly before the company was tipped by his financial columnists, the City Slickers. The columnists were forced to leave the Mirror, but Morgan survived.

The attack on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001 was a seminal moment in Morgan's editorship, convincing the former showbiz columnist that serious news was the way forward. He was so inspired by the circulation boost on the back of the paper's coverage of the terrorist attacks that he vowed to replace celebrity trivia with hard news on a regular basis.

In May 2002 the Mirror underwent a £20m revamp, ditching its "tacky" red-top in a symbolic underlining of paper's shift and hiring columnists such as John Pilger and Christopher Hitchens. But the move did not pay off and the Mirror slipped into a slow circulation decline.

It was not long before Morgan welcomed celebrities back into his pages, with the rise of the Mirror's "3am" page, whose columnists were dubbed "London's wickedest, bawdiest gossips" by Vanity Fair.

Morgan's courageous stand against the war in Iraq last year failed to strike a chord with readers and in May 2003 the Mirror's circulation plummeted through the psychologically important 2 million barrier for the first time in its history.

A disastrous price-cutting war with The Sun did not help matters. When Sly Bailey took over as chief executive of the paper's owner Trinity Mirror last year, she was quick to stop the slashed cover prices.

Morgan clashed with Cherie Blair two years ago after she described him as "a man with no moral compass" in conversation with a former Trinity Mirror chief executive, Philip Graf. Morgan retaliated with an article in The Spectator in which he revealed he had told Tony Blair: "I would appreciate it if you stopped the missus trying to get me sacked."

Despite declining sales - the Mirror lost another 16,000 readers last month and fell 2.12 per cent compared to last year - Morgan has enjoyed a series of headline-grabbing scoops.

In November 2002, he signed up the royal butler Paul Burrell in an exclusive £300,000 deal, which brought a fresh yield a year later when the Mirror serialised Burrell's account of working for Princess Diana, which contained explosive revelations.

The paper won scoop of the year at the What the Papers Say awards for sending an undercover reporter, Ryan Parry, into Buckingham Palace to reveal the lack of security ahead of a state visit. The pictures he took of the Queen's breakfast table were sold around the world and prompted a major investigation into royal security.

At the British Press Awards in March, the Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson swung a right hook at Morgan, claiming the Mirror editor had insulted his wife. Morgan, who explained the incident as an animated discussion about stories concerning Clarkson's private life that appeared in the Mirror, said: "I've frankly taken worse batterings from my three-year-old son."

As the faked-photos row raged around him, Morgan was dealt another blow when the House of Lords decided in favour of the model Naomi Campbell in her battle against the Mirror for publishing pictures of her attending a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Once again he attempted to shrug the story off, branding the decision "a good day for lying, drug-abusing prima donnas".

Morgan has already prepared for the future by rebranding himself as a television celebrity, putting his own trade under the microscope in the BBC1 series Tabloid Tales. He is believed to have earned upwards of £200,000 from his burgeoning television career, which will go some way towards compensating for the salary he earned as editor-in-chief of the Mirror, reputed to be between £350,000 and £400,000.

Whatever he decides to do next, Morgan has already hinted at how he may have spent his first night stripped of the Mirror editorship. "I always try and celebrate a massive error - preferably with a few bottles of chilled Krug and a jug of Jack Daniels," he told The Independent in April 2002. "It's the only way... and you then have that blissful moment in the morning when you're so hung-over you literally can't remember your crime."


I've always jokily subscribed to the theory that newspaper journalists could edit women's magazines with their eyes shut, their brains disengaged and in a permanent state of alcoholic paralysis. The Guardian, 1 Feb 1999

We want to cause mayhem again. It's what we're about. We're not The Economist; we should be upsetting and enraging and entertaining and all the rest of it. The Guardian, 23 April 2001

I always try and celebrate a massive error - preferably with a few bottles of chilled Krug and a jug of Jack Daniels. It's the only way ... and you then have that blissful moment in the morning when you're so hungover you literally can't remember your crime. The Independent, 16 April 2002

Tears for poor, downtrodden celebrities don't naturally well up inside me ... Being a tabloid journalist necessitates a rhino's skin. You can't afford to be too sentimental ... It's a rough old trade, fiercely competitive and normally devoid of mercy. The Guardian, 14 April 2003

I would rather tether myself to a barrel of honey in a mile-wide pit of enraged killer bees to be honest. To be a politician these days strikes me as one of the most compromising things you can do in life.

In response to being asked whether he would like to be a politician: Mirror.co.uk, 28 Feb 2004

[Mirror staff] have all grown used to my Grand Canyon-sized ego and embarrassing adoration of the television screen [particularly if my head is on it] and many display quite shocking lack of respect towards both character flaws.

Far from being the worst seven days of my life ... I would honestly conclude that it was one of the most challenging, exciting and ultimately important weeks in my 10 years of editing. It was definitely off the adrenaline Richter scale. Media Guardian, 10 May 2004, following the week in which the Mirror broke the photo story, lost the Naomi Campbell case and the inquiry into its Buckingham Palace story was published.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments