'The virus is not geared for a leader to be a bulls****er'

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Piers Morgan is in a reflective mood. For years, the television host and former tabloid editor has been accused of lacking self-awareness, of being self-important, condescending, pompous. His forthright approach on Good Morning Britain sees him savaging the ‘woke’ movement, while on Twitter he takes aim at everyone from Harry and Meghan to the Beckhams and Madonna, leading to a charge that he has contributed to the toxicity of social media. But there is something different about him now.

The 55-year-old does not struggle with self-doubt, but watching Covid-19 take hold of people in his circle while trying to challenge the British government on live television over its response to the pandemic has changed him.

“I have felt it very personally from what was going on around me with people I care about, and it has been draining physically, and emotionally,” says the father of four. “I had so many people around me dying and losing loved ones and lying in comas.”

He’s referring, in part, to his Good Morning Britain colleague Kate Garraway, whose husband Derek Draper (52) is still lying unconscious in a hospital. But Morgan didn’t have to look beyond his own family to understand the impact of the disease after one of his cousins lost both parents.

“It wasn’t just losing the parents; it was then not being able to say goodbye, you know, having to have their last conversation over FaceTime on a carer’s phone and then having a funeral with eight people.

“And I think that that really cemented to me the reality of this disease. I had such a lot of people I knew really suffering and losing great loved ones that it really gave me a real determination to make sure that the country and the government handled this better.”

What he describes as “Boris Johnson’s abject failure to take the right decisions at the right time” has angered him. He rails at the “incompetence that has caused a lot of death and heartache in this country and economic turmoil”.

As a consequence, Morgan hasn’t been sleeping well and there have been “a lot” of nights where he has lain awake worrying about what might come next.

“It’s very difficult to sleep and you’re just constantly waking – your mind is whirring,” he says. “But I keep reminding myself – imagine being in a hospital, imagine being a doctor or a nurse or a cleaner on a coronavirus ward. That pretty soon sorted out any feeling of self-pity I may have had.”

He now finds himself reflecting on his life, including his mistakes. “I think it’s made me reassess, you know, what I find important in life, my priorities, how I want to spend my life going forward, and how I want to conduct myself.”

He describes this as “work in progress” and admits to “lapsing occasionally back into some of the bad old habits. But I think overall it’s definitely realigned me to think that out of this we’ve got to have a better society than when we went in”.

Sitting on a sofa in his west London home, Morgan is nothing like the serious, suit-wearing, shouty man regularly irritating his co-host Susanna Reid on breakfast TV.

A few days before our interview he had appeared, again remotely, on The Late Late Show. Not being there in person upset him “because I love that trip, I love Ireland”.

He says he has occasionally turned to his religious faith to help him navigate through the difficult moments of this year, both on and off screen.

“I am Catholic, I pray for a resolution to difficult problems. I have prayed for a couple of people who’ve been going through hellish situations,” he adds, “because sometimes you just need to get a sense that there’s somebody out there looking out for you a bit.”

Did Morgan, who subscribes to the ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to life, get emotional with the intensity of the early days of the pandemic? “Yeah, I did. I can remember just random interviews would set me off – not like weeping, but certainly feeling very near the edge of that.”

In one case, a friend’s mother was fighting for her life in a south London hospital just as he was about to interview British health minister Matt Hancock. “I just was so angry. I went in that day steaming because of personal experience of what was going on.”

His famous friendship with Donald Trump has been a casualty of the pandemic, with Morgan claiming the US president “doesn’t have an empathy bone in his body. If you could park the tweeting and all the ridiculous rhetoric to one side for a moment and judge him purely on his actions in four years, he’s actually not been like the devil that the liberal woke crowd would tell you he has been.

“The problem is his mouth talks him into bad situations. He creates a very bad tone for the presidency.”

The pandemic, he continues, “is not geared for a leader to be a bullsh****er. And him and Boris Johnson are prime bullsh****ers who think they can they can bluster and blather away from any problem, but in fact, you can’t bluster and blather away from a killer virus. You’ll be found out”.

Back in April Morgan told Trump to “shut the f**k up” in a newspaper column and the president instantly unfollowed him on Twitter. He tells me he reached out to Trump in recent weeks, with a note via a mutual friend, and they have since had “a little moment. I got an email saying ‘the president laughed out loud when he saw your note'”.

He seems optimistic they can make up, as soon as Trump “loses next month’s election. I don’t think we’re irreparably damaged. I like to think at the end of all this, we can go back to being friends like we were before”.

Another defining moment for him this year was the death of his friend, the Love Island host Caroline Flack, who took her own life in February.

“What a desperate state of affairs when a young, beautiful, talented woman feels a need to take their own life,” he says. “A lot of that is driven by the absolute poison being spewed out on social media.”

After tweeting his condolences at the time, he was accused by online trolls of being a part of “scum media” and causing Flack’s death. “I wake up to being accused of killing her and so it was disgusting. I had never said or written anything bad about her in my life. It’s just incredibly hurtful because we were friends.”

But as someone who is known for picking fights with feminists, trans activists, “snowflakes” and “attention-seeking” celebrities, Morgan accepts he does not have “whiter than white hands about this kind of thing”.

He has 7.6m followers on Twitter and admits he “couldn’t divorce myself if I’m completely honest from being part of the problem of this toxicity on social media”.

For all that, he is not rowing back on his view of “tone-deaf, narcissistic, deluded, whiny brats” Harry and Meghan , nor will he call a halt to his war against “the virtue-signalling woke brigade”.

His new book, Wake Up, is all about the “rank hypocrisy of the supposedly socially conscious” and he says freedom of speech has never been more important.

“We’ve all had the biggest wake-up call of our lives. We’ve never had our freedoms attacked in this way, never had our lives attacked like this by an invisible enemy that is around the entire planet, and causing utter hell for people.”

The year of Covid has brought some unlikely new admirers, with even the Guardian hailing him as “the voice of the nation” back in April.

“It’s incumbent on all of us to help be part of the solution,” he says. “You should punch up, not sideways or down. I’ve got to use my platform more sensibly than I may have done before.”

‘Wake Up’ by Piers Morgan is published by Harper Collins

Sunday Independent

Source: Irish News