At 6:38 a.m. on Tuesday, Piers Morgan, his face puce and contorted with anger, stormed off the set of his own live breakfast show, seemingly forever. The previous morning, he had delivered a diatribe against Meghan Markle, focusing on her interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which she said she felt suicidal during pregnancy. “I don’t believe a word she says,” Piers told a million viewers watching Good Morning Britain over their breakfasts. “I wouldn’t believe her if she read me a weather report.” Ironically, it was Morgan’s own weather reporter, Alex Beresford, who pointedly accused him of having a personal vendetta against Meghan that prompted the tantrum. (He was not wrong.)
Many here in the U.K. watched this unfold with glee, not least because one of his favored complaints lately is that the younger, “snowflake” generation can’t take a bit of criticism. He’s best known to American audiences as the winner of the first Celebrity Apprentice, a judge on America’s Got Talent between 2006 and 2011, and for his short-lived CNN show Piers Morgan Live, but Britons’ lamentable history with Morgan is much longer.
Prior to Good Morning Britain, and prior to his stint judging the merits of various dancing dogs and schoolchildren, Morgan was a hot shot tabloid journalist. After a few years as the Sun’s celebrity columnist, Rupert Murdoch appointed him the editor of another red top, the News of the World, making him the U.K.’s youngest newspaper editor in 50 years at just 28. He went on to preside over the Daily Mirror during a phone-hacking scandal, managed to evade arrest for insider trading, and made himself known for publishing pictures of celebrities doing things like receiving treatment for addictions and eating disorders. After he left the papers, Simon Cowell scooped him up to do the Got Talent shows on both sides of the Atlantic, then CNN threw him a bone, and when all that was over, he came back to the U.K., and he once again landed firmly on his feet by securing a job hosting one of the country’s most-watched morning programs.
Good Morning Britain started in 2014 as just another bland but pleasant breakfast chat show. That changed in 2015, when Morgan joined. From then on, GMB was never out of the headlines for long because of something inflammatory Morgan had said on air. It’s an unusual man who is able to work himself up into a froth of anger well before 7 o’clock in the morning, but Morgan managed it day after day, on a wide range of culture-war-adjacent topics.
There have been several memorably batshit moments. He once accused Lady Gaga of using PTSD to promote her new album. He claimed his gender identity was “penguin” in 2019. He called the anti-Trump protests “endless hysteria,” and responded to the women’s marches in 2017 by saying he would plan one for men, “to protest at the creeping global emasculation of my gender by rabid feminists.” He prompted a nationwide reckoning with fatherhood by tweeting that 007 actor Daniel Craig was “virtue-signalling” by carrying his baby in a papoose. Perhaps most memorable of all was the time he got protractedly and perplexingly upset about a high street bakery introducing a vegan sausage roll. He had a producer walk a tray of them onto the show’s set, smelled them, declared they “stink,” and then pretended to vomit.
Conflict is a way of life for Morgan. This is a man who still bears a scar above his eyebrow from getting in a fistfight with Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson at the 2004 Press Awards, in an unedifying display of clown-on-clown violence. If he’s not pissing somebody off, he’s doing something wrong.
The requisite comparisons to Donald Trump are easy to make, not least because Morgan has enjoyed claiming friendship with Trump since winning Celebrity Apprentice. This claim has looked a little weaker, however, since Morgan conducted a sycophantic interview with the former U.S. president, in which Trump demonstrated that he didn’t know how to pronounce Morgan’s name.
Like Trump, Morgan is a conservative-leaning populist who tweets compulsively and enjoys name-dropping his celebrity friends and hearing the sound of his own voice. But Morgan is a more difficult man to pin down because he’s so inconsistent in his political maneuvers. He was one of few newspaper editors in the U.K. to vocally oppose the war in Iraq. He campaigned for gun control on CNN. He’s anti-Brexit. He called conservative Prime Minister David Cameron a “soulless weasel,” which he is. Morgan also made himself surprisingly popular with progressives over the last year in his no-holds-barred confrontations with conservative government ministers over their handling of the coronavirus.
What does Piers Morgan really believe? It’s hard to say. And because he can claim to be playing a character, he doesn’t have to say either. In 2009, he told the Mirror: “My family don’t recognise me on television. They say, ‘Why don’t you just be yourself?’ And I tell them it’s because a lot of people know that I’m simply playing a role—plus, it’s quite lucrative.”
Does he care about gun control? Probably. Is he angry about Brexit? Could be. But it all seems secondary to his need to be in the spotlight. He’s a chameleon, and he can be charming and self-effacing when that serves him well. His actions are not governed by a political ideology or directed by a personal moral compass. Instead, he has a keen eye for the angle that will generate the most noise, and that seems to be what he is ultimately driven by: a near-insatiable appetite for attention, of any kind. His desire to be thought of well is second only to his desire to be thought of at all.
This is why Meghan Markle has made him so furious—because she had the audacity to stop caring about him. Morgan and Markle went for one drink in 2016 when she was in London for the Wimbledon tennis tournament, after which, in Morgan’s own words, she “ditched” him “like a sack of spuds.” He has tweeted about her voraciously since, working himself up into rages on his show about her and Prince Harry being “grasping, selfish, scheming Kardashian-wannabes.” And so, when GMB’s Beresford called Morgan out on his obsession with Meghan and remarked on her lack of interest in him, it hit him differently than being called arrogant or irritating—those are qualities he cultivates. This time, his ego was bruised.
According to reports, 42,000 complaints were made to the broadcasting regulator about Morgan’s comments on Markle’s mental health. Morgan has now said he’s quit Good Morning Britain for good. He did what he came there to do, in any case. On Thursday morning, he tweeted that he had “one goal” when he joined GMB: to beat the equivalent BBC breakfast program in the ratings, which he did with his final show.
If it seems like this may mark a moment of professional decline for Morgan, I have unfortunate news. He remains a professional gobshite, and he will not squander those skills. It seems likely that he will join GB News, a new “anti-woke” Fox News–esque right-wing media outlet being set up in the U.K. Andrew Neil, the man at the helm, already tried to sign him up for it last year. And there are those who harbor a dark suspicion that he could climb even higher. Being a greasy, divisive journalist opens a lot of doors in this country. It certainly didn’t do our current prime minister, Boris Johnson, any harm.