“We’re all mad, aren’t we? ” says Piers Morgan. “It’s a question of degrees. I interview all these psychopaths and killers but I think everyone has a slight screw loose. It’s a matter of how it manifests itself and how you can control it.”
It’s Monday morning and we’re meeting for breakfast in a west London private members club, immediately after this week’s first broadcast of Good Morning Britain which, technically, Morgan co-presents with Susanna Reid, though he doesn’t go for the “co” bit much.
“I don’t think I could really work somewhere where I’m, you know, number ten on the cab rank,” he says. “I probably am the de facto leader of the team when I’m on. Susanna is very opinionated herself, and has a very big role in the show, but I think if you actually said to her, ‘Who do you think is the main driving force?’ she would probably say me.”
Megalomania or entirely justified self-confidence? Now that Morgan has yet another television project, a documentary called Psychopath, perhaps we’ll find out. For the hour-long ITV special Morgan visits a maximum security facility in Texas to talk to Paris Bennett, a convicted murderer who has been diagnosed as a sociopath, an alternative term for psychopath.
What better time, then, to talk about the state of what Morgan calls his “combative personality”? The presenter and journalist has agreed to answer a set of questions based, in part, on a personality test developed by Dr Kevin Dutton of Oxford University, a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths.
Dr Dutton will assess Morgan’s personality after our conversation and, in a separate test – see below – tell us if Morgan has any psychopathic tendencies.
It is, I suggest, quite brave of Morgan but, characteristically perhaps, he’s too concerned with taking control of the project to fully fret about its consequences. “If I was your editor, I’d call the feature, Is Piers Morgan a psychopath? I think that would work really well. I merely leave that with you as an idea.”
And does he think he is a psychopath? “Well, you may prove I am a bona fide psychopath when we do this test, that actually I hover close to the button. But the interesting thing about being a psychopath is you genuinely have a condition that deprives you of any empathy, and I certainly don’t think I lack empathy for people.
“I have enormous amounts of empathy if I think people really warrant it. But I also don’t care if the outside world loves me or hates me, because to me, my persona in public is a slight pantomime villain. I constantly fuel this because it’s fun, it’s entertaining, it’s provocative, it gets everybody going, it encourages debate. All the things I like.”
By his own admission, Morgan has just had a “pretty extraordinary” week. “We did two of the best-ever Life Stories, Michael Parkinson and Michael Barrymore, my interview with President Trump, plus Question Time and then three GMBs.”
But Psychopath is a different, and genuinely disturbing, kind of television programme. In August 2007, 13-year-old Bennett planned and carried out the murder of his four-year-old half-sister Ella, and he’s now serving a 40-year prison term. Morgan doesn’t grandstand in the show, but quietly interviews Bennett from behind thick security glass.
It’s not the gratuitous television his critics suggest he produces. “I take issue with the charge of gratuitousness,” he says. “I think it’s more that there is a fascination with crime. The question is why have they done it and can I bring some succour to the families of the people that they killed? And I think invariably the answer to that is yes.”
Consider the full gravity of Bennett’s crime and you might conclude that society bandies the term psychopath about too freely, sometimes simply because we disagree with someone’s politics. “People call Trump a psychopath,” says Morgan. “He’s not, he’s more of a narcissist.”
The two men’s recent encounter in Churchill’s War Rooms was the only major interview the US President gave on his recent trip to the UK. They have been friends since Morgan won Celebrity Apprentice in the US in 2008.
Is Morgan much like Trump? “I think I have, like Trump, a chilling self-belief and self-confidence. If that makes me a narcissist, I plead guilty. I like to be at the centre of things and I like things to be about me, so in that sense Trump and I share similar characteristics. I probably have a better ability to show empathy than he does.
“He’s a complex character with lots of different sides to him. If you see him interact with his family, his kids all love him and worship him. But the main reason I like Trump is he’s been very loyal to me, privately and publicly, many times.”
It’s natural that Morgan should show loyalty in return but he’s not – as his answer to one of Dutton’s questions suggests – an entirely straight-down-the-line character.
Are you willing to manipulate people to get what you want? “Yes, I don’t think manipulation’s necessarily wrong if it’s for the greater good, if, ultimately, where you want to get to is going to be improved by a bit of manipulation.”
We seem to be getting on rather well – is Morgan manipulating me? “I probably am. You don’t know, do you?”
Morgan is young-looking for 54. He’s not podgy and flexes his arm to show me his biceps. They’re big.
If he were to strip down to his underpants would I see a finely-toned physique? “No, you wouldn’t. But you would see somebody surprisingly strong.”
He has pulled a v-neck over the white shirt he wore this morning and his hair is still ruffled. He recently won Heat magazine’s Secret Crush 2019, so I ask him what seems like an apposite question from the doctor: do people think you are good-looking?
“Well, you could take it any way you choose to suit your agenda,” he says, for once almost – but not quite – flustered. “‘People’ can mean anybody, right? There are definitely people out there that would describe me as good-looking. My mother would be one, but there are other people who describe me as a walking, talking aesthetic abomination.”
Several of Morgan’s answers don’t surprise me at all. Could he talk his way to the front of a queue? “Oh yes. I think I have a very sophisticated sense of shamelessness, which you need for all these kinds of eventualities.”
Does he often get angry at the way people treat him? “Yes, I can quite easily get wound up by people who are unnecessarily abusive, or taking the p***, or being entitled; they can annoy me and I don’t hesitate to tell them. I don’t like sneakiness.”
But I am surprised when, answering a question about religion and morality, the Catholic-raised Morgan reveals that his mother took him to a convent to see nuns when he was young.
“I had spiritual guidance from Catholic nuns when I was 11 or 12,” he says. “My mum said, ‘You’ve been a naughty boy and I’m taking you to meet some nuns.’”
So there had been an incident? “No. I was never that bad. I think my mum would say I’ve never caused her many problems. I’ve been a pretty good boy, really. My brother went as well and then he joined the Army and shot people.”
Piers Morgan interviews Paris Bennett through glass at the Ferguson Unit Texas State PrisonITV
His brother Jeremy is a lieutenant colonel, and Morgan returns to the subject often, as if he judges his own achievements against those of Jeremy and finds them wanting.
I ask him if he suffers from anxiety and he says, “I’ve got a brother who’s currently serving abroad, fighting for his country. And he really doesn’t want to hear his rich, overprivileged, as he would put it, ‘underworked, overpaid tosser of a brother’ telling the world about his anxiety, when he’s in a tent in Afghanistan with bombs going off left, right and centre.
“I think that you need to have a healthy perspective in life. If you want to talk about stress and anxiety, I’ve got so many friends in their 50s fighting forms of cancer right now.”
Morgan does like to talk about fighting. At one point we discuss what would happen if he and I were to have a set-to right here in the club. “You wouldn’t want to have a fight with me. I’d be very nasty,” he says, gesturing across the teacups and spoons.
What, you’d use the cutlery? “Whatever it took to beat you.”
He’d even take me down in a social media fight. “How many Twitter followers have you got?” he asks me. I tell him it’s 930. “Well good luck with that, then, because by the time I’ve unleashed my 6.6 million, you will have been vaporised.”
He is fascinated by boxing. His first interview as a reporter was with a young boxer called Frank Bruno for a south London paper. (Morgan’s mother cut the interview out and stuck it on her fridge door; years later Bruno told him that his mother had done exactly the same.)
“Frank was the first one, and I’ve stayed in touch with him. We’re good friends. He’s obviously been through a lot of stuff, but he’s a very, very good guy.”
Continuing the boxing theme, he tells me he took his two older sons to see the UFC fighter Conor McGregor take on boxer Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas in 2017; and the only time he has taken drugs was with Mike Tyson. “He’s launched a marijuana ranch in California. So I had one puff with Tyson, because it’s legal there.”
Morgan then tells me about a fight that happened a long time ago when, aged 11, he moved from prep school to a comprehensive, a big cultural change, even in Sussex. “My full name is Piers Pughe-Morgan, double barrelled, and in the first week I met a guy who had a multicolour Mohican and he and his massive mate decided they were going to torment and bully me. We got off the school bus after a few weeks and we scrapped it out in the middle of the A272.
“All I remember is my mother running out, seeing this mass mob cheering us on and her pulling us off each other and frog-marching me home, which was a little embarrassing. I was like, ‘Mother, let me fight my own battles, please.’ She’s carried on fighting my battles ever since. I can’t stop her.”
There’s a scene in Psychopath where Bennett’s mother, Charity, tells Morgan that she fears that if her son is released from prison he might come looking for her. Doesn’t Morgan fear that a psychopath might come looking for him, for the man who asked him all those personal, discomforting questions on television?
“I’ve spent 30 years having people wanting to kill me. None of them have been successful yet.”
Really? “Yes, I’m not joking. I’m always aware there are a lot of dangerous people around.”
Never been tempted to calm things down, to step away from the limelight, the relentless public attention? “In that way I’m a bit like Trump. People want him to change, they want him to be more presidential. And people would like me to be less provocative, less opinionated. But why should I? I’ve always been like this.”
One last question from Dr Dutton: are you cynical and sceptical of other people’s intentions? “I basically start from the position of ‘Why is this person trying it on?’”
Even me, Piers? “Always with journalists, yes. When you walked in, my first reaction was deep-rooted suspicion. Does this person want to make a name for himself by skewering me? And if he does, how painful does the revenge attack have to be?”
You see, perfectly normal.
Are you a psychopath? Take the test (and compare yourself to Piers Morgan’s scores)
Answer this questionnaire, devised by Dr Kevin Dutton to determine if you have psychopathic tendencies. RT asked Piers Morgan to sit the test and Dr Dutton analysed the results…
0: Strongly disagree
3: Strongly agree
1: I rarely plan ahead: I’m a spur-of-the-moment kind of person.
Piers’s score: 1
Dr Dutton’s analysis: Psychopaths are reward-driven and very impulsive. They want it all, as Freddie Mercury once sang. And they want it now!
2: People would say that there’s an X-factor about me.
PM score: 3
Many psychopaths have a “presence”. People often comment that there is “just something about them” after meeting them.
3: If something better comes along it’s OK to cancel a longstanding appointment.
PM score: 1
Psychopaths are hell bent on looking after Number One. Loyalty and reliability mean nothing to them. They’ll put their own happiness and self-interest ahead of everyone else’s every time.
4: Seeing an animal injured or in pain doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
PM score: 0
Psychopaths lack empathy. The emotion switches in their brains are dialled down so they simply don’t feel things the way that the rest of us feel them.
Piers trying out a birthing simulator on GMB
5: Driving fast cars, riding rollercoasters, and skydiving appeal to me.
PM score: 2
Psychopaths are adrenaline junkies. The area of their brains that controls fear isn’t as active as in normal brains, which means it takes a lot more to get them pumped up.
6: It doesn’t matter if I have to step on other people to get what I want.
PM score: 2
Psychopaths are utterly ruthless and remorseless. Their brain’s low empathy settings mean that they will stop at nothing to get what they want.
7: I’m very persuasive. I have a talent for getting other people to do what I want.
PM Score: 3
Psychopaths can be extremely charming. They are social chameleons who are able to hide their true colours and make great first impressions.
8: I’d be good in a dangerous job because I can make my mind up pretty quickly.
PM score: 3
Psychopaths thrive under pressure. Their fearless brains aren’t fazed by danger and they are never troubled by self-doubt.
9: I find it easy to keep myself together in situations when others are cracking under pressure.
PM score: 3
Psychopaths are extremely resilient and mentally tough. Many of them laugh and joke even when facing the death penalty!
10. If you’re able to con someone, that’s their problem. They deserve it.
PM score: 1
Psychopaths are social predators. They see life as a game of dog-eat-dog and have no moral compass or sense of right or wrong. Dishonesty, manipulation, and other shady goings-on come completely naturally to them.
11. Most of the time when things go wrong it’s somebody else’s fault, not mine.
PM score: 0
In their own eyes, psychopaths are never to blame for anything. If something goes wrong or they’re found behaving badly then they are the victims and anyone caught in the crossfire had it coming.
SCORING SCALE: 0–11 Low 12–17 Below average 18–22 Average 23–28 High 29–33 Very high
What Piers got a total score of 19. Here’s what that means…
Dr Dutton says: “This test provides a general indication of where you might sit on the psychopathic spectrum. Piers’s score of 19 puts him in the ‘average’ category, which means that while he’s clearly not a pussycat he’s also a long way from being a psychopath.
“The test reveals that Piers does possess some psychopathic characteristics. He’s persuasive, charismatic, cool under pressure, and can be ruthless when he has to.
“But in other ways it shows that he is very un-psychopathic. For example, he’s reliable and hard-working, has a well-developed conscience, and is also very empathic.
“You might call him a good psychopath!”
Psychopath with Piers Morgan is on 9.00pm Thursday, ITV