Piers Morgan is keen to tell me about his great skin. “I’m in the top 18th percentile,” he says proudly, jutting his chin forward across the restaurant table so that I can better examine his pores. “And I’ve never had any work done. No Botox, nothing.”
When he first moved to Los Angeles to take over the Larry King interview slot on CNN in 2010, Morgan visited a dermatologist. The way Morgan tells the story (which is effectively the way he tells every story: painting himself as the hero of events) the dermatologist informed him there was nothing that could be improved.
“I’ve never moisturised!” Morgan, 50, says gleefully when we meet in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. It’s true that his skin is the smooth, pink- hued texture of a baby-faced Englishman abroad. He says Joan Collins once told him the secret to good skin was staying out of direct sunlight.
Morgan will be able to do a lot more of this in future because he is returning to the UK as part of the presenting team for ITV’s flagship break- fast show, Good Morning Britain. Morgan will be co-hosting the show with Susanna Reid three days a week, splitting his time between LA and London. Is he a morning person?
“I am actually, yeah. I’ve always been good in the morning. Up early. My high-energy moments are normally in the morning. I’ve been getting good practice because my daughter has the most unbelievably bad sleeping pattern,” he says, referring to four-year-old Elise, his child with his wife, the journalist and author Celia Walden (he also has three sons from his first marriage).
In fact, Morgan has worked out that the latest possible time he can set his alarm for will be 3.26am. “Military precision,” he says, pouring himself tea from a white china pot.
For all his good cheer, it is hard not to think of this as some sort of comedown. When Morgan was hired by CNN and made the permanent move to the US, he was hailed in the American press as “the new king on the block” and expected to attract stellar ratings with his blend of forthright questioning and tabloid guile.
The former Daily Mirror editor had already enjoyed a stint as a judge on America’s Got Talent and won the US version of Celebrity Apprentice in 2008, raising more money than all the other contestants combined.
But CNN was not his natural home. By the end of his four-year stint, Morgan’s show was attracting just 270,000 viewers and he had alienated a large portion of the audience with his calls for gun control. Now he returns to front a breakfast format that has struggled to find its way: despite a recent increase in ratings, Good Morning Britain is still regularly trounced by the BBC.
Morgan is refreshingly open about all of this. He says breakfast TV has suffered “with the explosion of news channels” and that ITV’s offering in particular has “had a very tempestuous period… Over the last few years it’s become very disjointed, lost its identity.”
But, as ever, he is chipper about the future. He thinks ITV bosses want him to be “lively” and “unpredictable”. He’s a big fan of his co-host Susanna Reid, who, he says, “treats me like a thoroughly naughty boy”.
If you had to describe what it is that Piers Morgan will bring to breakfast TV, I start… He interrupts – Morgan is so eager to answer that interviewing him is a bit like having a very friendly terrier persistently scratching at one’s trouser leg. “Susanna would probably say, ‘Look, he’s half very nice and half Hannibal Lector.’” A brief pause. “But she likes it.”
It is terribly un-British, this unassailable sense of self-worth, and it earns Morgan his fair share of enemies. On Twitter, he is combative, opinionated and routinely trolled — he once woke up to someone expressing the hope he and his children be beheaded by Isis.
His response was sanguine: “Fortunately he didn’t know how to spell ‘beheaded’ so I was able to correct him.”
Does he care about being loathed? “No. Because if I did I would be suicidal… I think if you’re going to be somebody like me, with my kind of persona, you may as well just play up the whole pantomime villain thing and enjoy it, which I thoroughly do. I never understand why you’d be bothered about what people you don’t know think of you.”
Does he enjoy stirring up controversy for the sake of it, or does he believe what he’s saying?
“I think it’s a protective persona, it’s easier that way,” he reflects. “I think once you’ve been a tabloid editor your persona is panto villain whether you like it or not… I’m afraid this is what I’m like: sort of combative, and I like an argument. Like a debate. Provocative. When it’s quiet, I try to stir things up. Write columns that blow up and get everyone talking [Morgan is editor-at-large for MailOnline], I love all that. But if you’re going to do that, you’re going to attract a lot of heat. It can get ugly, and I think you’ve got to have a thick skin to do it.”
So there’s no self-doubt? “I do think self-doubt is a massively tiresome virtue. I don’t really get the point of it.”
This might be the most Piers Morgan thing Piers Morgan has ever said about himself. But I am resolutely deter- mined to winkle out some depth behind his bombastic surface charm. His father, who died when Morgan was one, was Irish, and Morgan was raised in the Catholic faith. Does he still consider himself a Catholic?
“I do.” Does he feel guilty over past mistakes?
“All Catholics have to be guilty, that’s the whole point of it,” he jokes. “That’s the good thing about being a Catholic, you can do terrible things, feel guilty, apologise and move on. That’s the beauty of the religion.”