Sunday, 1 November 2009

Book of the Month: Don't You Know Who I Am (Piers Morgan)

In 2004 Piers Morgan was sacked as the editor of The Daily Mirror after he authorised publication of the photos of British soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners, which subsequently proved to be a hoax. As Morgan revealed in his delightfully trashy and gossipy memoirs, The Insider (for which he is reported to have received an advance £ 1.2 million and which he never tires of informing was in the bestseller list for a number of weeks), there was not inconsiderable schadenfreude in the media over his downfall.

In Don’t You Know Who I Am, published in the same diary format as The Insider, Morgan updates us on what he did next after his newspaper career, which reached the dizzy heights of editing not one but two British tabloids in the space of ten years, came to an abrupt and cataclysmic end when he was frogmarched out of the offices of The Daily Mirror. So what did Piers do next? Well, he became a celebrity. How did he become a celebrity? He became a judge on a reality talent show in America, imaginatively titled America has Got Talent, along with that bloke who used to run in slow motion (when he was not cavorting with busty women) in the serial Baywatch, and a singer improbably named Brandy. Whom does Piers have to thank for his celebrity status? Why, of course, Simon Cowell, the modern day Svengali, the creator of several reality talent shows, on both sides of the pond, which attract huge television viewership and have the common element of encouraging people to make spectacles of themselves in front of camera, giving Cowell (who frequently appoints himself as one of the judges) opportunities to tell them how utterly talentless and useless they are.

In Don’t You Know Who I Am, Morgan supplies, in—to use slang from the country, which he says he has cracked like no one else—hellacious detail, his attempts to embrace the world of D grade celebrities such as Jade Goody (may her soul rest in peace), Abi Titmuss and Jordon, on whom, at the beginning of the diaries, he heaps scorn for having no discernable talent and doing outrageous things simply to stay on the front cover of Heat. Morgan then proceeds to describe, with candidness that makes you wince and, at times, self-deprecating humour, his desperate attempts to carve for himself a niche as a television presenter in programmes which few watched and fewer took seriously—he even sang and danced to Macarena while filling in for a day-time television programme, although he had the decency to cringe about it afterwards—before he washed up as the mean Brit on an American talent show. And this is not the only contradiction you will come across in these memoirs which are every bit as bitchy and causeristic (and therefore unputdownable) as The Insider. Having worked in the tabloid world for as long as he did—more than a decade of that period was as an editor—Morgan, of all people, should have known the tactics of the grub street to get juicy stories out of unsuspecting victims; yet he allows himself to be stitched up by a hack from The Daily Telegraph, and is surprised and disappointed when the published article shows him in less than glorious light.

There is name-dropping aplenty in the memoirs—you lose count of the celebrities Morgan dines with in the Ivy, gets drunk with, goes to watch cricket and football with, and who insult or snub him. We are also given salacious titbits from the interviews of celebrities he questions for the GQ magazine (Billy Piper, you might be interested to know—and I shall understand if you aren’t; or indeed aware who she is—is a really dirty girl). He is nauseatingly sycophantic about Simon Cowell, which is understandable seeing as he, Cowell, opened the proverbial doors of the celebrity world to Morgan. He is viciously vituperative about some others: Kate Moss, the supermodel, is dismissed as a ‘stroppy, pinched faced, cocaine-snorter from Croydon’, while her boyfriend, Pete Doherty is described as a hyena on acid. All of which, needless to say, makes very entertaining reading.

Morgan is obviously a witty, intelligent person, utterly untroubled by self-doubt; he is also, on the evidence of the two memoirs he has published, vain, egoistical, grandiloquent and (curiously) naive in an endearingly juvenile manner. You can’t help shaking your head as he boasts about some or more of his capers, be they tripping up George Galloway in an interview, or getting his back on Jack Straw in Question Time, or trying to gatecrash into parties only to be rebuffed by the security. You chuckle affectionately as he describes with unbridled ebullience his sense of delight when he is given his own trailer for the reality television show in America; it obviously is proof, if proof is needed, that Morgan has firmly ensconced himself in the celebrity world: the Hoff gets a trailer and so does Morgan. There is rather a lot of the Hoff, or David Hasselhoff, one of the three judges on the reality TV show America Has Got Talent. Morgan would have you believe that Hasselhoff, despite only ‘medium talent’, is a cultural icon of our times, but does not really provide any convincing evidence to support this assertion; what he gleefully dishes out, instead, is numerous anecdotes of the Hoff’s erratic behaviour and insecurities. Morgan himself does not seem to lack in insecurities: a thread running through the memoirs is Morgan’s attempts to woo the gossip columnist from The Daily Telegraph, Celia Walden, whom he gushingly describes as ridiculously beautiful and utterly gorgeous (going by Morgan’s description, Walden, the daughter of an ex Tory MP, is a cross between Bridget Bardot and Claudia Schiffer), and, linked to it, his insecurities when he thinks others are trying to hit on her or when she is speaking to someone like Shane Warne, who, according to Morgan, is so charismatic and has such animal magnetism (and not just with pub waitresses) that he feels compelled to be present throughout the 30 seconds he allows his girlfriend to speak to the Australian cricket legend. However, it is when Morgan writes about his own expectations and experiences in America, with his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek, that he is most entertaining, for example when describing his disappointment when no one recognises him, or, worse, someone recognises him as Alan Titchmarsh. Morgan recounts these incidents with a kind of easy banter which is simultaneously not at all serious and very earnest. His three children (who live, we are informed, with his ex-wife) get a lot of mention and Morgan comes across as a proud and affectionate father, even if he seems to contribute practically nothing towards their upbringing.

Don’t You Know Who I Am is an enjoyable, scabrous read, written in a forceful, no holds barred manner. It is impossible to take any of it seriously, of course, but you get the impression that Morgan does not want you to, in any case. You’d probably enjoy it even more if you have watched the talent show Morgan judges and know a bit about the celebrities he talks about. But even if you don’t, you will savour the book. Piers Morgan is a very funny writer, and Don’t You Know Who I Am is a thoroughly good fun.