And over in the Blue corner...

And over in the Blue corner...

Piers Morgan is one of Britain's leading media personalities and he's promoting whisky. Dominic Roskrow met him

People | 14 Apr 2006 | Issue 55 | By Dominic Roskrow

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On the day I am to meet Piers Morgan, a row has erupted in the press between pop impressario Louie Walsh and singer Ronan Keating.Keating has apparently criticised Walsh in an interview. And Walsh’s response?To withdraw all co-operation with the journalist who had the audacity to report Keating’s outburst.What makes this story remarkable is not just the fact that Walsh has shot the messenger. It is the fact that the offending quotes first appeared not in a British tabloid daily newspaper, but in the journalists’ trade magazine UK Press Gazette.Until a year ago few had heard of this worthy but pretty dull publication, and even fewer read it. And then Piers Morgan, who became Britain’s youngest national newspaper editor for 50 years when Rupert Murdoch appointed him as head of the News of the World in the 90s and who has rarely been out of the media spotlight since, bought it.Cue fireworks.“It’s pretty simple really,” he says over a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, “ the job of any publication is to educate and entertain and I think that applies to any publication. I bring the same values to this title as I did to the News of the World or the Daily Mirror.“My view was that the trade magazine for journalists should be a shining example of good journalism.“There’s absolutely no point in publishing anything if nobody bothers to read it.” We’re meeting for two reasons. Firstly because throughout his irrepressible and irreverent book The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade whisk(e)y features regularly, often in the form of Jack Daniels and often to punctuate yet another jaw-dropping incident from his very colourful past.And secondly because since he was unceremoniously dumped from the editorship of the Daily Mirror, he’s been involved in various projects to make a living, including a celebrity interview event with Johnnie Walker Blue.“Yes,” he muses, sipping from his glass.“This is pretty good isn’t it? I get to talk to a world class sports personality and to ask him all the things I’ve wanted to ask, and I have to promote this wonderful whisky.” A sacking and ritual humiliation by his enemies – according to Morgan in his book the Prime Minister’s wife Cherie Blair, who clearly couldn’t stand him, positively gloated at his demise – doesn’t seem to have changed him very much.His eyes flash with defiance and anger, for instance, when I bring up the issue of Iraq. Morgan one the total respect of every one of us who opposed the war from the outset by turning the Mirror in to a crusading title in the best possible way.In the end it would cost him his job when the British establishment brought down its full weight on him for publishing unverifiable pictures of abuse by British soldiers against Iraqi prisoners. Never mind if the abuse was taking place or not.We are meeting two days after film showed British soldiers pulling Iraqis off the street and beating up Iraqis at about the time the Mirror’s pictures were said to have been taken. Did he feel vindicated?“I feel angry about the whole thing,” he says. “For a start it has never been proven that the pictures were false. But the reaction to it was so wrong.“I’ve got a brother serving over in Iraq and I understand how it feels for the families of soldiers. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore it when something has gone wrong.” Morgan’s a complex beast, though, and for all the seriousness he is able to view life from the correct perspective. He specialises in bursting over-inflated egos, and ridiculing people who take themselves too seriously. There’s a mischievous streak there, too, which he can’t control. Or doesn’t want to.Take this event. He’s interviewing World Cup football referee Pierluigi Collina, the charismatic eagle-eyed and bald Italian in front of a celebrity invited audience.When you take the red card out, he says raising his arm and pointing it forcefully at Collina as a ref might, and you put it up in the air, in the player’s face, is it better than sex?For the record, a bemused Collina’s answer is no.It’s a moment of levity in what is overall a perfect mix of just what Morgan holds dear – a touch of education and a lot of entertainment.Before we sit down for the interview we’re offered Johnnie Walker Blue Label with cold mineral water and encouraged to drink the mineral water first.The idea is to chill the mouth and let the whisky work its way through, unveiling its tastes as it does so.The guests here tonight are just the sort of people we need to attract to whisky – young, both male and female, aspirational and potentially very influential.When we sit down for the interview master blender Gordon Bell addresses us.He leads us through an easy to follow and brief explanation of the blending process and why Johnnie Walker Blue is so special and concludes that bringing the evening reflects the brand’s values – bringing two very special products together to create something, new, different and equally special.Great stuff, and Piers Morgan is happy with that description. But he’s a long way from large Jack Daniels in tumblers isn’t he?“Well believe it or not I had bottles of Johnnie Walker in my flat before I started doing this so I’ve had a long liking for the brand. It’s a natural association for me.” Then he takes another sip, smiles his boyish smile. And I believe every word.
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