Prince Philip glared at me like I’d just strangled his wife’s corgis
TUESDAY, MAY 2
The UK election’s heating up, meaning lots of politicians are having to appear on Good Morning Britain whether they really want to or not.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s never forgiven me for once asking him, in GQ, if he’s good in bed, which led to him boasting he’d slept with 30 women and earned him the Westminster sobriquet ‘Cleggover’.
The smouldering tension between us duly exploded today after I goaded him about ‘cynically jumping into bed with David Cameron’, a reference to the Con-Lib coalition government, not a new bombshell revelation about Cleggover’s sex life.
‘Piers,’ he snapped, ‘this may come as a bit of a shock to you but not all politicians are cynical. I put the country first.’
‘Saint Clegg, those are bold words,’ I retorted. ‘Many students might think it was pretty cynical of you to promise to get rid of tuition fees then treble them. But I’ll take you at your word that you’re the shining bastion of non-cynicism in the cynical cesspit of Westminster, and thank God you’re here!’
Clegg bit his lip with undisguised fury, looked off camera shaking his head, then muttered, ‘What an EXTRAORDINARY man…’
It wasn’t, as Susanna Reid confirmed to viewers, a compliment. ‘You’re so pompous, Piers!’ he raged. ‘What’s pompous about that?’ I retorted. ‘It wasn’t me who trebled tuition fees.’
‘It’s this sanctimony so early in the morning,’ he sighed.
‘It’s not sanctimony,’ I replied. ‘You suggested you’re not a cynical politician, yet that was very cynical.’
‘Well I think you’re being very pompous and sanctimonious,’ he fumed, ‘but that’s your style.’ He’s probably right. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Incredibly, things got even livelier later in the morning when I locked horns with UK shadow home secretary Diane Abbott.
Labour say they’ll pledge in their manifesto to renew the UK’s £100 billion Trident nuclear weapons programme, but Jeremy Corbyn himself insists he’d never actually use it, which rather negates its use as a deterrent if he wins.
Eight times I asked Ms Abbott if Labour would ever deploy our nuclear defence, and eight times she refused to answer.
‘We don’t believe that is the most pressing threat,’ was her stonewall, deflecting response in varying ways.
What made this excruciating exchange even more comical was that standing behind our GMB studio camera (Diane was appearing by remote), and waiting to come on next, were pop stars Brian McFadden and Keith Duffy, who urged me on with extravagant fist-bumps and silent cheers. Eventually, I lost my temper. ‘Diane, it’s YES OR NO! We have nuclear weapons, would you use them?’
‘The debate around pressing the button deflects from more pressing threats,’ she answered, robotically.
‘What could be more pressing, in a nuclear age, than someone about to nuke us into extinction?’ ‘Terrorism is a more pressing threat.’ ‘What if Isis gets a nuclear weapon?’ ‘You’re posing a hypothetical threat. Anyway, I want to get back to crime…’
‘Terrorists blowing people up with nuclear weapons IS a crime!’ I shouted, exasperated. We ran out of time. ‘That was ****** g incredible!’ laughed Brian, when he sat on the sofa during the commercial break. ‘Why couldn’t she just say yes or no?’ ‘Because she doesn’t know,’ I replied. I assumed this train-wreck interview would be the worst Ms Abbott gave all day. But it wasn’t even the worst she gave in that hour.
Her next was with the brilliant Nick Ferrari, in which she self-imploded trying to explain how Labour would fund 10,000 extra police.
I texted Nick to congratulate him on a masterful grilling.
He’d watched our interview before conducting his own.
‘You were Joshua, she was Klitschko,’ he replied. ‘I reaped the benefit.’
THURSDAY MAY 4
Prince Philip has retired from public duties at the age of 95.
By coincidence, I was a lunch guest today of the Lord’s Taverners cricket charity for which he has served as ‘Patron and Twelfth Man’ for nearly 70 years.
I sat next to Michael Parkinson, who was to later interview me on stage as the postlunch ‘entertainment’. ‘Have you met Philip?’ asked Parky. ‘Oh yes,’ I replied. ‘It didn’t go well!’ I recounted my encounter with the fiery Duke at Prince Charles’s 50th birthday party in 1998 at Buckingham Palace.
At the time, I was editor of the Daily Mirror, and I was standing with the editor of The Sun when Philip walked towards us. ‘Who are you?’ he growled, suspiciously. ‘Well sir,’ I replied, shaking his hand, ‘I’m afraid you’re currently surrounded by the tabloid press.’
He checked my name badge, then glared at me like I’d just strangled his wife’s corgis, yanked away his hand and stomped off without saying another word, pausing a few yards on to glance back at me and say to another guest: ‘My God, you just can’t tell from the outside, can you?’ Parky roared with laughter. ‘No knighthood for you then...’ ‘Apparently, Philip’s done over 22,191 solo engagements and given 5,493 speeches,’ I said.
‘Bloody hell!’ exclaimed Parky, now 82 and a ferociously hard worker himself. ‘That exhausts me just thinking about it.’ Chris Tarrant was on a nearby table. ‘Ah Morgan,’ he chuckled, trying to unnerve me before my interview, ‘remember that absolutely nobody in this room knows who the hell you are!’
At which point his girlfriend Jane Bird jumped up to give me a kiss, saying: ‘I love you Piers, I’m your biggest fan!’
I never thought I’d see a more horrified face than Prince Philip’s when he met me.
But Tarrant’s eclipsed it.