Ten years ago, I persuaded ITV to launch a new long-form interview series based on the best bits of This Is Your Life and Sir Michael Parkinson’s famous one-on-one specials with the likes of Muhammad Ali.
And so Life Stories was born, a show that involves me grilling some of the world’s most famous people for up to three-and-a-half hours, without a break, about every detail of their fabulous but often flawed lives.
Cheryl’s torment drew a record eight million viewers, the highest-ever Life Stories audience
I’ve interviewed nearly 100 guests now, and the new series (the 16th), which starts next Saturday night, is in my humble opinion the best line-up yet: Mel B (whose bombshell revelation about having had sex with Geri Halliwell has already made global headlines), Lord Sugar, Harry Redknapp, Michael Barrymore and Parky himself. Five people with very different stories, but who are joined by one common theme – they came from very humble upbringings to become huge stars.
Here are my ten favourite Life Stories guests, for myriad reasons:
1. SIMON COWELL
Simon, a good friend of mine, is a curiously unemotional creature, so when he confidently assured me ‘Piers, you won’t make me cry,’ I believed him.
Raquel Welch. This one was a memorable show, but more for what failed to happen
But Life Stories takes people back to places they often think they’ve moved on from, and reignites fierce emotion. Simon experienced both the best and worst day of his life when he excitedly rang to tell his parents that his band Westlife had achieved their first No 1 hit, only for his mother Julie to tell him his father Eric had died. As he spoke to me about it, he wept. It was an extraordinary moment, the first time anyone had seen Mr Mean shed a tear. ‘Normally, I talk about it mechanically,’ he said after it aired, ‘but Piers took me there and it’s the only time I’ve lost it on TV. He’s got a lot of empathy, and he wasn’t doing it to be cynical.’ He’s right, I wasn’t. It was a very moving moment about a guy with a big heart who hides it well.
2. SIR ROGER MOORE
Sir Roger was the most charming guest – an absolute joy to interview, and as decent, self-effacing, funny and warm OFF camera to me and all the crew as he was ON camera. In a terrifically candid interview, he told me he hated heights, guns and explosions. ‘I never did stunts,’ he admitted. Then he raised that famous eyebrow and smirked. ‘But I did do all my own love scenes…’ When I asked him if it was ever tricky to restrain himself during such scenes with the Bond girls, he smirked again: ‘I used to say to them, “I apologise now if I get an erection… and if I don’t!’’ ’
3. SIR IAN BOTHAM
Beefy is the man whose amazing cricketing exploits inspired me to develop a lifelong love of the game, and whose gigantic daredevil personality inspired me to do a lot of other things, not all of them printable in a family newspaper. Interviewing personal heroes doesn’t always go well, but Botham was fabulously entertaining. Everything I love about him can be summed up by his revelation that as he bowled his very last ball, for Durham against Australia in 1993, he walked back to his mark, undid his trouser zip, ‘pulled out the meat and two veg’ and roared in to bowl ‘with the old man dangling in the wind’ to startled Aussie batsman David Boon. Priceless!
It was her first big interview since the breakdown of her marriage to England footballer Ashley Cole and she was still very raw. When I went to see her in her dressing room before filming started, Cheryl hugged me, burst into tears and wailed: ‘This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I feel like I’m going to throw up at any moment.’ She continued weeping throughout the interview, requiring repeated tissue-box replacements, but said afterwards: ‘That was torture, but I’m glad I did it.’ Cheryl’s torment drew a record eight million viewers, the highest-ever Life Stories audience.
5. TORVILL & DEAN
I had to argue very hard to persuade ITV to let me do them as the first Life Stories couple. ‘What are they going to say that’s new?’ was the network’s concern. Well, I’d always believed nobody could dance that sensually to Ravel’s Bolero without having once had some form of intimacy. ‘I’ll crack them!’ I declared. ‘You won’t!’ insisted ITV. On the night, I moved in for the kill with kid gloves, gently trying to tease it out of them. Eventually, tired of my persistence, they looked at each other, smiled and confessed to once having snogged on the back of a bus. BOOM! The papers all splashed on it, and ratings soared to over seven million (second-highest ever).
Ronnie wrote to me afterwards to say: ‘My dear Piers, I knew instinctively our slightly rascally spirits would blend. Thank you’
6. RONNIE CORBETT
The comedy legend had the audience in absolute stitches for most of our two-hour chat, despite many of them being too young to remember his TV work. Towards the end I asked him if he could remember any of his brilliant monologues from The Two Ronnies. ‘Of course!’ he exclaimed, then jumped up, marched to the edge of the stage and recited one perfectly. Watching this pint-sized comic’s giant bow as he finished to a spontaneous standing ovation was a truly wonderful moment.
Ronnie wrote to me afterwards to say: ‘My dear Piers, I knew instinctively our slightly rascally spirits would blend. Thank you.’
7. PAMELA ANDERSON
Life Stories often inspires strong emotions, and not just in the studio. When my show with Pamela aired, her furious ex-husband Tommy Lee tweeted me to rage: ‘Are you that desperate? She literally has NOTHING going on so she brings up old drama for attention. I’m tired of hearing the same old bull****. F****** broken record.’ Their 21-year-old son Brandon, who was staying at Tommy’s house at the time, read this, ran upstairs and beat him unconscious. Pamela later said Brandon had ‘punched him in the nose for all of us who he has hurt’.
8. RAQUEL WELCH
This one was a memorable show, but more for what failed to happen. Raquel, one of my childhood pin-ups, sent me into spasms of excitement by asking to see me in private, in her suite at The Dorchester hotel, the morning before our interview.
Then, as I was on my way, suited, booted and ready for whatever the iconic Hollywood beauty wanted to do with me, she abruptly cancelled.
Later, Raquel rang to apologise.
‘Sorry about earlier, Piers,’ she purred. ‘I just remembered that I never take tea in the morning with any man I haven’t slept with.’
9. SIR ELTON JOHN
He took a lot of convincing before agreeing to sit down with me, but when he did it was a sensational interview. Amid Elton’s many headline-grabbing revelations was his admission that he still finds women sexually attractive, prompting this hilarious exchange:
Elton: ‘Of course I fancy women. How can you not think a woman is beautiful?’
Me: ‘Well, I agree, but I’m not gay.’
Elton: ‘Don’t you think men are beautiful sometimes?’
Me: ‘Not sexually, no. I don’t look at you and think phwoar.’
Elton: ‘I wouldn’t think you would. What about George Clooney?’
Me: ‘No, not him either.’
I loved this show because Joan has not only led a truly spectacular life, she speaks about it all – from her five marriages, to Dynasty superstardom – with such glorious honesty and humour
Elton: ‘See, that’s the trouble with you f****** heterosexuals!’
10. JOAN COLLINS
I loved this show because Joan has not only led a truly spectacular life, she speaks about it all – from her five marriages, to Dynasty superstardom – with such glorious honesty and humour. She’s also, like me, a shameless name-dropper extraordinaire who gave me the greatest one-liner in Life Stories history. ‘I tried cocaine once,’ she admitted, pausing for maximum effect. ‘But I sneezed and blew it all over Sammy Davis Jr.’
‘Piers Morgan’s Life Stories’ returns to ITV on Saturday at 9.15pm
THE BEST AND WORST
MOST HONEST GUEST
Rod Stewart: ‘Do you regret all those years of womanising, boozing, drugtaking and hotel-room trashing?’ I asked. ‘I do,’ he replied, solemnly. ‘Really?’ ‘Do I ****!’ he roared. ‘I loved it all!’
Boris Becker denied impregnating a waitress in a broom cupboard at Nobu. ‘I didn’t actually reach the broom cupboard,’ he said. ‘Just the stairwell.’
Dennis Waterman caused national outrage when he spoke without regret about hitting ex-wife Rula Lenska, saying ‘strong, intelligent women’ can argue so well they make men hit them. ‘I think that went pretty well,’ he told me afterwards, oblivious to the furore he had sparked.
‘Dear Piers,’ Sir Michael Caine replied after I emailed him personally to try to lure him on. ‘Thanks for the offer, I’m a big fan. But I love watching your show for all the reasons I don’t want to be on it. All the best, Michael.’
Chris Tarrant, who bellowed: ‘NO Morgan! F*** off! I most definitely will NOT be telling all about my bloody life to YOU in front of millions of members of the British public, thank you very much! Take it as not just a NO but a NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS!’