TUESDAY, APRIL 30
A few weeks ago, ITV asked if I’d compete in a Good Morning Britain special edition of The Chase.
I was keen but Susanna Reid cautioned: ‘I hate these quiz shows. The potential to look very stupid is exceptionally high.’
‘Relax,’ I replied, ‘we won Pointless Celebrities; this will be a breeze.’
Eventually, after my persistent persuasion, Susanna reluctantly agreed to do it, along with our GMB colleagues Kate Garraway and Richard Arnold.
Presenter of The Chase, Bradley Walsh. ‘There is no escaping the cold, hard fact that I briefly showed the intellectual firepower of a Love Island contestant,’ writes Piers Morgan
My optimism levels soared when The Chase producers told us we’d scored the highest-ever celebrity team average in the 20-question ‘tester’ they give upcoming contestants to assess their intelligence.
‘We’re expecting great things from you guys!’ they exclaimed, excitedly.
The Chase is filmed at the same studios as GMB, so we opted to hang around and tape it a few hours after coming off air.
That, it transpired, was a big mistake.
Waking at 4am, and then presenting two-and-a-half hours of live TV, is not the best preparation for a quiz show, especially if, like me, you’re still horribly jet-lagged from three weeks in America.
Susanna and I extravagantly yawned our way through the production meeting.
‘I’m exhausted,’ I said, as we stumbled zombie-like back to our dressing rooms.
‘Me too,’ she replied. ‘This was SUCH a bad idea – why did you make me do it? Especially after the week I’ve had…’
(Susanna’s been all over the papers after splitting from boyfriend Steve Parish.)
But the show must go on, so we pumped ourselves full of caffeine and traipsed to the studio like condemned murderers on Death Row marching to their execution chamber – fearing it was going to be very painful, and nobody would have a scintilla of sympathy for us.
My uneasy feeling of impending doom wasn’t helped by the audience greeting my arrival with a chorus of pantomime-villain-style boos and jeers, after roaring their ecstatic approval at my co-workers.
‘I’ve never seen that happen in over 1,400 episodes,’ cackled host Bradley Walsh. ‘Shall we do it again?’
The crowd duly booed even louder.
I can’t say exactly what happened next because the episode doesn’t air until November. But I can disclose that I suffered the single worst moment of my entire 15-year career in live television at the start of my Cash Builder round (where contestants get £1,000 for every correct answer to rapid-fire questions) when my brain froze so badly I felt sweat bursting through every pore and my innards start to self-combust with terror.
And at that point, I turned desperately to Susanna for some kind of reassurance, only to see her face contorted into a cocktail of shock, horror, bemusement and hilarity that I was exposing myself to the world as a complete halfwit.
She actually mouthed the words ‘OH. MY. GOD… WHAT. IS. HAPPENING. TO. YOU?’
Suffice it to say, The Chase is a lot harder than it seems from the sofa at home, when you’re standing alone under the bright lights, with a ruthless Chaser staring reputation-slaying daggers, Bradley Walsh chortling away at your discomfort, and the audience roaring with glee at seeing the gigantic balloon of a massive ego pricked before their eyes.
Fortunately, evoking my inner Rocky ‘it’s not how hard you hit, it’s how hard you get hit and keep moving forward’ Balboa spirit, I dragged myself back off the canvas and fought on.
But there is no escaping the cold, hard fact that I briefly showed the intellectual firepower of a Love Island contestant. It will be interesting, though, to see how many people know the answer to my supposedly simple first question (ironically, the soft ball they toss you to calm your nerves…) that threw me into a temporary but horribly violent three-question tailspin like the one my other movie role model Maverick plunged into during Top Gun, which killed Goose.
‘I’ve never seen you so scared,’ said Susanna afterwards, still stunned by what she had witnessed. ‘It was actually quite endearing…’
Sadly, that is not the emotion I fear most people will be experiencing when my humiliation is broadcast.
Tonight, pouring salt into my wounds, I received a dreaded message of sympathy from the Chaser with whom I’d cockily locked horns: ‘It’s scary when that happens, especially when you pride yourself on being a good competitor.’
‘It was bloody terrifying,’ I admitted.
‘It’s happened to us all,’ the Chaser replied, ‘but it was worth it for the shock on people’s faces when your bravado cracked…’
SUNDAY, MAY 5
In an act of inexplicable self-flagellation, I found myself back tonight in the same ITV studio, with the same host, Bradley Walsh, for his big new show Late Night Guestlist, which aired last night.
‘It can’t possibly go any worse than The Chase,’ he chortled when he saw me.
It did. At the start of the show, as I comfort-drank in Bradley’s party bar with Holly Willoughby and Spice Girl Emma Bunton, he asked me if I remembered whom I had once dubbed ‘brain-dead zombies’.
‘Yes, Love Island contestants,’ I replied. ‘And they are.’
Later, I was standing on stage, butt-to-butt with Bradley, both blindfolded, as someone was propelled along a conveyor belt to smother me in kisses. The hysterical audience reaction suggested this was not someone I would enjoy being kissed by.
It wasn’t. I pulled off my blindfold to find Love Island’s Jack Fincham gurning at me, having smeared lipstick all over my face while sporting underpants with my head covering his genital region.
‘All right, Piers?’ he chuckled.
Afterwards, Fincham asked if it was true I’d called him a brain-dead zombie.
‘Yes,’ I replied.
‘To be fair, you’re not wrong,’ he chuckled again.
‘Well don’t worry,’ I replied, ‘because when The Chase airs, people will think I’m one too.’