Susanna Reid and Piers Morgan fell out when SHE was pilloried for things HE had said on TV. Here, the Good Morning Britain hosts reveal how they rescued their relationship
‘I feel like Dr Frankenstein. I have created a monster,’ says Piers Morgan of his Good Morning Britain co-host Susanna Reid, who is sitting next to him, her expression stuck somewhere between irritation and exasperation.
We are hunkered down in a dressing room in the bleary hours of the morning, minutes after the show has come off air.
‘Water off a duck’s back,’ she says of his latest insult. ‘Piers is basically a toddler and I share care of him with his wife, Celia [Walden]. She has him at home and then sends him out to me at GMB, which is like his play centre. Then he gets sent back.’
‘I feel like Dr Frankenstein. I have created a monster,’ says Piers Morgan of his Good Morning Britain co-host Susanna Reid
Morgan guffaws. Reid rolls her eyes. It’s just a few minutes in and so far it’s an even playing field as far as jibes and parries go. It’s also a highly entertaining way to wake yourself up, which is why, since the former showbusiness journalist, tabloid editor, ex-CNN anchor and must-read Event magazine columnist joined the show in November 2015, ratings have soared, headlines have multiplied and Morgan and Reid have become a bona fide double act. They’ve kept viewers on their toes wondering whether they love each other, hate each other, or whether it’s all just cleverly scripted. The chemistry is reaping rewards, as this year has seen the show’s highest ratings, plus two Bafta nominations for the couple’s news coverage – the first in the history of GMB.
‘How we come over is absolutely real, it’s not an act,’ says Morgan. ‘I don’t even read the scripts, so that wouldn’t work anyway. [Reid, on the other hand, says she always reads her scripts]. But what it is, is a forcibly arranged marriage. You spend hours together every day, you have to put up with each other, agree, disagree and bicker but you have none of the benefits of a marriage and none of the marital ways of relieving the tension.’
So that’s the sexual tension?
‘That’s right,’ says Morgan. ‘Obviously she finds me irresistible but I’m a married man.’ Reid raises an eyebrow. ‘Oh please, not the sexual tension AGAIN.’
They admit that the whole show could have imploded in the first year because of genuine tension between them caused by Morgan’s shock-jock opinions – including lambasting the 2017 Women’s March in Washington against his friend Donald Trump, and claiming that ‘rabid feminists’ had hijacked the women’s movement.
As Morgan jumps in to criticise Madonna for saying she wanted to ‘blow up the White House’, Reid holds up her hand, schoolmarm-style, and for once Morgan lets her have the floor.
Reid prefers more civilised television journalism whereas Morgan rejoices in his brash, headline-grabbing approach
It was, she says, a very difficult time for her. She was pilloried on Twitter because of Morgan’s comments and shed tears over the vitriol she received online. ‘I couldn’t believe I was getting attacked for what he actually said. People were saying horrific things about me, saying I wasn’t a feminist. Of course I am a feminist. And since when is it a feminist policy to blame the woman? I found the whole thing deeply upsetting.’
Morgan is not looking contrite. ‘Why do you care what people think?’ he says. ‘I don’t. I couldn’t give a toss if people don’t like me.’
‘But I do,’ she says firmly. ‘That’s why I do this job. Because I actually care what people think.’
This exchange is the key to the essential difference between the two presenters. Morgan, 54, an old-school journalist, grew up with two brothers and a sister in Sussex, and at an early age navigated the perils of being a posh public school boy who transferred to a local comprehensive school aged 13. Running card games took priority over his A-level studies (he eventually passed three with grades A, B and C), and he opted not to go to university but instead worked briefly in the City before realising all he really wanted to do was work on a newspaper.
‘I’ve always had a tough skin. I’ve always been opinionated. What you see on TV is the person I’ve been since I was a teenager. When I was 17 I would regularly get thrown out of my local pub for being annoying.’ One of his proudest moments is being temporarily taken off screen this year (and replaced with a ‘technical difficulties’ notice) after having a row with the show’s director live on air.
‘He is the most irritating man in the world, but I’m a professional. I can work with anyone,’ says Reid
Reid is from a far more civilised school of broadcasting and there are many moments – such as the time Morgan described two ‘Love Islanders’ who stood in for the programme’s showbusiness correspondent as ‘absolute dimwits’ – when you see expressions of horrified astonishment cross her face. The youngest of three girls, she was privately educated in London, excelled at school, read politics, philosophy and law at Bristol university, where she edited the student newspaper, took a post-graduate diploma in journalism and began her career at BBC Radio Bristol. She joined BBC Breakfast as a presenter in 2012 and moved to ITV in 2014, the year after finishing as a runner-up on Strictly Come Dancing and becoming a new darling of the tabloid press. While Morgan is married and has three boys and a seven-year-old daughter, Reid has three sons and is currently single after separating from her long-term partner, journalist Dominic Cotton, in 2014.
Reid, 48, prefers more civilised television journalism whereas Morgan rejoices in his brash, headline-grabbing approach. ‘Basically she’s into the detail, I’m into the theatre – it’s the perfect combo,’ he says. ‘Our job is to inform and entertain, and the entertainment is largely down to the relationship between the two of us.’
Morgan highlights the differences between the two when he breaks off to explain – to Reid and myself – the difference between the politics of print journalism and television journalism.
‘In newspapers they stab you in the front; in TV they stab you in the back. I’d rather people slag me off to my face than behind my back, which they all do in television.’
Just as she does every morning on TV, Reid disagrees and shakes her head. ‘That has never been my experience.’ Morgan laughs. ‘Come off it, Susanna, people slag you off behind your back, it’s just a fact.’
Reid shakes her head again and continues. ‘Piers first came to GMB to do a stand-in stint and it was like being in a hurricane with everything tossed in the air, complete chaos. Several months later, the head of the show came over and said, “What do you think about Piers Morgan coming on here permanently?” I had to take my mic pack off to make sure no one else in the studio heard my answer. I just said (she lowers her voice to a whisper): “Do you know what you are letting yourself in for?”’
The first year was a sticky time for both of them. ‘She was the queen bee and I was the alpha male,’ says Morgan. ‘I felt I needed to shake her up a bit. But then I realised it went a bit too far.’
I ask how awkward it was. Reid purses her lips. ‘He is the most irritating man in the world, but I’m a professional. I can work with anyone, but it was a shock to the system, and I did find it difficult to sit there trying to be neutral in my opinions while Piers spouted forth about whatever he thought, and then I would be attacked for it.’
It was Reid who finally resolved the growing tension between them. ‘I suggested we have a drink together to discuss things.’ Morgan interrupts: ‘Basically we got drunk in The Groucho Club and behaved appallingly. Then we went off to a load of gay bars in Soho and got even more drunk. And everything got sorted out.’
Morgan is famously a friend of President Donald Trump, one reason his relationship with Reid got off to a shaky start
Reid also took the decision to make a change. ‘I’d spent 20 years in broadcast news being very aware of keeping my opinions very neutral, but from that point I decided to put over my point of view. If I disagree with Piers, I will say so. If I disagree with a guest [the day before we meet they had both ganged up on DUP politician Jim Wells, who said he thought it was wrong to have a gay couple on Strictly Come Dancing], I express my opinions on social media. I’m always conscious of how things can come back on me but I don’t hold back. That has been liberating.’
Morgan looks smug. ‘So what she is saying is that I have liberated her.’
Reid doesn’t rise to the bait. ‘I’ve definitely changed,’ she admits calmly. ‘Working with him has changed the way I am. But we’ve just got to know each other better and understand each other more.’
‘It’s like learning to dance,’ says Morgan. ‘You have missteps but when you get it right it really works, and the best dances are when you can never quite work out who is leading, because each takes turns at leading the other.’
We are sailing into sunnier waters. Morgan admits she has changed his attitude to mental health issues. ‘I was a bit of a “Come on, just deal with it,” stiff upper lip person but now I am a touch more sensitive,’ he says.
In the early days she thought him somewhat sexist but Morgan – the father of a feisty seven-year-old whose text to him that morning read: “Pig, you look awful” – declares himself to be a committed feminist. ‘I am very much pro women. I was raised by a very strong woman, I’m married to a strong woman, I have a very tough little daughter and I work with a woman who I consider a great role model.
‘The truth is it’s harder for women in television,’ he says. ‘Susanna has three kids and, whatever men say, it is the women who do the lion’s share of the childcare [Reid interjects at this point to say her ex-partner does his fair share], whether it’s Susanna or Holly Willoughby or Amanda Holden. And women are much more harshly judged – often by other women – by the way they look. Rightly or wrongly, that’s a fact. I don’t need to worry about the way I look, and I don’t. I have zero vanity. But Susanna will be judged. She will get comments about her appearance and that’s hard because it’s a whole load of other issues you have to deal with and concern yourself with.’
Reid – momentarily lost for words at a rare compliment – says, ‘I love Piers and I hate Piers, but I do have a lot of respect for him. I think that started when he invited me to his 50th birthday party and I saw famous people there amid people from his cricket team and guys he went to school with. I thought that there must be something more to him if he has friendships that have lasted this long. And he also made sure I was introduced to people I’d get on with. I saw a real kindness there I wasn’t expecting.’
Morgan has a meeting to go to, as has Reid. They were both up late last night at the GQ Awards and both at the studio by 5am. ‘Sadly, Susanna isn’t drinking at the moment,’ says Morgan, ‘she’s being very boring. I’m waiting for her to fall off the wagon as she’s very entertaining out on the lash.’
Reid says she has become resigned to Morgan’s jibes about her love life. ‘I think I am unembarrassable now,’ she says
On or off the lash, the pair are rarely out of the headlines. In April Reid split from her boyfriend of nine months, Crystal Palace football club chairman Steve Parish – something Morgan could not resist bringing up on air. Holding up the front page of the newspaper that had broken the story, Morgan joked, ‘Is there any coincidence it gets announced on the day I get back [from holiday]? You back in the market for a good-looking guy in his early 50s who supports a London football team?’ Undaunted, Reid snapped back, taking a swipe at Morgan’s beloved Arsenal, ‘Only with someone who supports a winning team…’
Reid says she has become resigned to Morgan’s jibes about her love life. ‘I think I am unembarrassable now,’ she says.
I ask Morgan whether he has ever tried to set her up on a date with one of his friends. ‘I get asked by a lot by people and I say, “Well go on, try and have a go,” but I don’t do anything more than that. She tells me of a few people who try to slip into her DMs [social media direct messages], including a few guests we have had on the show. But I try to be discreet as I don’t want to be blamed for leaking things to Mail Online.’
In November it will be Morgan’s four year anniversary with Reid on the show. They both agree that the past year has been the highlight, with the endless dramas caused by the ever-changing political agenda and the continuing Brexit shambles. The parlous state of British politics means neither Reid nor Morgan are planning to leave the sofa any time soon.
‘Not at all. We are living through and reporting on history,’ says Reid.
Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain last year after being pied by Harry Hill
‘It’s a crazy time,’ agrees Morgan. ‘Especially right now. Speaking as a Remainer, we are in a situation where a bunch of very spoilt people – the Remainers – are upset they didn’t get their way. Everyone lies. And whatever the implications for the country, as a journalist it’s fascinating to be right in the middle of it, interviewing all these politicians. I never thought I would do this. I never considered a career in breakfast television but what I do know is that I wouldn’t do it, couldn’t do it, without Susanna.’
So there is love in the room, then? ‘Well if we were both single we’d be at it like stoats in a sack,’ he laughs.
Then, taking on board the unamused look on Reid’s face, adds, ‘With other people, of course…’
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