It had taken more than a year in the fixing, but finally my moment had come. I was face to face with a man I’ve known for ten years since I won his Celebrity Apprentice show in America.
Now, in a small conference room at the Davos World Economic Forum, it was my turn to put him on the spot; to question his success in the greatest office of all: the presidency of the United States.
In the course of the following half-hour, Donald Trump would lay bare the true extent of the ‘special relationship’ with Theresa May. He would drop a mighty bombshell on the European Union over trade, and deliver a dramatic rebuke to the British Government about its handling of Brexit.
He would explain his true feelings about feminism, and the women who brand him a misogynist. Oh, and for good measure he would open the door for a rethink on his approach to climate change.
President Donald Trump is pictured during his first international TV interview, with Piers Morgan, in which he said he would come to the UK for a state visit later this year
First, though, the charge sheet: ‘Depending on who you talk to,’ I said, ‘you’re either delivering on all of your promises, and beginning to make America great, as you vowed, or you’re a raging, tweeting, wrecking-ball who’s destroying the country and terrifying the entire planet. How do you plead?’
‘I plead not guilty!’ replied the President.
‘To all of it?’
‘Well, no, I think I shook things up. The country had to be shaken up.’
He then rattled off a string of impressive statistics about the state of America’s surging economy, from record stock market highs to 17-year unemployment lows.
Love him or loathe him, there is no doubt that Trump’s first year as President has seen increasingly strong economic successes.
It has also seen some of the world’s biggest protests.
Last weekend, several million people around the world joined the Women’s March on the first anniversary of his inauguration, many clutching Trump-bashing banners.
Ever since the emergence of the infamous tape of him boasting about being able to grab women ‘by the p****’, Trump has understandably been public enemy No 1 for feminists.
So how does he feel about women who think he is the worst kind of sexist, misogynist pig? What message could he give to persuade them that he is for them, and not a part of the problem.
‘Well, I am for them,’ he replied, ‘and I think a lot of them understand that.’
Hmmm. I’d say the number of women on those marches who understand that could be written on the back of a postage stamp.
In the course of the half-hour interview, Donald Trump laid bare the true extent of the ‘special relationship’ with Theresa May and dropped a bombshell on the European Union over trade
‘You know,’ he replied, ‘I won many categories of women and the women vote in the election, and people were shocked to see it. I was running against a woman and I’m winning all of these categories.
‘And I think I would do even better right now.
‘Women have the best unemployment numbers that they’ve had in 17 years.
‘And they’re doing tremendously in business, they’re doing tremendously in so many ways. And people are starting to see that.’
But what about gender equality and a woman’s right to feel safe in the workplace. Does he sign up to that?
In classic Trump deflection style, he initially said, ‘I do’, and then redefined my question, saying: ‘I also think they want to feel safe at the border. I think they want to see our military get much stronger. Women want to see… a strong law enforcement. I’m very much a law-and-order person. There’s nobody better than me on the military. I think women really like that. I think they want to be safe at home, in many different respects. You know there’s…’
I interrupted him: ‘A lot of women I’ve spoke to about this interview said it would be great to hear the President, given some of the more disrespectful things that have been out there and the way you’ve spoken about women, to acknowledge that you had said things that perhaps you wouldn’t say now.
‘That you have also listened, as many men are listening right now; that you’ve changed, you’ve evolved as a man.’
‘Well, I think we have to evolve,’ he admitted. ‘If we don’t evolve, there’s something missing.
President Trump explained his true feelings about feminism, and the women who brand him a misogynist, saying he had ‘tremendous respect for women’
‘But I have tremendous respect for women. You see all of the women I have working around me and working with me. Tremendous respect for women.’
It was time to ask the President a question I suspect he’s never been asked. ‘Do you identify as a feminist?’ He looked startled, then half-smiled as if the mere notion was ridiculous.
‘No, I wouldn’t say I’m a feminist. I mean, I think that would be, maybe, going too far. I’m for women, I’m for men, I’m for everyone. I think people have to go out, they have to go out and really do it, and they have to win. And women are doing great, and I’m happy about that.’
We moved on to Britain. Since Trump became President, there have been numerous protests and calls for him to be banned from the UK altogether, never mind be afforded the full State visit that Theresa May personally promised him a year ago.
‘I think I’m very popular in your country,’ he declared.
I tried not to laugh and pointed out: ‘There are a lot of opposition politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who want you banned. They don’t want you coming on any kind of visit.’
‘That’s their problem,’ he said. ‘I mean, if they don’t, I could very nicely stay home. I think a lot of people in your country like what I stand for, they respect what I stand for.’
President Trump clearly feels the full State visit, first offered to him by Prime Minister Theresa May a year ago, is still very much on the cards for the autumn
‘And to those who don’t?’
‘I don’t care. I don’t care. It’s just one of those things. I don’t say anything. You know why? Because I don’t care.’
What he did seem to care about was his relationship with Mrs May. Trump held a bilateral meeting with our beleaguered PM in Davos a few hours before we met and was effusive in his praise.
I’ve not been invited to Harry’s wedding…
On the subject of special relationships, I asked President Trump if he had received an invitation to the Royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May.
‘Not that I know of,’ he replied.
‘Would you like to go?’
‘I want them to be happy. I really want them to be happy. They look like a lovely couple.’
I pointed out that Meghan had once said he was a divisive misogynist, expecting one of the President’s savage retorts.
But Trump bit his tongue and said through gritted teeth: ‘Well, I still hope they’re happy.’
Donald Trump, the consummate diplomat – who’d have thought it?
…but I am still coming for a state visit, he claims
It was announced just before our meeting that President Trump WILL be coming to Britain later this year, initially for a non-State visit around the time of a Nato meeting in Brussels in mid-July.
But Trump clearly feels the full State visit, first offered to him by Prime Minister Theresa May a year ago, is still very much on the cards for the autumn.
‘So you’re coming to Britain?’ I asked before the interview started.
‘Yeah. I’ll be there. She [Theresa May] just invited me. Twice. State and working. One is a State, October.’
‘That date is still to be confirmed,’ said an aide.
…and as for my hair, it’s still hanging on!
As we prepared to start filming, Trump was distracted by his own image appearing on a camera monitor.
‘Can you bring that down a bit?’ he asked. ‘I like it on my hair.’
The camera was lowered to centre on the world’s most famous blond bouffant. ‘People find it hard to believe that it IS my hair,’ said the President as he checked it out.
‘But it is. You know that right, Piers?’
I do indeed, because he once let me pull it to test his claim.
‘It’s hanging in,’ he chuckled. ‘Barely…’
‘I think she’s been doing a very good job,’ he told me. ‘We actually have a very good relationship, although a lot of people think we don’t. I support a lot of what she does and a lot of what she says.
‘And I support you, militarily, very much. I mean, we will come to your defence if anything should happen, which, hopefully, it will never happen. I am a tremendous supporter of the UK.’
This was gratifying to hear. As were his views on trade.
‘So we are going to make a deal with UK that’ll be great,’ he said. ‘As you know, you’re somewhat restricted because of Brexit. You have a two-year restriction. And when that restriction is up, we’re going to be your great trading partner. It’s a tough restriction to have. You know, for a couple of years, you have a very strong lack of being able to do things.’
So far, so reassuring. But in a rebuke of major significance, Trump said he felt the Government was going wrong over the way it is negotiating Brexit, urging them to go much harder on the EU and even suggesting he’s about to unleash a US trade war on the EU.
‘Well, would it be the way I negotiate?’ he said of our Brexit deal-making. ‘No. I wouldn’t negotiate it the way it’s [being] negotiated.
‘I think I would have negotiated it differently. I would have had a different attitude.’
‘What would you have done?’
‘I think I would have said that the European Union is not cracked up to what it’s supposed to be. And I would have taken a tougher stand in getting out. You know, I have a lot of problems with the European Union. I’m representing the United States, it’s a very unfair situation. We cannot get our product in. It’s very, very tough.
‘And yet they send their product to us – no taxes, very little taxes. It’s very unfair.
‘I’ve had a lot of problems with European Union, and it may morph into something very big from that standpoint, from a trade standpoint. The European Union has treated the United States very unfairly when it comes to trade.
‘They’re not the only one, by the way. I could name many countries and places that do. But the European Union has been very, very unfair to the United States. And I think it will turn out to be very much to their detriment.’
That stark warning might take the smug grin off the EU leaders’ faces. America is by far the EU’s biggest trading partner, with £484 billion of business going between the two in 2016 alone.
His first year in office may have been dogged by drama and controversy, but if my meeting with the President has convinced me of one thing, it’s that his determination to fight hard and fight to win remains entirely undimmed.
President Trump: The Piers Morgan Interview, airs on ITV at 10pm tonight.
A twisted response to mass slaughter
I’ve locked horns many times with Trump about America’s appalling culture of gun violence, but not since he’s been President. Now I had my chance. What followed was as depressing as it was shocking and predictable.
‘People will be saying, you’re very tough on security, you want to keep Americans safe – but you don’t do anything about gun violence at all,’ I challenged him. ‘That seems an irrational position for somebody who wants to keep American’s safe.’
‘Right, right,’ he replied. ‘I’m a very big Second Amendment person [the part of the constitution giving the right to bear arms], as you know very well.
‘But take a look at Paris, where you have very, very tough gun controls. Take a look at that horrible slaughter that took place at the cafes, where so many people were killed. And you had these thugs come in with guns and, one by one, for a long time, they just killed – and hundreds of people wounded, to this day, still in the hospitals. That was one of the worst.
‘And you’ve had many of them [similar incidents] where there are no guns except for the bad guys. So the bad guys have the guns and if you would have had somebody with a gun when they walked in so that you could have had bullets going in the other direction, you wouldn’t have had hundreds of people killed.’
This is same absurd ‘the only answer to gun violence is more guns’ argument trotted out by the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby group who have been huge Trump cheerleaders and donors.
I pointed out that Britain has 32 gun deaths a year while America has 85 every DAY.
‘But you have a lot of terrorism,’ he snapped back.
But what about the Las Vegas shooter, who bought 55 guns legally in the year prior to his rampage and rained bullets down on 20,000 innocents? Why has nothing been done to stop somebody doing that again?
‘Well, we do have gun control laws and this sick person – he was a sicko. I mean that’s the big problem – they’re sick people. If he didn’t have a gun, he would have had a bomb, or would have something else.’
‘But he had 55 guns,’ I said.
‘The point is, he would have had 55 bombs,’ replied the President. ‘He would have had 55 of something else.’
‘Why can’t you make it more difficult for him?’
‘You know, we can go around this argument. I’m a Second Amendment person. I think you need it for security.
‘But again, you’ve had so many attacks, where there was only a gun – a bad person’s gun – going in this direction and if you had one on the other side. ‘In fact, that’s a very big example. And if they had the bullets going in the opposite direction, you would have saved a lot of lives.’
Confused? Allow me to translate: President Trump’s answer to what happened in Vegas is for everyone in that 20,000 crowd to be armed with a gun too so they could shoot at the man shooting at them.
And tragically, the majority of Americans agree with him.