PIERS Morgan is unquestionably one of the country’s most divisive stars.
But for the past two months the Marmite broadcaster has almost single-handedly helped to unite the nation in his efforts to spread awareness of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
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Now, after seeing two family members potentially struck down with the illness, the Good Morning Britain host is more determined than ever to use his platform to effect change.
Backing The Sun’s brilliant Who Cares Wins awards, celebrating our brave frontline workers, he added: “I can’t think of a better year to be holding an awards that honours our brave health care heroes. They are deserving of all the recognition they get.”
Piers, 54, also supports the notion of giving frontline NHS staff honours for their tireless work, and substantial pay rises.
He says: “From this horrific, cataclysmic event, I think we have all learnt that the real heroes aren’t celebrities. They’re the NHS staff, the police, teachers, nurses and doctors, the bin men — all those working selflessly in the public sector.
“It would be quite nice if next year the big awards ceremonies celebrated real people. I’d like to see a global health worker thing, a big red-carpet event with thousands of people celebrating these heroes.
“I hope this situation has given us all some perspective and, that once it’s over, we will stop worshipping material stuff and realise it really does not matter what Kim Kardashian has to say. None of it matters.
“No one gives a rat’s ar*e about Kim’s latest barbs with Taylor Swift. These people should be using their platforms to raise awareness about health workers and the importance of staying at home, not for their own gain.
“Honours, MBEs or whatever are a fine idea but right now, what would be finer would be to pay them better.
“NHS workers are criminally underpaid, yet currently risking their lives doing jobs where they know respective workers in other countries have died. My awe for these people, their bravery, is unquantifiable.”
While politicians and authorities were slow to take Covid-19 seriously, in his usual combustible style Piers furiously questioned Health Secretary Matt Hancock this week, drawing complaints from some viewers.
Yet the TV host was one of the first to warn about the corrosive nature of the virus, and encouraged people to self-isolate long before Boris Johnson made it mandatory.
And this week, after Piers offered to pay all parking tickets given to NHS staff for simply doing their job, the Government made a U-turn, pledging to stop all such ticketing in future.
But with the coronavirus death toll in Britain last night standing at 1,019, the disease has now been made personal for father-of- four Piers.
His youngest son, Bertie, 19, recently suffered a suspected bout of the killer disease. Piers says: “He had symptoms so I wasn’t able to see him in the quarantine period. This thing is also attacking young people.
“He had a few rough days, which was followed by one of my cousins, who is asthmatic, and he had it quite badly. Obviously it’s not great if you’ve got any respiratory conditions but it looks like he’s coming through OK.
“It is terrifying, but unfortunately every family will be getting touched by it soon, I imagine. My son had the relatively mild symptoms people are experiencing, like loss of smell and taste, but for the ten per cent or so who get it terribly, it’s absolutely horrifying.
"My parents are self-isolating in Sussex and we’ve all been FaceTiming as a family, which has helped. We’ve all knocked tech over the past few years but it is coming into its own in times like these.”
ITV’s Good Morning Britain recorded its highest ever ratings on Wednesday and is seeing unprecedented viewing figures in the wake of self-isolation.
As I was barred for health reasons from visiting the studios to hold our interview, I spoke to Piers over FaceTime while wearing my pyjamas and as the dog humped my leg, demanding breakfast. These are strange times.
Indeed, plans are in place to film GMB live from Piers’s West London home. ITV recently cancelled live editions of Lorraine and Loose Women and reduced the crew on set.
This has resulted in a special extended edition of GMB, with Sun columnist Lorraine Kelly joining Piers for the first hour.
And on Tuesday, his co-host Susanna Reid returns to the show after spending the past fortnight in self-isolation after one of her sons displayed symptoms too.
Despite the extra workload, Piers, who turns 55 tomorrow, has maintained an unlikely yet impressive fitness regime, thanks to a couple of celebrity pals.
He has become a devotee of the £2,000 Peloton — an indoor bike offering thousands of streamed workouts — thanks to his mate James Corden. And he has also started competing against golfer Rory McIIroy.
Piers says: “James actually got me into it, as it means he can exercise without having to go outside and get accosted. Then Rory contacted me and asked about my numbers after getting my profile name.
“He couldn’t believe some of my stats. But I’ve done over 200 Peloton rides now, and basically I am simply more of a finely tuned athlete than him. He keeps messaging me about it. He can’t quite believe I am fitter than him.”
The hard work appears to be paying off. In January Piers was named the planet’s No1 secret crush in a magazine poll, despite competition from Prince Harry, Declan Donnelly, Eamonn Holmes and Bake Off’s Noel Fielding.
So have any female celebs ever slid into his DMs? For once, Piers is briefly rendered speechless and I actually check the phone to see if the wifi connection has gone.
“All the time,” he finally deadpans. “The supermodels in particular never leave me alone.”
On the subject of celebrity pals, Piers has become close to two well-known over-70s — ie. those most at risk from coronavirus — Joan Collins and Donald Trump. Has he spoken to either since the outbreak?
Piers says: “Joan and I were actually supposed to have dinner recently, the day before the new guidelines came out.
“She loves to party and she texted me to ask if we were still on. But I replied that I didn’t want to be responsible for killing off a dame, and she really wasn’t happy. But she’s from that stiff- upper-lip generation, one that’s actually been through a war.
“She wants to crack on with life, and I think she is a genuine trailblazer for older people. She doesn’t see herself as vulnerable as she is so fit and healthy.
“I’ve not spoken to Donald, but he still follows me on Twitter. And I have been quite outspoken in my disapproval of how woefully he’s been reacting to this situation.”
With a Twitter following of more than 7.2million, Piers has never been one to shun social media rows. Over the years he has had major fallings-out with singer Lily Allen, actor Hugh Grant, Sun columnist Jeremy Clarkson, actress and model Jameela Jamil, actress Emma Watson and girlband Little Mix, to name just a few.
He has hit back at trolls and been quick to take offence at those who disagree with him. But post-corona, Piers has pledged to change the way he uses the platform.
He says: “I don’t think I will ever go back to the way I used to use Twitter, the old-style stuff. So much of it was vile and hostile, arguing with the trolls, and I’m not going to engage with people like that any more.
“I don’t want to lose sense of that platform for good, I want to keep the element of fun, but with no more pointless arguments with people like Jameela Jamil.
“It’s draining and it’s divisive, and right now I am really enjoying being able to effect change for good and use my platform in a really effective and helpful way.”
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