Amy Nickell (left) on Good Morning Britain. Still via ITV
The cameras stopped rolling. "You really do hate me, don’t you?" I said. Piers Morgan almost smiles and tells me: "No, I don’t hate you, I just hate your ability to defend the indefensible." Pot, kettle, black springs to mind.That was a wrap on round six-ish with Piers Morgan. Over the last 18 months, I've carved a semi-regular spot as a verbal punching bag for the controversial breakfast presenter on Good Morning Britain. I’d expected him by now to have broken character, but it's still yet to happen. I’m ushered out of the studio until the next time we meet.
Since his debut on GMB in 2015, breakfast time has become a vocal boxing match. The talk show provides shouty background noise for one million viewers every morning. "No, just let ME finish," Piers interrupts every guest after giving them roughly 4.3 seconds to state their case – one which he doesn’t listen to anyway.The night before my latest meeting with the human foghorn, I’d received a call from a producer and I’d crossed my fingers for the possible subject. This time, it’s dangerous playground games which, as a mother to a child who plays in one, I am more than willing to get on board with.Less than 12 hours later I’m in an Addison Lee bound for Television Centre, London. I always take this opportunity to test out my argument by putting it to my driver. They always come back with the same question: "That Piers Morgan fella, so what’s he really like then?"The truth is, even after around eight appearances, I still don’t really know. If you are on his side of the debate, don’t expect much of a look in. If he’s on the other side, expect loads of shouting directed at you and strong potential to be branded a vapid/ weak-willed/ useless/ leftie snowflake.The first time, I appeared on the show Piers wasn’t on the panel. "Hi Amy, this is XXX from Good Morning Britain, just a quick one – do you think using grandparents for childcare is exploitative?" is how that one started.I’ll admit, I hadn’t given it much thought. But I certainly could do for the right fee.
In fact, I hadn’t given many of these topics much thought before. I’ll never say anything I don’t truly believe, but I do say things I didn’t know I thought until I really thought about it. I’m booked on the merit that I’m an author and broadcaster as well as a parent and a millennial. These experiences are apparently enough to position me as a spokesperson on topics concerning the latter two.I left my debut feeling triumphant to a flurry of compliments on social media and even a message from GMB host Ben Shephard letting me know I was welcome anytime. I’ve appeared with Eamonn Holmes leading the panel and received a similar response. Good ol’ congenial brekkie TV jollity.The first time I was on the receiving end of Piers' wrath, the mood had changed to one that surely leaves the nation kicking the door down and lamping colleagues as they arrive at work. I arrived and was quickly taken into hair and make-up – an always excellently surreal experience that once featured me, Pamela Anderson and the voice of Grandpa Pig off Peppa Pig getting our respective blow dries. (In December 2018, my five-year-old son was babysat in the green room alongside Alistair Campbell and Pete Doherty.)As is customary, the producer came to see me for a practice rally of debate. Then it was straight on to set where we had all about two minutes before we are live on national telly. Before the segment – this time on why millennials can’t make a jus – the presenters talked amongst themselves or quickly catch up on their notes, flanked by a powdering from the in-studio make-up artist. Then it was showtime: Piers pronounced my name wrong, a habit he keeps up. I smiled anyway and it was on.
This wasn't my first time. I had previously been on with Piers to argue about snowball fights, but as I was on his side for that one, it was fairly uneventful. Instead, he laid into the headteacher who was against snowball fights with the severity of a disagreement about gun control.I've now met Piers more times than I ever expected I would. More often than not, I will find myself increasingly driven to losing my temper – not with the topic, but with Piers. The problem is he clearly doesn’t listen to the majority of what any guest says and comes loaded with soundbites that will be said regardless of the response they get. Quite often he won’t appear to have researched the guest or topic. (In hindsight, this explains why I once essentially screamed "HAVE YOU SEEN THE PACKAGING, PIERS?" on a segment about touch-free packaging for chicken. I wasn't so much wound up by the idea of raw meat handling as much as the fact he's so resistant to any kind of movement on an often-ignorant position. Perhaps this is why he regularly veers off-topic and how he became the man who made a 28-year-old mother burst into tears on national television. He delights in protesting "Why are we even DISCUSSING this?" – sentiments my critics will relay to me on social media for the next month or so. However, I know that after every show there is a planning meeting where every segment is discussed with the production team and presenters.
What nobody tells you about most TV panels is that it is sheer pantomime between guests and their opponents. I slated Daily Express columnist Carole Malone’s Twitter skills before later adding her and staying in touch with her. Journalist Sonia Poulton and I seemingly clashed on-air while behind the scenes we have remained good contacts. Based on this, I was sure the same would be the case with Piers; that he would see a young journalist trying her best and admire the clout to come on air and argue a point. No such luck.Since that debut last year, I’ve been called upon to argue snowballs – makes a change from snowflakes – as well as millennials who can’t make beds, health and safety equipment in sport and whether you should you accept your neighbor’s post for them. (Answer: well, of course. In an increasingly disconnected society we should do everything we can to harbor a sense of community.)Since the death of Mike Thalassitis from Love Island, we also now sign a 'vulnerability form' acknowledging that we are likely to be trolled to near death. And because the segment goes on YouTube, this is likely to go on for a while. After appearing on the show, I am bombarded with comments telling me I am wrong and that my son should be taken away from me and into care. Turns out people get very upset when you dare suggest organized sport might be more productive than playing tag.Appearing on a produced three to five-minute segment impassions people enough to contact me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and once even on my personal mobile phone number. In the case of one of my debates, I was parodied by an alt-right Canadian YouTuber which led to comments rolling in on an international front. Does this make me infamous? That week, I certainly felt it. Since starting working on this article, I’ve had three notifications from men contacting me about various appearances, one just simply saying "idiot" on Instagram DM.People love to point out that I am "desperate for my five minutes" when, in fact, I am desperate – desperate to make my rent payments. As a freelance single parent, my monthly costs are high and I can’t afford to turn down work.It’s also important to continue to challenge gammon robots like Piers, even if it is about something as inconsequential as the ethics of a game of tag. Plus, it’s fun and admittedly a real buzz to go on live TV and I’ve never shied away from a challenge, especially in the face of a human ham sandwich. Piers empowers the regressive elements of society – to let him bark away with no challenge will only take us back to a time when the only people whose voices were heard were those of people like him. So yeah, I’ll carry on having a go while he continues to have a go.@amynicks_