DAN WOOTTON: Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield’s reign as ITV’s golden couple appears to be nearing the end after a backstage fallout. I know why she’s preparing to pull the plug on their partnership – and it’s the right decision
Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield’s reign as the golden couple of British TV appears to be coming to an end.
After months of controversy and drama surrounding This Morning’s male presenter, I can reveal Holly is now preparing to pull the plug on the partnership, leaving troubled ITV facing a major new crisis.
I have been reporting on the growing sense of unease about Phillip’s role on the legendary daytime show since 2019, following feuds with a succession of former A-list co-stars including Amanda Holden, Ruth Langsford and Fern Britton.
But Holly’s apparent decision to withdraw her unconditional support of Phillip amid a long-term backstage fallout marks a major turning point.
ITV bosses now face losing the biggest female star on British television to the BBC and rival commercial broadcasters – or cutting ties with Phillip and agreeing to pair Holly with Alison Hammond as soon as this September.
Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on ITV’s This Morning today after rumours of a rift
ITV sources have previously said that Alison Hammond and Holly were regarded as a ‘total joy’ at the channel
That partnership was trialled recently when Phillip took time off as his paedophile brother Timothy Schofield was on trial for sex abuse of a minor.
A source close to Holly revealed to me today: ‘The fallout with Phillip has been going on for quite some time.
‘For Holly there’s also a degree of her becoming concerned that some of the scandals connected to Phillip are damaging her reputation.
‘There’s an understandable element of, “I’ve got to think about my career, too.” She’s been seeking guidance from (her husband) Dan (Baldwin) and ITV on that front.
‘This hasn’t been about the last few weeks, but a number of months. She has always been loyal to Phillip and loved working with him.
‘But she’s also worked so hard to build her own reputation, so she can’t risk Phillip dragging her down.’
Holly has been seeking guidance from her husband Dan. Pictured: The couple in 2016.
Holly and Phillip (pictured in 2012) have previously spoken about their close bond and have gushed over how This Morning is a ‘family’ to them rather than just a job
That bombshell revelation follows today’s well-sourced front page in The Sun – a newspaper that has previously been supportive of Phillip and Holly – revealing the pair are barely speaking behind the scenes.
Holly used to insist she would walk from This Morning if Phillip quit or was sacked.
But after off screen tension dating back to Phillip’s decision to use her and the show to publicly come out as gay, she has made clear to ITV bosses that position no longer stands.
I first knew that Phillip and Holly– once thick as thieves – had fallen out in 2019 as part of a backstage ‘civil war’ over his attitude.
At the time, I spoke to eight ITV household name stars who revealed a ‘toxic’ atmosphere at the show.
Phillip was said to be jealous that Holly had won a Bafta when she when she filled in for Ant McPartlin on I’m A Celebrity and furious with a Sunday Times magazine cover with the provocative headline: ‘How Holly Willoughby eclipsed Phillip Schofield and became Britain’s hottest TV star.’
‘Not as close’: The duo have presented This Morning together for 14 years but their relationship has reportedly come under strain in recent months
The pair (pictured in November 2009) have worked together for more than a decade after Holly took over from Fern Britton as Phillip’s co-host back in 2009
At the time a spokeswoman for ITV released a staunch defence of Phillip saying it was ‘deeply disappointing and unfair’ for him to be ‘the target of this sort of malicious gossip’.
They added: ‘Holly and Phil are great friends both on and off screen and are popular among viewers and colleagues alike.’
It seems telling there has been no similar statement forthcoming from ITV in recent weeks.
Phillip’s coming out was viewed as a success by ITV bosses and the difficult pandemic that followed appeared to reset the relationship with Holly, but in recent months I learned the same tensions had returned.
The Queuegate scandal, where the pair were criticised for skipping the line to see the late Queen lying in state, further heaped on the pressure.
In recent weeks, the strain burst into the public spotlight with two incidents.
First, Holly took the week off sick with shingles when Phillip returned to This Morning after his brother’s sex trial.
After Timothy Schofield (right) was found guilty, Phillip said in a statement: ‘As far as I am concerned, I no longer have a brother.’
Schofield returned to This Morning after three weeks and thanked viewers for their support
Then, the pair failed to post any pictures together when they both attended Keith Lemon’s 50th birthday party, even though they posed with a number of other stars.
The problem for the bosses of This Morning is that the pair still have to try and present a live show together for over two hours a day, four days a week.
In recent months, Holly’s frustration at Phillip’s dominance, including his tendency to speak over her, has become painfully clear to viewers.
It was notable that she appeared much more happy and relaxed presenting with the adorable Alison Hammond, even posting a number of pictures of the pair together to her over eight million Instagram followers, with one caption reading: ‘Love you Alison Hammond…same time tomorrow?’
Phillip has not featured on her Instagram grid for over two months.
Now, I know what it’s like personally to be in combat with Phillip, having been one of his colleagues on ITV Daytime for over a decade, where he tried to get me sacked multiple times.
Holly and Phil faced a backlash over claims they ‘skipped the queue’ at Westminster Hall to see the Queen lying in state
Phillip has always used his previously significant popularity with viewers as a hold over bosses, being able to pick and choose who he wants to appear on This Morning or even on other shows on the network.
In my case, I eventually quit ITV in November 2019, after coming under direct pressure to stay silent about some of Phillip’s behaviour, which I wasn’t prepared to do.
ITV’s wilful blindness when it came to Phillip shocked me, given the warnings they’d had from multiple other stars, including This Morning regulars like Kim Woodburn, Gemma Collins and Francine Lewis.
Last month ex-Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries wrote in her Daily Mail column of Phillip: ‘On one occasion, I witnessed what appeared to be somewhat intimidating behaviour. Holly was away, and as her stand-in looked down at her script — obviously wanting to see who or what was coming up next — Phillip glared at her and began to jab at her script with his finger. I don’t know about her, but he scared me.’
The pair (pictured in 2012) have left viewers in hysterics with their on and off-screen antics
But the now almost inevitable split with Holly is going to be the biggest test of ITV’s loyalty towards Phillip.
She is not just another presenter; outside of Ant and Dec, she is their brightest star.
And, unlike Ant and Dec, she’s not secured by a golden handcuffs deal, meaning Holly can work for whomever she chooses in primetime.
The timing could not be worse for ITV’s uber woke CEO, the right on ex-Guardian boss Carolyn McCall.
She is under fire for refusing to condemn the Bridgerton actress Adjoa Andoh for describing the Royal Family as ‘terribly white’ as they appeared on the balcony following the Coronation of King Charles on Saturday.
That blatant racism, which was not challenged by ITV’s presenters Tom Bradby or Julie Etchingham, has sparked a record number of complaints this year to the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.
As ratings for This Morning continue to plummet in daytime – no doubt in large part because of the go woke go broke mantra – securing Holly is becoming business critical.
Waving goodbye to Frosty Phillip is now the only option left to save This Morning.
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