As U.K. network ITV launches an external review into the circumstances surrounding “This Morning” anchor Phillip Schofield’s “unwise but not illegal” relationship with a young employee, many are wondering how the long-time host – a staple of British daytime television – went from ITV golden boy to Tellyland exile in a matter of weeks.
It’s a storyline that could have been ripped from Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon’s Apple TV+ hit “The Morning Show.” An older male anchor handpicks a glamorous, younger and – according to unkind whispers – malleable blonde to be his co-host after falling out with her predecessor.
Fifteen years later the young blonde (reportedly) turns on him, ousting him from the show following a string of scandals that were beginning to taint her brand. But her victory may be short-lived as the married male anchor drops the bombshell that he had an affair with a young male employee right under everyone’s noses. The revelation detonates his career and threatens to take down not only his former colleague but dozens of executives – including the head of the network.
The only difference is rather than a high-end drama, it’s real life. Read on for a play-by-play of the toughest two weeks daytime show “This Morning” has faced since its launch in 1988.
A weekday magazine-format daytime show similar to “Live with Kelly and Mark.” It runs on ITV’s flagship channel every day from 10am to 12.30pm, where the hosts cover everything from politics and cooking to entertainment and real-life stories from the comfort of the famous “This Morning” sofa.
Phillip Schofield, “This Morning’s” main anchor until two weeks ago, started his career as a children’s TV presenter alongside a furry glove-puppet called Gordon the Gopher on BBC kids show “The Broom Cupboard.” He spent the next decade ascending through Tellyland, hosting everything from variety to game shows, including stints as a guest anchor on “This Morning.” In 2002 Schofield became a permanent fixture on the sofa after the show’s main presenter, John Leslie, was fired following accusations of sexual assault (later revealed to be a case of mistaken identity). As Schofield himself put it, it was thanks to Leslie’s “misfortune” that he was promoted to lead anchor alongside Leslie’s co-host Fern Britton.
Schofield and Britton would co-host the show together for the next seven years until they reportedly fell out, with some suggesting “Schofe” was involved in Britton’s 2009 exit and Holly Willoughby’s subsequent on-boarding.
Schofield is believed to have been instrumental in Willoughby landing the co-anchor job on “This Morning,” especially as the duo had already been working together on another ITV show, “Dancing on Ice,” for three years. At the time, Willoughby was viewed as a surprising choice: too glamorous and lacking in daytime TV experience. But her chemistry with Schofield ensured eyeballs – the duo often went viral for dissolving into giggles and once memorably arrived to host the show in eveningwear following an awards ceremony the night before – cementing Willoughby’s place as ITV’s golden girl. The duo were firm friends off-screen too, reportedly vacationing together alongside their families.
ITV’s CEO since 2018, McCall is fiercely protective of her talent. After Willoughby and Schofield were accused of queue-jumping during Queen Elizabeth II’s lying-in-state last year (see more on that below), McCall unequivocally said the duo were safe in their jobs and even took Domino’s Pizza to task for making light of the controversy on Twitter. She also personally texted the anchors to check they were OK following the furore. But thanks to Schofield’s recent bombshell, McCall’s own job is now looking increasingly precarious.
Other execs who are facing tough questions in the wake of Schofield’s departure are Kevin Lygo, ITV’s director of media and entertainment since 2010, Emma Gormley, the network’s head of daytime since 2013 and “This Morning” editor Martin Frizell, who has worked on the show since 2016.
So What Actually Happened? A Timeline
In 2019, the British tabloids began reporting that relations had cooled between Schofield and Willoughby, whose long professional partnership was bolstered by their off-screen friendship, with suggestions that the male anchor was beginning to feel jealous of his younger counterpart.
In 2020, rumors began to spread online about Schofield’s relationship with a young male runner on “This Morning” but went unreported after ITV denied them. (ITV now say they investigated the rumors but couldn’t substantiate them). In Feb. 2020, Schofield (who had a wife and two children) came out publicly on the show with Willoughby by his side, clasping his hand for support, although there was no mention of the runner (whom Variety has agreed not to name at his request). Then the pandemic hit, eclipsing the story in the public’s mind for the next two years.
In Sept. 2022, the duo found themselves at the center of an extraordinary controversy after they were spotted in the VIP line at Queen Elizabeth II’s lying in state – unlike other celebrities, including their ITV stablemate Susannah Reid and soccer star David Beckham, who both queued with the public for more than 12 hours to pay their respects. With little other news aside from the Queen’s death, Schofield and Willoughby’s so-called “queue jump” preoccupied an increasingly furious public. “This Morning” issued a statement on Instagram claiming Willoughby and Schofield had entered the VIP line as part of a package they were filming for the show and Willoughby addressed the subject head-on when they next appeared on air (“Please know that we would never jump a queue,” she begged the audience) but according to reports, the uproar had irreparably damaged the duo’s once close friendship.
The anchors managed to soldier on for six months until it emerged Schofield’s younger brother Timothy was standing trial for sexual offences involving a child. In a written statement submitted during the trial, which took place at the end of March, Schofield said Timothy had confessed his crimes to the anchor in 2021, to which Schofield had responded: “Never do it again.” British tabloids suggest Willoughby had been blindsided by the news and was angry at her co-host for withholding it from her until shortly before the trial.
Schofield stayed off air for three weeks during and immediately after the trial (Timothy was found guilty); Willoughby did not explain his absence to viewers. When Schofield finally returned to the show on April 17, Willoughby was not by his side. She claimed she was recovering from shingles, requiring her to take the week off work.
Schofield and Willoughby finally reunited on screen on April 24 amid reported tension, which grew exponentially alongside tabloid speculation about the duo’s future together on the show.
On May 19 Schofield’s brother Timothy was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The following day, a Saturday, the anchor announced he was stepping down from “This Morning” – and made it clear resigning had not been his choice. “I understand that ITV has decided the current situation can’t go on,” he said in a statement.
As a sweetener, ITV entertainment boss Kevin Lygo praised Schofield and promised he would still present the British Soap Awards (set to air on June 3 on ITV) and an untitled “peak time” ITV series.
Willoughby was believed to be due back on air the following Monday but instead stayed away for the week while guest hosts Dermot O’Leary and Alison Hammond (the frontrunner to replace Schofield) filled in, giving the furore a chance to die down.
Then, on May 26, Schofield dropped a bombshell when he gave a statement to the Daily Mail in which he admitted carrying on an “unwise but not illegal” romance with the runner. The Mail claimed the runner had been 15 when he’d first met Schofield (although the anchor maintains a romantic relationship didn’t start until later) and that it was Schofield who helped the runner get a role on “This Morning” when he was 19 years old.
Schofield’s bombshell immediately saw him dropped by both his agency, YMU (with whom he was also very close; one of his daughters works there) and ITV. Both companies – and Willoughby – said they had questioned Schofield about his relationship with the runner and he had repeatedly denied it. In his statement to the Mail, Schofield admitted he had “lied” to everyone about the relationship.
Inevitably, however, Schofield’s ITV colleagues – including CEO Carolyn McCall – are facing questions about how much they really knew. Photographs have emerged of the runner on stage alongside Schofield, Willoughby and other senior members of the “This Morning” team collecting an award at the National Television Awards in 2018 (in footage, the runner can be seen standing next to ITV’s head of daytime Emma Gormley). In other photographs, from Jan. 2020, he is seen speaking to Willoughby outside the same awards ceremony. The Daily Mail also got hold of a showreel, filmed on the “This Morning” set, in which the runner pretends to host the show before interviewing Schofield on the sofa.
“ITV can confirm that when rumours of a relationship between Phillip Schofield and an employee of ITV first began to circulate in early 2020 ITV investigated,” the network said in a statement. “Both parties were questioned and both categorically and repeatedly denied the rumours as did Phillip’s then agency YMU. In addition, ITV spoke to a number of people who worked on ‘This Morning’ and were not provided with, and did not find, any evidence of a relationship beyond hearsay and rumour. Phillip’s statement yesterday [May 26] reveals that he lied to people at ITV, from senior management to fellow presenters, to YMU, to the media and to others over this relationship.”
In a letter to U.K. culture secretary Lucy Frazer, which leaked on Wednesday evening, Carolyn McCall said the network had hired a lawyer to conduct an external review which would probe ITV’s “relevant processes and policies and whether we need to change or strengthen any.”
“Given Phillip’s admission of the extent of his deception the work will extend to cover any related issues that may emerge,” McCall added. “This work will be carried out as quickly as possible and we will be happy to share the outcome.”
Having parted ways with his agency, it seems that Schofield’s TV career is, at least in the short term, over. He has pulled out of presenting the British Soap Awards and, in his statement revealing the relationship, said he was resigning from ITV “with immediate effect” – meaning he will not return for the promised “peak time” series or to front “Dancing on Ice,” which he has co-hosted alongside Willoughby for almost two decades. Media figures speculate the anchor could make a comeback in the future but for now it’s too early to tell. So far Schofield is laying low other than posting a statement on Instagram defending “This Morning” after the show’s former on-screen medic, Dr Ranj Singh, accused it of having a “toxic culture.”
The situation is trickier for Willoughby, “This Morning” and ITV at large. Willoughby is reportedly determined to return to the show, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, and is due back on set next Monday. Meanwhile ITV’s regulation and policy director Magnus Brooke is set to appear before Parliament’s cross-party culture committee next Tuesday – ostensibly to talk about the Government’s draft Media Bill but he may well find himself having to field questions about Schofield too.
ITV has not yet offered up any executive heads on a plate to take the fall for the scandal although that may change after the network’s external review. With the screws being tightened, many are asking how long ITV’s top brass – and “This Morning” itself – can survive the fall out.