In October 2020, on the heels of his momentous decision to come out as gay, Phillip Schofield’s autobiography, Life’s What You Make It, was released. I recall it occupying a place on my Notes app’s disorganised ‘To Be Read’ list. Predictably, my degree thwarted these ambitions, ensuring I devoted more time to Messrs Sophocles and Shakespeare than Schofield.
I was always a fan of Phillip Schofield. I saw him as a professional and personable face. It was on This Morning, the format he anchored for 21 years, that he truly excelled. His rapport with co-host Holly Willoughby seemed genuine, a marked contrast to the perma-smiled insincerity of many TV partnerships. The pair’s chemistry resulted in the creation of a dizzying number of “best bits” videos, compilations of cultural touchstones now tainted by recent events. According to Schofield, Willoughby was like his sister, the two of them the centrepiece of the This Morning ‘family’.
This preferential treatment, however, put a target on Schofield’s back. Aspects of the media narrative have been hijacked by individuals with a personal vendetta against the scandal-ridden presenter. These figures have gleefully appointed themselves judge and jury, presiding over a case that has, by Schofield’s own admission, already been decided: he will never work in television again.
While Schofield perhaps wasn’t always a joy to work with, was he really ITV’s bogeyman, a figure people avoided in corridors, as his former This Morning colleague Eamonn Holmes claimed in a fiery interview with ITV daytime alumnus Dan Wooton? Accusations of toxicity at any workplace deserve proper scrutiny. Until an independent review has been conducted, however, I don’t believe a wider assessment of Schofield’s behaviour can be made.
Although I don’t condone the collective dogpile on Schofield we have seen in recent weeks, it’s also entirely wrong to absolve him of blame or paint him as a helpless victim. This article will concern itself with what we know, information damaging enough to ensure that Schofield can now, to use his own words, only refer to his television career in the “past tense”.
On 26 May, Schofield released a statement admitting to an extramarital affair with a “much younger man”. He apologised for lying about this relationship, which he pointedly described as “unwise, but not illegal”. His bombshell announcement came six days after stepping back from This Morning for apparently unrelated reasons – a coarsening relationship with co-host Willoughby amidst his brother’s conviction for child sexual offences was rumoured to be behind his departure. Schofield’s image also hadn’t entirely recovered from ‘Queue-gate’, as he and Willoughby were accused of queue jumping at the Queen’s lying in state to an outcry of public condemnation.
While Schofield’s infidelity has ignited national debate, it is clear that grey clouds were already forming over the ITV daytime presenter’s career. Although the response of the majority has been negative, a vocal contingent have questioned why Schofield’s affair is any of our business. Jeremy Clarkson hit out at the “witch hunt” against the star, observing that “it seems to me he is only guilty of being what he said he was: gay”. The view that it was a relationship between two consenting adults wilfully ignores the power imbalance at play. Schofield met the man when he was just 15, later following him on Twitter. Over a series of messages, he arranged a studio visit, before helping him land the plush runner job on the set. At this point, the relationship became intimate, continuing until the young man was quietly moved to the neighbouring Loose Women. While Schofield flatly denies grooming the man, their relationship skirts dangerously close to the line. The relationship could be interpreted as transactional, the exchange of opportunity for sexual favours between a young aspiring star and much older mentor. Questions also need to be asked of ITV senior management, particularly chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall, whose investigation of the affair in early 2020 now seems cursory at best and deliberately evasive at worst. If “everybody at ITV knew”, as Piers Morgan claimed, why did the official inquiry produce nothing but a categorical denial?
In an interview, a pensive Schofield asserted the media coverage is partially fuelled by homophobia, positing that an affair with a woman would not have caused such a scandal. Homophobia is a scourge that should be stamped out. Being criticised for having a workplace fling with a junior colleague, however, is not homophobia; it is being held to account. It’s also blisteringly ignorant to suppose that the cries of “dirty old man” would be any quieter had Holmes, Clarkson, or Morgan acted as Schofield had, particularly in a post #MeToo society more sensitive to power dynamics. Whether Schofield genuinely believes he
is a victim of homophobia, or if he is cynically wielding it in order to deflect from criticism, he should remember why he is at the centre of a media storm to begin with.
The mantra ‘Life’s What You Make It’ proved eerily prophetic: Schofield’s public persona was ‘made’, a sanitised version of himself projected to audiences for decades. However, this artifice has now been revealed. His “biggest, sorriest secret” has finally been exposed. Phillip Schofield’s career is over.