As he surveys the ruins of his career, Phillip Schofield’s mind will doubtless turn to a fateful phone call he received some 12 years ago.
At the time it would not have seemed remotely exceptional or ill-omened. Just the kind of call celebrities receive all the time. Could he give a talk to some children at a theatre school?
The caller was a friend of both Schofield and his wife Stephanie Lowe, and a relative of one of the drama students, a 15-year-old boy.
Happy to oblige, Schofield, then in his late 40s, found time in his busy schedule – he had been presenting This Morning with Holly Willoughby for several years by this time – and travelled to the theatre in a city in North-West England. By all accounts his visit caused high excitement. As ever, he was enthusiastic, encouraging and generous with his time.
It is easy to see how the schoolboy must have enjoyed the attention generated by this showbiz connection and, emboldened, he asked the presenter afterwards if he might help him land a job in television. Once again, this can’t have been the first such request Schofield received.
RUMOURS: Schofield and the young man, who we have chosen not to identify, leaving The Ivy in London in March 2017
Phil with fellow younger colleague who became his lover leaving The Ivy Club, London
Phillip Schofield with Stephanie Lowe at the National Television Awards Arrivals at the O2 in 2014
The presenter promised to get the boy an interview at the appropriate time but nothing more. Still, it was a foot in the door and the boy, still a year or more away from taking his GCSEs, ensured that Schofield kept his promise.
Bright and good-looking, though in some respects young for his age, he made a good impression when he was eventually invited to London. He began working on This Morning when he was in his late teens.
What did become quickly apparent is that soon after the boy’s arrival on the This Morning set, he seemed close to the presenter, unusually so. Even if there was nothing untoward to begin with, it was surely an ill-advised friendship on the part of Schofield, by now in his early 50s.
In television, reputation is everything, particularly at the wholesome end occupied by Phil and Holly, who both enjoyed an immaculate public image.
Schofield’s friend was popular and hard-working. That Schofield was an attentive mentor, there was little doubt. But to what level had their relationship progressed? It was a question raised, albeit privately, by their gossipy colleagues, who noted that the pair were often to be found huddled in eateries close to ITV’s riverside studios.
This, then, was the extraordinary background to Schofield’s explosive affair with his ‘much younger’ colleague, revealed for the first time today by The Mail on Sunday. It was not until 2020 that ITV began investigating the rumours.
This newspaper understands that the channel’s inquiry was likely prompted by an incident at the start of that year. For some time Schofield had been in the habit of inviting his young lover to glitzy functions, often raising eyebrows. At one particular event, an awards ceremony, Schofield’s friend stunned his ITV colleagues by, as one put it, ‘declaring his love for Phil in no uncertain terms’.
But according to ITV yesterday, the boy was less forthcoming when bosses questioned him some time later. Both he and Schofield ‘categorically and repeatedly’ denied the rumours, as did Schofield’s agency at the time, YMU. But there was an even greater bombshell in store for the This Morning team.
Phil with fellow younger colleague who became his lover leaving The Ivy Club, London
The presenter promised to get the boy an interview at the appropriate time but nothing more. Still, it was a foot in the door and the boy, still a year or more away from taking his GCSEs, ensured that Schofield kept his promise
The caller was a friend of both Schofield and his wife Stephanie Lowe, and a relative of one of the drama students, a 15-year-old boy
In television, reputation is everything, particularly at the wholesome end occupied by Phil and Holly, who both enjoyed an immaculate public image
On February 7 that year, Schofield announced that he was gay live on air. Flanked by his then best friend and co-star Holly, he broke down in tears as he revealed his ‘inner conflict’.
But he was now ready to ‘celebrate and be proud’ of his sexuality, he said, despite his 26-year marriage to wife Stephanie, a former BBC production assistant.
He said: ‘You never know what’s going on in someone’s seemingly perfect life, what issues they are struggling with, or the state of their wellbeing – and so you won’t know what has been consuming me for the last few years.
‘With the strength and support of my wife and my daughters, I have been coming to terms with the fact that I am gay.’ Schofield was also comforted by former This Morning presenters Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford who knew nothing of the announcement until minutes before the cameras started rolling. Not long afterwards, his young lover was moved to another ITV show. Sources said yesterday that his brief stint there was notable for the time he spent with Schofield.
Yet their secret remained intact. And their affair was still being denied two weeks ago when The Mail on Sunday contacted ITV and Schofield’s lawyers.
Far from getting him out of the way, ITV said that the young man’s move had been a promotion.
However, a source at ITV told us at the time: ‘He and Phil were close and then he just went off to another programme.
‘It was odd, the two men just stopped talking so much.
‘Phil had been such a support to him, he was a really talented and hard-working guy.
‘Some of the network’s biggest names expressed their surprise at the time, he was very popular. He never really spoke about it, it was very mysterious.’
There the matter rested until Schofield’s astonishing letter to me on Friday. It read: ‘It is essential that I personally say directly to you that I am profoundly sorry to have misled you and your colleagues at the Mail via an email sent on my instructions by my lawyer, whom I also misled, about a relationship with a colleague at This Morning.
‘At the time I genuinely thought that I was doing the right thing in trying to protect my ex-colleague whom I knew to be vulnerable and who desperately wanted the story not to be published.
‘I accept that nonetheless I should not have misled you and I expect no mercy. I do however ask that you show as much compassion for him as possible as he is the innocent party by not naming him. My best wishes, Phillip Schofield.’
But what had triggered this astonishing volte-face? Early last week he decided to spend an eye-watering sum on legal representation for his former lover. As it transpired it was this that sealed his fate.
Schofield hired top London law firm Mishcon de Reya to act for the man, now in his mid-20s, and his own solicitor, then set up a call with Mishcon’s head of reputation management in an attempt to put a plan in motion to manage press interest. But the outcome was one Schofield did not see coming.
On the lawyers’ agenda was The Mail on Sunday published a fortnight ago revealing that the young man had mysteriously moved on from This Morning. There were claims he and Schofield had fallen out and that the younger man’s colleagues were surprised to see him depart for pastures new. In response, Schofield complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the watchdog for the newspaper and magazine industry in the UK. It is there to hold printed publications to account for their actions, protect individual rights, uphold high standards of journalism and help to maintain freedom of expression for the press.
At the same time as firing off his complaint, Schofield’s spinners were briefing other publications that they had complained and that the story should not be repeated. This newspaper launched a vigorous defence – and the complaint has now been formally withdrawn.
But it is what happened next that has almost certainly finished the £20 million former king of daytime television’s career for good. Schofield learned that his former partner was not prepared to lie about their affair.
He instead told his lawyer that they had had a relationship, and that was to be his honest stance. He added that he was simply fed up lying. Schofield had no way out.
He was then forced into a U-turn, telling his management company YMU, which had represented him for 35 years, that he had lied and that he had indeed cheated on his wife with the young man.
YMU – widely seen as the most powerful showbusiness agency in the UK – swiftly dropped him and told ITV bosses of his confession.
Schofield then sent the grovelling apology to me, on Friday, admitting that he had lied to this newspaper. He also announced he had quit ITV with immediate effect, and would not be presenting next Saturday’s British Soap Awards – a role that has been his since 2006.
ITV had no idea that Schofield was going to relinquish the show they had offered him as a sweetener when he was ousted last weekend. Now they are left scrambling for a replacement.
As for Schofield – once deemed so powerful at ITV that he could hire or fire anyone he wanted – he is with his daughters ‘licking his wounds’ as he contemplates his next move. One thing is for sure – his chances of a showbiz comeback are very slim indeed.