A who’s who of the key players at the heart of This Morning scandal — from Phil and Holly to ITV’s chief

 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

ITV has gone into a DEFCON 1 level meltdown after being hit by scandal after scandal. It’s divided the network’s employees and put the future of its most popular daytime TV programme, This Morning, at risk.

The crisis began in March when rumours of co-presenter Phillip Schofield having had an affair with a ‘much younger’ man started trickling down into the public consciousness. Armchair detectives then detected the discomfort in his normally chummy on-screen relationship with co-host Holly Willoughby.

Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield presented This Morning together for 13 years (ITV)
Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield presented This Morning together for 13 years (ITV)

On May 20, Schofield stepped down from his This Morning position with immediate effect. “I have always been proud to cover fascinating stories on ‘This Morning,’” he wrote on Instagram. “But recently, ‘This Morning’ itself has become the story. Throughout my career in TV — including the very difficult last few days — I have always done my best to be honourable and kind. I understand that ITV has decided the current situation can’t go on, and I want to do what I can to protect the show that I love.”

But it’s what’s happened since then — the revelation that Schofield had been unfaithul to his wife with a former This Morning colleague over 20 years his junior; the claim that no one else at ITV knew; and the allegations of a toxic workplace culture and Holly and Phil favouritism — that has really caused the beloved British institution to implode.

Here is a breakdown of how the scandal has unfolded and the key players at the heart of it.

Phillip Schofield

Phillip Schofield joined This Morning in 2002 (PA Archive)
Phillip Schofield joined This Morning in 2002 (PA Archive)

Schofield’s brother, Timothy, was jailed for 12 years over child sex offences on May 19. During the trial — at which Schofield gave evidence — he took a hiatus from presenting This Morning. But on his return, Schofield and Willoughby seemed noticeably strained and viewers picked up on it immediately. It led to Schofield’s bizarre statement that their relationship had been uncomfortable.

“The last few weeks haven’t been easy for either of us,” Schofield told the Sun. “My family went through a real ordeal. And Holly’s support throughout meant the world to me, as did the support of my bosses at ITV, my editor Martin Frizell and the whole This Morning family, including our amazing viewers.”

All the while, rumours about Schofield’s relationship with a ‘much younger’ man gathered momentum. Schofield was approached by the Mail on Sunday, which attempted to expose an affair he’d had with a young runner while working on This Morning. Schofield lied and said no such relationship had occurred, only to backtrack and admit to the relationship via the Daily Mail last Friday.

Schofield said: "I am making this statement via the Daily Mail to whom I have already apologised personally for misleading, through my lawyer who I also misled, about a story which they wanted to write about me a few days ago.

“The first thing I want to say is: I am deeply sorry for having lied to them, and to many others about a relationship that I had with someone working on This Morning. I did have a consensual on-off relationship with a younger male colleague at This Morning.”

Phillip Schofield at the 2021 National Television Awards (PA Archive)
Phillip Schofield at the 2021 National Television Awards (PA Archive)

Schofield then addressed speculation over when his relationship with the young runner began, given that the pair met when Schofield visited his school. The boy was 15 at the time and had a passion for drama, which led him to ask Schofield for a job when he visited. However, Schofield allegedly said they’d arrange an interview at a more appropriate time.

“Contrary to speculation,” Schofield said, “whilst I met the man when he was a teenager and was asked to help him to get into television, it was only after he started to work on the show that it became more than just a friendship. That relationship was unwise, but not illegal. It is now over.”

At one point, the young runner was rumoured to have let slip about the relationship, telling people the 2020 National Television Awards how he was in love with Schofield. “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,’” the Mail reported. In early 2020, ITV got wind of the affair and said it investigated it, but both parties denied it.

An ITV spokeswoman said of the investigation: “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.

“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.” Shortly after the investigation, in February 2020 Schofield came out as gay onThis Morning.

Phillip Schofield came out as gay during an episode of This Morning in February 2020 (ITV / This Morning)
Phillip Schofield came out as gay during an episode of This Morning in February 2020 (ITV / This Morning)

In the latter half of Schofield’s bombshell statement, he denied rumours of a super-injunction. He also apologised for lying to his This Morning colleagues and bosses, as well as for being unfaithful to his wife Stephanie Lowe.

Schofield was subsequently dropped by his agents, YMU, and has been shunned by many of his old ITV pals, particularly ex-This Morning presenter Eamonn Holmes. He’s come out all guns blazing against Schofield — but we’ll get to that.

Schofield apparently lashed out at Holmes in an Instagram story on Monday: "Now I no longer work on @thismorning I am free to say this. I hope you have noticed that it’s the same handful of people with a grudge against me or the show who seem to have the loudest voice.

“This morning IS the best show to work on, with the best people. In all the years I worked there there was no toxicity. You can listen to those persistently loud voices if you like. But the thousands of guests over the years, thousands of staff and crew, hundreds of presenters and contributors all know, it IS a family of wonderful, talented, kind, hard working people.”

Later in the week, Schofield gave emotional interviews to The Sun and BBC. Here are the key revelations.

Holly Willoughby

Holly Willoughby joined This Morning in 2009 (PA Wire)
Holly Willoughby joined This Morning in 2009 (PA Wire)

Before This Morning became embroiled in scandal, Willoughby was off air with shingles. This coincided with Timothy Schofield’s trial, so neither she nor Phil presented the show for a month.

Then, upon their long-awaited return, Schofield and Willoughby were reportedly “barely speaking”, as “insiders” claimed their relationship had cooled and issues had occurred. Less than a week before he left the show, Schofield issued his bizarre statement, and outlets everywhere reported how it had taken Willoughby aback.

"Holly had to find out from someone else, which must have been awful for her,” a source said. “She has been so loyal to him. It has been upsetting for her, they have been pretty inseparable for 14 years. They have been through so much together, some happy and some really tough. But now their once super close friendship is no longer."

Then, on May 20, Schofield left This Morning with immediate effect, and Willoughby responded via an Instagram story. “Hi everyone,” she said, “It’s been over 13 great years presenting This Morning with Phil and I want to take this opportunity to thank him for all of his knowledge, his experience and his humour. The sofa won’t feel the same without him.”

Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby during happier times (PA Archive)
Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby during happier times (PA Archive)

Willoughby and Schofield’s seats on the sofa were then temporarily filled by Dermot O’Leary and Alison Hammond as ITV got their cards together, only for the whole house to come tumbling down less than a week later. On Friday, May 26, Schofield issued his bombshell statement admitting to the affair, and Willoughby responded by claiming that he had lied to her about it the entire time.

"It has taken time to process yesterday’s news,” she said on her Instagram story. "When reports of this relationship first surfaced, I asked Phil directly if this was true and was told it was not. It’s been very hurtful to now find out that this was a lie."

Since Willoughby’s response, ITV have said that she will return to the This Morning sofa after another brief hiatus, on June 5, in an attempt to “save the show”. A source told the Mirror: “The next few weeks will be a desperate bid to save the show — and the jobs of the execs. Fingers are being pointed at the top brass, even though he admitted he lied to all of them. The show’s wholesome image is clearly tarnished, but bullish ITV execs are not going to just throw the baby out with the bath water.

“They are determined to prove that the brand is stronger than any single presenter, and that they can give it a fresh start after Schofield.”

Another source added: “Holly wants to stay at This Morning as long as she can, and hopes to ride out the scandal. Other stars like Stephen Mulhern are being approached to fill in for Phil when she returns. Some are reluctant to go in and face angry viewers.

“Holly is determined to stay put — the only reason she would leave now is if This Morning is axed. She has absolutely no plans to leave.”

Willoughby returned to present This Morning on Monday, June 5, and began by making a statement: “Firstly, are you OK? It feels very strange indeed sitting here without Phil.

“And I imagine that you might have been feeling a lot like I have - shaken, troubled, let down, worried for the wellbeing of people on all sides of what’s been going on, and full of questions. You, me and all of us at This Morning gave our love and support to someone who was not telling the truth, who acted in a way that they themselves felt that they had to resign from ITV, and step down from a career that they loved. That is a lot to process. And it’s equally hard to see the toll that it’s taken on their own mental health. I think what unites us all now is a desire to heal for the health and wellbeing of everyone.

“I hope that, as we start this new chapter and get back to a place of warmth and magic that this show holds for all of us, we can find strength in each other.”

Eamonn Holmes

Eamonn Holmes (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Wire)
Eamonn Holmes (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Wire)

Schofield’s downfall has made no one happier than former This Morning presenter Holmes, who has been very vocal about his feelings towards his former colleague.

Holmes, now a GB News presenter, is one of the few insiders to have spoken openly about the drama since it came to light. He gave a two-part interview to fellow GB News presenter Dan Wootton this week to address the scandal. "My response is he’s either deluded or he’s lying,” he told Wootton, “and he has admitted he tells lies and he tells a lot of lies.

"And in life, I’ve always had this belief that a lie unchallenged becomes the truth. So, although I don’t want to stand up to Schofield constantly pointing out where he’s lying, I feel I have to.

"I often say this to Ruth [Langsford, ex-This Morning presenter and Holmes’ wife], maybe he believes all this stuff, maybe he did not see what went on actually because there’s something wrong with him. But he is the chief narcissist, he is the complete and utter dyed-in-the-wool narcissist, everything is about him."

From left: Phillip Schofield, Holly Willoughby, Ruth Langsford and Eamonn Holmes (PA Archive)
From left: Phillip Schofield, Holly Willoughby, Ruth Langsford and Eamonn Holmes (PA Archive)

Holmes also revealed more alleged details about the affair between Schofield and the young runner, including how they would go out on Thursday and then spend the night together. “Thursday was playtime,” he told Wootton, “when [the runner] and Phillip would hit the town and then he obviously stayed overnight.”

“There are records to show that he was brought in the next day separately in cars paid for by ITV,” he added, citing an ITV “cover-up” as the reason it was never leaked or stopped. ITV maintain that it wasn’t aware of the affair due to Schofield and the runner denying it when they were investigated.

Holmes also alleged that there was a toxic workplace culture on This Morning and Schofield and Willoughby favouritism from producers. He insisted that staff preferred working on the show when he and Langsford presented it. "Look I could give you a list of the lack of kindness and the lack of awareness from both [Holly and Phil] about how they would socialise with people around them,” he said on a GB News discussion, “you just have to look at my phone to see the number of people glad to see the back of both of them.”

He also claimed that Schofield had neglected to learn staff members’ names and that many staff preferred to work on Fridays, when he and Langford used to host the show (the pair were later replaced by Hammond and O’Leary).

Ruth Langsford

Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford (ITV)
Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford (ITV)

Loose Women presenter Ruth Langsford is one of the main players in this feud. She has a documented, long-standing dislike towards Schofield, evidenced by a complaint she filed against him in 2019.

Langsford was reportedly “furious” when Schofield interrupted her while she was doing a live link on This Morning to preview what was coming up on Loose Women that day. In resurfaced footage of the incident, Langsford slammed down her pen in anger as Schofield interrupted her and cut her off mid-sentence.

Of the episode, Holmes told Wootton this week: "That was about his rudeness. This nonsense he has said in his statement denying the toxicity at ITV and saying that ITV and This Morning is a happy place — Holy God, what planet does this man live on?

"People would avoid him in the corridor. He was so rude to the Loose Women and he was so dismissive.

"We always had to do this handover between programmes from This Morning and Loose Women about what was coming on next. The Loose Women always felt very demeaned by the whole thing because he was always so rude to them.

"I know the one Loose Women star who liked Phillip, and she probably only did so because she liked mixing in circles where she thought would open doors for her."

Langsford may not have had a good relationship with Schofield, but Holmes said she was fond of his young lover and still in contact with him.

Holmes said he and Langsford used to "look after him” and added: "I think life’s tough for him.”

Dr Ranj Singh

Dr Ranj Singh is a former This Morning regular (Dave Benett)
Dr Ranj Singh is a former This Morning regular (Dave Benett)

Dr Ranj Singh, a former This Morning regular who was one of its resident medical experts for nearly 10 years, has also hit out at the “toxic” workplace culture at ITV. Singh, who left the show two years ago, has claimed he was “managed out" after raising concerns about how staff were treated behind the scenes.

He wrote on Twitter on Monday: “I raised my concerns about [This Morning editor] Martin Frizell’s behaviour (and the environment at This Morning) with [Managing Director of Daytime at ITV] Emma Gormley. I then found myself being used less and less.

“I even took my concerns directly to the top of ITV. The culture at This Morning has become toxic, no longer aligned with ITV values, and I felt like because I whistle-blew I was managed out.”

Addressing the Schofield drama specifically, he said: “I didn’t know the truth about what was going on with Phillip, but I do know the issues with This Morning go far beyond him. It takes more than one person to create a culture.”

An ITV spokesperson said in response: "We are sorry to read Dr Ranj’s post today. At ITV we are fully committed to providing every opportunity for anyone who works with us to raise any concern or comments they may have. Following a complaint made by Dr Ranj, we appointed an external and independent advisor to carry out a review. This external review found no evidence of bullying or discrimination."

Then, two days ago, a selfie emerged of Singh with the runner Schofield was dating. This featured a caption in which Singh called him a “stud.” The selfie was used to cast doubt on whether Singh had known about the relationship, or was close with the runner himself.

Singh immediately shot down such theories, writing on Twitter: “Some facts for people deliberately misconstruing an old picture of myself with a work colleague at This Morning: He and I worked together at This Morning. He was 21 when we took this picture backstage at the studio (in 2017). And it was taken as a mutually agreed joke.

“And, in case it wasn’t already obvious, the ‘stud’ reference is the joke and taken directly from a magazine article at the time — not my own choice of term.”

The ITV big wigs

This Morning editor Martin Frizell, Phillip Schofield, Ruth Langsford and Eamonn Holmes (PA Archive)
This Morning editor Martin Frizell, Phillip Schofield, Ruth Langsford and Eamonn Holmes (PA Archive)

There are three key players in ITV who find themselves in the eye of the This Morning storm: Martin Frizell, long-time editor of This Morning, Emma Gormly, Managing Director of Daytime at ITV, and Dame Carolyn McCall, ITV’s CEO.

Closest to the drama is Frizell, who has worked directly with Schofield and Willoughby for seven years, helping to elevate them to their previous “national treasure” status. The second post on Frizell’s Instagram is a video of Schofield on This Morning from 2019. The two presenters dominate the majority of his social presence.

Despite Frizell’s proximity to the scandal, it appears that ITV still back him, with a source telling the Mirror: “This Morning has won so many awards, the last thing ITV want is to lose it. They retain faith in editor Martin Frizell and want to move on and look to the future now.”

But Frizell is facing attacks left, right and centre, including from the former culture secretary Nadine Dorries. She told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday: “I think the editor of the programme has some questions to answer himself.” During the weekend, when approached by reporters, he said: “I think you’ve got to read between the lines. I think there are some scores being settled.”

Gormley is also getting heat for allegedly knowing about Dr Ranj’s complaint. However, it’s looking like CEO McCall may be the one who has to face the music.

Dame Carolyn McCall became ITV’s first female CEO in 2018 (PA Media)
Dame Carolyn McCall became ITV’s first female CEO in 2018 (PA Media)

It was revealed yesterday that ITV executives, including McCall, could appear at a cross-party committee hearing as soon as next week. They are set to face questions from MPs on the handling of the scandal.

Two MPs told The Times that they planned to question executives about the way ITV had dealt with the This Morning situation, saying: “I’m certainly not going to miss the opportunity to ask some questions — would you?”

The refreshed risk of questioning has thrown things at ITV towers into an even greater tailspin, with one executive telling The Times: “ITV has handled the whole thing really badly. Staff are in real fear that the whole show is going to be scrapped.”

ITV maintains that This Morning is “not under review” and there are no plans for the show to be axed.

After her well-scheduled half-term break Willoughby will be back on the sofa next week, but for how long?